In a remarkable achievement, two Cambodian Children’s Fund students living in one of the most impoverished areas of Cambodia have won scholarships to study at Australia’s top university.
A total of nine students from the Cambodian Children’s Fund have now been selected for full scholarships at Trinity College, part of the University of Melbourne, the number one university in Australia and in Asia.
The two new scholars were announced at a special dinner in Phnom Penh on 7 July celebrating the partnership between CCF and Trinity College.
CCF students Bun Malita, 18, and Len Leang, 20, will join the July uptake at Trinity College.
Of the nine CCF scholars, three have graduated from the University of Melbourne with degrees, two are currently studying at the university, and two will start their degree courses soon after recently passing the Foundation Studies Program.
Three of these students, Som Vannita, Meas Kanha and Nhoem Vanneit, were special guests at the celebration event.
What you’ve accomplished is phenomenal, I couldn’t be prouder
Scott Neeson, CCF Founder and Executive Director, and Ben Waymire, Senior Regional Manager at Trinity College, also attended the event to recognise the success of the program.
“I’m in a really privileged position to have known you all since your first day at CCF, some of you were just four or five years old. What you’ve accomplished is phenomenal, I couldn’t be prouder,” Scott Neeson told the students in a speech.
These students have not only succeeded but they’ve excelled
CCF, an NGO based in Steung Meanchey, provides 1,800 children a year from deprived communities access to education and a proven pathway out of poverty.
Its flagship high school, the Neeson Cripps Academy, offers a high-quality education enabling students to achieve the standard needed to apply for international scholarships directly from Grade 12.
Trinity College began offering CCF students a life-changing opportunity to study overseas in 2017 with a full scholarship for the Foundation Year program, which prepares students for a degree.
“These students have not only succeeded but they’ve excelled,” said Ben Waymire, from Trinity College. “I thought it was time to come together and celebrate some of the achievements of the students. I think it’s cause for celebration and to recognize the achievement of such a fantastic project.”
Sokchannin Kram, CCF’s Senior Education Manager, said: “The partnership with Trinity is very important for CCF, giving our students a wonderful opportunity to study overseas. We look forward to more CCF students gaining scholarships in the future."
The first CCF Trinity Scholar, Sophy Ron, graduated from the University of Melbourne with a degree in media communications and international relations last year (2022) and is now working at a private school in Australia.
Sophy was one of the first children rescued from the Steung Meanchey garbage dump, where she lived and worked, and joined CCF at the age of 10 having never been to school.
“We are incredibly proud to partner with CCF and the University to have these scholarships for these wonderful Cambodian students,” says Scott Charles, the Deputy Warden at Trinity College.
“We’re also very proud of all of the students who have managed to go through and graduate, and who are with us now. We’re very excited about having the next couple who will join us.”
CCF Trinity Scholars are chosen from a rigorous selection process after meeting the CCF criteria to apply, which include strong academic performance, good school attendance and being actively involved in community voluntary work.
For the 2023 scholarships, students had to pass two Math and English tests, before a panel interview. The final two students were chosen from 10 applicants who made the shortlist.
Bun Malita was six years old when she started school for the first time after joining CCF. She became an outstanding young leader, winning a place at the Global Youth Leadership Summit (GYLS) annual event, and taking on the role of editor of the CCF student magazine.
“I am so thankful for this opportunity. My mum is very proud of me,” says Malita, who will be travelling to Australia for the first time.
“I will study hard and fulfil my dream. I am looking forward to Trinity.”
Her dream is to be among the first of a new generation of female filmmakers in Cambodia.
It will be a big change for Leang, who has never left Cambodia before or been on an airplane. She did not even have a passport and had to apply for one after being selected for Trinity.
Her mother died when she was young and her father works as a trash scavenger, finding recyclables to sell, at the city dump on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
“It is all going to be a new experience for me. I am excited to learn about a new culture but nervous because it’s my first time leaving Cambodia,” says Leang.
I always tell myself that your background only defines where you came from but doesn’t define where you will go.
Nhoem Vanneit, CCF’s first male scholar, was raised by his mother after his father died when he was seven. As a child, he would scavenge through the trash to earn money to survive.
He won a scholarship to Trinity in 2022 and was recently chosen as the valedictory speaker for his graduating class in Foundation Studies. He will now start a Bachelor’s course at the University of Melbourne.
“What inspires me is that more than 13 years ago, I was working hard on the garbage dump to earn a little money,” says Vanneit.
“I always tell myself that your background only defines where you came from but doesn’t define where you will go.
“Getting the scholarship was one of my dreams come true. Being at Trinity College has been an incredible journey for me. I am grateful for the gift of education.”
Meas Kanha, who had to study her Foundation Year online in Cambodia due to the COVID pandemic restricting travel, is now in her second year at the University of Melbourne, and says: “This is such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it changed my life.”
Som Vannita, the fourth CCF Trinity Scholar, is in her third year of a double major in Management and Marketing, and Commerce.
“I think the partnership between CCF and Trinity College has a really special place in our hearts and in all the students at CCF, because of this opportunity we are able to dream big,” she says.