About Student Chats:
We know how inspiring our Students are and we thought it was about time you, our friends and donors, could get to know them for yourselves. Throughout this series, you will hear directly from the students about their lives, their struggles, their dreams, and passions.
3rd year studying at Institute of Technology Cambodia, Civil Engineering major
Describe your life from when you were young until now
When I was young I lived with my grandmother from when I was 1 until I was 6 years old. The reason is that my mom was poor, so she went to find work in Siem Reap and she passed me on to live with my grandmother in Kampong Cham. I finally started school when I was 6 years old. At that time it was my aunt who took me to study at Sala Reaksmey Koma for Grade 1, but after that we moved back to Siem Reap because it was difficult for my grandmother to take care of us on her own.
When we came to live in Siem Reap I wasn’t able to enroll in school for two years. I had to take care of my younger sister and help my mother sell cakes and other things at the market. So when my grandmother came to visit she saw that I wasn’t enrolled in school and she wanted to bring me back to Kampong Cham. But my mother said that next year she would bring me to study. So I studied at Banteay Chas school for two years and then when my grandmother came back to visit she saw that we were really struggling because we couldn’t study regularly. My younger sibling was very young at the time so I had to take care of her a lot and help out with other chores around the house. I didn’t really have any time to study or do my homework. So my grandmother brought us back to Kampong Cham after that.
We lived in Kampong Cham for three months without being able to enrol in school. They told us we had to wait for the beginning of the next school year to enrol. So then I had to repeat in Grade 3 again in Kampong Cham. At that time, my grandmother was still young and she hadn’t gotten sick yet so she was able to take care of me from when I was in Grade 3 until Grade 7. When I was in Grade 7 she started to get sick and was very weak. When that happened, she told us we couldn’t study anymore. So she brought us from Kampong Cham back to Siem Reap again.
“When we walk forward on the path, don’t look back. We walk forward to develop ourselves.”
After that, my grandmother enrolled me in school at Angkor High School for Grade 9. At that time I didn’t have any scholarship yet so I was really struggling. My mom would try to find money from selling cakes but she wasn’t always successful because most of the people in the village where we lived had all gone to Thailand. So sometimes when times were really tough she would try selling at different markets or selling different kinds of cakes. It was like this until I was in Grade 10, when I met a friend named “Nil Borey”. I saw that she was provided with books and a uniform from PLF each year and I wondered how I could have the same access. I wanted the same thing for myself, but I was too shy to tell her.
Starting from when I was in Grade 10 until Grade 12 I started to get really sick. It was difficult for my mom as well, she didn’t have any money to bring me to see a doctor. At the end of Grade 11, Borey finally brought me to meet Sokha. When I met Sokha I asked if I could have a scholarship from PLF, and then when I was in Grade 12 she told me that I was accepted into the program. So I could have my own supplies and uniform to begin the new school year and I could enroll in extra classes.
When I was in Grade 12 I knew I wanted to be an engineer but my mother told me that she wouldn’t allow it. She wanted me to become a teacher, only a teacher. So when I applied for a scholarship in engineering my mom really didn’t want me to do it. She kept crying, she wanted me to be a teacher so badly. So I applied for a scholarship to study mathematics to become a math teacher. I felt that if I just do the normal thing and become a teacher she will love me but I prayed that I wouldn’t pass the exam so that I wouldn’t have to do it. When the results came back I saw that I wasn’t selected (she laughs).
But on the other hand, I did pass to get a government scholarship to study medicine to become a doctor. My mom said that if I want to become a doctor, I have to study extra classes, but we didn’t have enough money for that. So I thought about trying to find money to study math and become a teacher. But I told my mom, if I choose this path where will we find the money for it? If we agree to study, I can’t drop out. I have to ask for a scholarship and I can’t change my mind for four years. I wasn’t sure, so I decided to go against it. When I met with Sokha she told me that PLF could offer me a scholarship in Phnom Penh, but she wanted to know what subject I wanted to study. At that time my mom was out farming bananas in Preah Vihear province, so when I told her about Phnom Penh she came back immediately. She didn’t want me to go to Phnom Penh because our family was already struggling and she wanted me to work instead of continuing my studies. She wanted me to find money to support her.
When I met with Sokha again she asked me – what do you want to become? I told her that I wanted to become an engineer. She told me that I should follow what I want, because if I choose the thing that I love then I will be able to do it well. My friends had brought me the form to apply for the teachers college and I finally told my mom that I didn’t need that form anymore. That I was going to Phnom Penh to study engineering.
When I came to take the exam for Techno I tried my best but I didn’t understand almost all of it! (she laughs) Two days later I didn’t have any money to go to Phnom Penh to officially enroll. When I took the Grade 12 exam I didn’t live with my mom, I lived with my older sibling. He barely had any money either but we had friends who donated a few dollars here and there so that I could go. When I arrived in Phnom Penh, I didn’t know anyone there, I had to spend two days there and I stayed at an aunt’s house in Ta Khmao. I was so nervous, I was sure I didn’t pass the exam. (she laughs) When the results came out I was right, I failed.
After that I decided to study civil engineering instead. After finishing my associate degree, I asked PLF for additional funding to study in extra classes to complete my bachelors. My mom never wanted me to study there, and when I was in Phnom Penh she always called me in tears to beg me to come back home and work. This made me feel so stuck. What could I do? I didn’t want to stop in the middle of my studies. If I stopped studying I would have wasted PLF’s money.
Can you tell us more about your feeling when you first came to Phnom Penh compared to now? When I first came to Phnom Penh, I didn’t know how to live here. In Siem Reap it is not as crowded as here. I am used to living in a normal village in the forest. The feeling is very fresh there, so when I came to live here in Phnom Penh it was difficult. Also, in the beginning, I was in a cement house and that was a first for me. I had only ever lived in a wooden house. And about the people they seem really selfish, they don’t really think about or take care of others. There’s also a lot of traffic here, and for example with Bun Noeurm and Sokhun, when we got into a small accident I didn’t know where all of these people came from or why they were making such angry faces at us (she laughs).
I feel like before was difficult, it was difficult to live but now I’m used to it. If I compare to my feelings before, when I lived with my parents I was happy but it was very tiring. When I was home with my family I felt warm, but I didn’t have any chance to develop myself. Now that I am living in Phnom Penh I can develop myself.
Do you have any role models? My role model, I don’t know his name but I saw him at a construction site when I was young. I joined my father to work one day and I saw him wearing a white hat and directing my father on what to do. So I wanted to become just like him in the future. But I didn’t know who he is. When I came to study in university my new role model is Teacher Mao Kunthea. She is also a construction engineer but her focus is on roads. She’s the CEO of her company. One more is Ponheary, she’s my role model too because I want to help a lot of people too.
In the future what do you want to be? I want to be a site engineer.
Do you think the PLF scholarship is important? So important (she laughs). Because for others they might think that it’s normal, PLF provides only a small stipend so it’s just a small thing. But for me it’s so important, it’s not a little thing for me it’s a big thing. $70 per month is a lot for me. My mother never used to have any money leftover at the end of the month, so this is more than I’ve ever had. Nowadays I have enough money to study French and my mom sends a little bit of money when she can. So yeah, I think it’s really important (she laughs). It’s important to develop our knowledge.
If you could say anything to the world, what would it be? I would say to the world that in my life, when I came here when, I graduated from Grade 12… PLF helped rescue my life. PLF is helping to rescue the world and my life to see the brightness in life. Now I know so many different kinds of people, different kinds of life, challenges, happiness, everything. (she laughs). When we walk forward on the path, don’t look back. We walk forward to develop ourselves.