PLF university scholar Sororn’s story about following his dreams. 

“My name is Sororn, and I’m a PLF scholarship student. I am currently in my third year at the Royal University of Law and Economics in Phnom Penh studying law. I have four siblings, all boys. My oldest brother studied until Grade 9 and he is now a motorbike repairman in Siem Reap. My other older brother graduated from Grade 12 and is now a TV repairman. My younger brothers are still studying.

My family always tried to encourage me in my studies, especially my mom. When I was absent or when I took a break from my studies for a day she was always angry at me. She always told me that she has only one piece of knowledge to give me: if you don’t reach your goals, who will? She told me that she doesn’t want to see me live with her forever. She will get old one day and can’t support us. My Dad always said the same. They studied until Grade 2 or 3, I’m not sure. Both of them are farmers. They weren’t lucky like me.

I began my studies at Knar Primary School, and PLF has helped me since I was in Grade 2. Then I went on to study at Khnar Sanday Secondary School for three years, and after that I received a high school scholarship from PLF to study at Banteay Srey High School.  I studied there for two years in Grades 10 and 11, and after finishing Grade 11 I moved to Siem Reap to study in Grade 12 for my last year of High School. I wanted to change my studies from the countryside school and find out about the quality of education in Siem Reap. I wanted to know, was it any different?  Grade 12 is an important year because it’s the last year before University and the last chance to get strong scores. I wanted to improve myself at the high school in the city, and I wanted to live in the PLF boys dormitory in Siem Reap.

Siem Reap is really different from the countryside, because where I’m from most students aren’t really interested in school. Most students in rural areas go to class, go to work, and then have chores to do at home. They don’t really have the opportunity to focus on their studies and many of them end up dropping out. When I studied in my village I had to climb the mountains and collect firewood. I had to do this work every single today. I studied in the morning and came home in the afternoon to work. On Sundays when we didn’t have class I worked all day. I worked every day until I came to study in Siem Reap, then I could finally focus on my studies.

A snapshot of Sororn’s daily chores, taken during his scholarship interview in 2014

In the city, people put a high value on education. Some people are still working on the side but they keep focus on their studies and manage both. Also in the city there are a lot more schools than where I come from. In the countryside there is usually only one high school in each district, so the students have to travel very far. Like me, when I was in Grade 10 and 11. I had to ride my bike ten kilometers each way to study. Twenty kilometers in one day, six days a week. It was a lot. When I moved to the city, the school was so close. It only took me 10-15 minutes to get to school.

When I was in Grade 12 my dream was to study in Phnom Penh. I really wanted to know about the capital city. At the very beginning when Sokha asked me what I wanted to study I had only one true goal: law. I wanted to study at the Royal University, I wanted to study in Phnom Penh, and I wanted to study law. I chose to study law because I like to help others. I have always liked to help others since I was young, and I will be happy as long as I am doing just that. I don’t want to forget this. I think that by studying law, I can help support people who meet problems and injustice and can’t find the help they need.  I will help them as best as I can. I decided to study law so that I can help the people I love like my siblings, my family, the people in my community, the people in my country. For anyone who wants to help others, it doesn’t matter what you degree choose as long as you can meet that goal.

Now my dream is to become a judge. A judge is someone who is fair and cannot be controlled. Someone who can see justice and injustice and decide the difference between the two. They can see the truth clearly. They see both sides because they are someone who stands in the middle and makes the decision.

Sororn (left) receiving a bundle of school supplies from Ponheary (right) on Opening Day in 2010, his first year of Secondary School

My life before is so different compared to now. Before, I was a normal person, I didn’t really know anything. Now I am someone who people look up to, who people want to follow, that people are watching. The people in my village talk about me positively now.  I am also proud that I now know how to lead. Before I didn’t know how to be a leader. But now, I can do it. I can be a leader, I can lead a team. I can do it.

In my generation, there are others who weren’t able to get a scholarship to come to study in Phnom Penh. Most of the students in my Grade 12 class stopped when they completed the national exam, they didn’t have the ability to continue their studies. We are the lucky ones, those of us were selected. We are the ones who were chosen to study in University. I wouldn’t be able to be here without this scholarship. This scholarship is the thing that made it possible for me to continue my studies and find out about what studying in Phnom Penh would be like.

My dream for the future is to see Cambodia become a developed country, to have a population of educated people, and especially I want to see the youth in Cambodia have higher levels of education. I don’t want to see young students dropping out. Especially people who have dreams of what they want to be in the future. You have to work hard to reach your dreams or you will lose the way. To all of the younger students who are studying in high school or thinking about their future education  – we need to be constantly developing ourselves. You must ask yourself – right now, what are you studying, what is the value of your education, what are you doing? Don’t run away from your problems. It’s not going to help you.  We already know that everyone will meet challenges in their life, people will blame you or call you bad names in your studies or in your work. When you face a small problem, let it go. Try to do whatever you can to stay positive and keep working hard. That’s my advice.”

Sororn is a Khnar Primary School alumni and graduated from High School in Siem Reap in 2016.  This article was adapted and translated into English from an original interview in Khmer language. 

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