Sopha has been a PLF student since our inception. He came up through the ranks at Tchey School during the beginning of our work, when we couldn’t do much for the kids aside from provide their supplies and uniforms and give them bikes to get to Secondary School. By the time he was in middle school we laid down our first computer lab at Tchey and he was the first one in line to enroll in our first tech program. During his time in the lab he raced through our MS OFfice modules then joined a Media class and learned how to make short films. His team made a film about water problems in his village and caught the attention of an organization who came to Cambodia and taught his group how to do well repairs and maintenance in his village. This was his first taste of the power of communication, mobilization and community activism.
In another Media Class project, he was introduced to various art forms and became a devotee of Vincent Van Gogh. In one of his class projects, he reimagined some of Van Gogh’s works (and others) with a decidedly Cambodian twist. Those photographs were hung at an exhibit at Hotel 1961 and caught the eye of the GM from Shinta Mani, who exhibited his work for some time. Later, Nic Coffill approached Sopha about including this work in a book he is authoring about young Cambodian artists.
Sopha was always the first one to volunteer to help with whatever PLF was doing. He was often along for the trip up north to make lunch for the students at Koh Ker and by high school had already developed a strong sense of mentorship.
“From when I was young until now, my life is very different. When I join the PLF team to cook noodles at Koh Ker school, I see myself in those children. I always think of myself, eating noodles and fried chicken at the table just like them. Now, I see myself as someone who is a role model to them. I feel so happy to do this, I never feel tired of it.”
Sopha participated in our Student Chat’s a few months ago, where he speaks further about the importance of mentorship.
When Sopha graduated from High School he applied for and was awarded a scholarship to University. He was one of our first students to pass the incredibly difficult entrance exam for Techno, one of the best engineering schools in the country. He will complete his degree in Water and Rural Engineering (a specialization of Civil Engineering) at such time as schools in Cambodia reopen.
During his summer holiday from school last year, he volunteered as a teaching intern at Srayang Dormitory, tutoring middle school students in math, English and science.
Sopha is now back to his home village during school closures and is doing his best to study online. He got in touch immediately on his return to see if there was anything he could help us with. He’s been helping Esa deliver food to the schools up north and while he was up there heard about the water problems we’ve been having at the Srayang Dormitory.
At the Dorm in Srayang we’ve always had water issues. Wells dry up, tanks don’t fill as they should, solar pumps mysteriously stop working. It’s been hard on the residents there to keep themselves in free-flowing water. He volunteered to go up on the next food drop with Esa and check it out. He has, of course, made short work out of a problem that two different well masters and two different solar companies failed to sort. While he was at it, he trained PLF Field Staff on how to troubleshoot and perform maintenance on the system.
The point of this story is this: Sopha embodies the spirit of PLF. Students begin with nothing but their dreams. They participate in everything we offer and during the course of their education, they find the thing that is meant for them, that they love, that they are good at. The experience of having the sort of education that includes more than just literacy and being able to do sums brings all children everywhere to their own potential. It gives them options. It puts them in a garden where they get to “touch all the flowers” and opens their eyes to the possibilities. His time in the Media Lab gave him space to understand about community activism and taught him how to communicate and mobilize. It also taught him about art and that there is beauty in the world but more importantly, that every person is free to see things differently and has the capacity to reimagine the world in new ways.
We want to publicly thank Sopha (and Esa!) for solving a big, big problem for our students up north. We want to acknowledge his kind heart, his can-do attitude, his deep desire to pay everything he’s been given forward and his thirst to be the best role model imaginable for all those coming up behind him.
We are 100% certain that during his lifetime he will reimagine and re-shape the world around him. He will be successful in his chosen career no doubt but more important than even that: he is an agent of change.
Students like Sopha give us unimaginable hope for the future of Cambodia and provide more than enough inspiration for us to get up every day and push just a little bit harder.