In her spotless white lab coat adorned with her name, Yone Sokleang is the epitome of a new generation of young and educated Cambodians helping lay the foundations for a new future.
Sokleang has just completed a degree in Pharmacy and is working in her ‘dream job’ as a pharmaceutical analyst. Her ambition is to one day own her own pharmacy in Phnom Penh.
She also earned a Bachelor’s in English, taking evening classes after her daytime university classes.
Gaining two degrees is a notable accomplishment for any student, but for Sokleang it’s a remarkable achievement.
She had a difficult early upbringing in a large family lacking parental love and a structured education, joining CCF as a 10-year-old who did not know the Khmer alphabet or speak a word of English.
Now, aged 27, she speaks excellent English and looks set for success in her chosen field of sciences.
I feel family love, parent love, from them.
CCF has not been the only support behind her turnaround and success.
Also at her side has been her CCF sponsors, Dan and Laurie Roundtree, who have provided the familial love missing in her life.
She refers to Dan and Laurie as her parents and calls them her family.
“I feel like they are my parents,” she says. “They have been in my life for 17 years now.
“Since I was young until now, I hardly ever received parent love from my own family. With Dan and Laurie, I can feel the love very well. When I chat with them, every time I write an email to them, I feel warm, I feel family love, parent love, from them.”
They have been a constant in her life from primary school all the way to university, a steady, guiding influence on hand with advice, mentorship or simply a reassuring presence.
Dan and Laurie, who live in California, were among the first CCF child sponsors and supporters, back in the early days of the organization.
They visited Phnom Penh in 2009 and met Sokleang for the first time.
“It was so emotional when I saw them,” says Sokleang. “Before then, we had only talked through email.
“When they had to return back to their country, I started to cry, I didn’t want them to leave.”
Dan and Laurie, and their two children, Brandon and Kendyl, welcomed Sokleang into their family with open arms.
They even have their own nicknames for each other: Maja (mother) for Laurie and Faja (father) for Dan, Braja (brother) for Brandon and Seester (sister) for Kendyl.
Dan and Laurie refer to Sokleang as Daja, for daughter, and their children, now adults, call her sister.
This sense of family and love had been missing from her young life.
It was the day that my life started to change
Sokleang grew up in the countryside bordering the Phnom Penh area, one of eight surviving siblings (two died young) of five girls and three boys.
Life was hard and her parents struggled with the pressures of raising a large family.
It was an older brother who heard about CCF after moving to Phnom Penh for work. One of Sokeang’s sisters was accepted first and she joined CCF later; she remembers the date: 10 January 2005.
“It was the day that my life started to change,” says Sokleang.
“There was no more violence, enough food to eat, a warm feeling, a safe shelter to live in. It was a better environment for me to learn.”
In the background the whole time has been Dan and Laurie.
Without their encouragement, Sokleang believes that she would not have made it to university.
“They have always been there for me,” she says.
“When I used to speak to Maja (Laurie) about my anxiety because of studying, the pressure, she would encourage me not to give up, she always helps me.
“It’s been very good for my emotional and mental health to have someone to talk to.”
CCF has supported Sokleang through university. Due to COVID disruptions, she had to wait two years to take her final Pharmacy exam and officially graduate.
Plans for a Master’s have been put on hold for now, while she enjoys the experience of being in the workplace for the first time and financial independence.
Home is a rented room in Phnom Penh close to CCF’s Community Centre.
She is close to her siblings and visits one sister most weekends to see her nephew and niece. As for her parents, she is on good terms with her father but relations with her mother remain strained.
When she talks about making her parents proud, it is Dan and Laurie that she is referring to.
“To hear that they are so proud of me, inspires me so much,” she says.
“I want to show them that their support really helped me to become the girl, the Daja, that they want to see.”