On stage at a ceremony to celebrate her university graduation, Soeurn Sreyleap spoke directly to her mother watching in the audience.
“Thank you, ma, for trying to raise me up. I hope I am making you proud,” she said.
She broke down in tears as she thanked her mother, who joined her on stage, for supporting her wish to have an education.
She supported my wish to go to school all those years ago
It was hard for anyone watching that day not to be moved by the heartfelt words and love between mother and daughter.
Sreyleap was eight years old when she joined Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF).
She was selling watermelons on the side of her road in her village when CCF Founder Scott Neeson saw her and asked if she wanted to go to school.
“That was life-changing for me,” she says of that moment.
Almost 18 years later, she completed a degree in Teaching English as a Second Language and joined another 60 CCF students at a CCF university graduation ceremony in March this year. Celebrations had been delayed due to COVID.
It was during that ceremony Sreyleap made the emotional speech.
“I really showed emotion with my mum because she supported my wish to go to school all those years ago,” says Sreyleap, 25.
Sreyleap is now helping those who are in the same position that she once was by working in CCF’s Sponsorship Department. Having been a CCF student, she understands the challenges that many have faced just to get into a classroom.
As one of six children, Sreyleap’s father worked a variety of jobs including mechanic and cook to make ends meet. He died when Sreyleap was in Grade 6 and already at CCF.
The first day that I got to university, I was so excited
There was only a primary school in Sreyleap’s village and back then most children stopped their education at this age and never went on to secondary school. Like Sreyleap, they had to work and earn money to help their families.
Sreyleap, however, got the opportunity to do more.
Getting to university was a dream come true.
“I remember the first day that I got to university, I was so excited,” says Sreyleap.
“It was a great feeling. A new chapter in my life.”
CCF gave her not only the gift of an education but belief in herself.
“I was a very introverted girl and shy when I first joined CCF,” she says. “But I adapted to the environment with the support of my friends and teachers, and I tried to open up and get more confident.”
Softly spoken in person, Sreyleap talks about her job as a Sponsor Relations Officer. She’s based in the sponsorship office at CCF’s community center and assists children of mixed ages to communicate with their sponsors through email and video calls.
One of the supervisors at the office is also a former CCF student who lived in the same village as Sreyleap, so she feels right at home.
“I enjoy the job, it’s fun. The best part is how I can contribute to the kids. I know their life at CCF because it is the same as mine was,” says Sreyleap.
When you learn to appreciate the small things, your life will become happier
As well as giving back to CCF and her community, Sreyleap is financially supporting her mum as much as she can.
“She is very proud of me and I am very proud of myself to be where I am now,” she says.
Sreyleap’s long-term goal was to be an English teacher but her ambitions have changed and she talks about moving into education program and policy development in the future rather than being in the classroom.
She hopes to study for a Master’s at some point.
In the meantime, she’s living independently with friends and loves reading and watching films in her spare time.
It’s the small things in life that give her joy.
“I always believed in myself and appreciated all the things that people did for me,” she says.
“When you learn to appreciate the small things, your life will become happier. You don’t need to achieve the big things to be happy.”