Interviewed and Written by Sarvina Kang
I am a volunteer for Soroptimist International of Phnom Penh (SIPP). After SIPP’s training for Breast Cancer Awareness finished, I had a chance to talk to Sokunthea, aged 20. “Thea” is in grade 12 at Wath Koh High School in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Thea’s education is sponsored by SIPP which supports the full cost of her school tuition and also gives her some extra money to help her achieve her dream of qualifying to go to university. Thea is the oldest child in her family. She has a younger sister and a younger brother who attend school in their hometown, which is located in Svay Rieng, one of the rural provinces of Cambodia.
Thea told me that she came to Phnom Penh city last year in order to find a job to support her parents and siblings. In addition to studying, she is also working as a housemaid where she can earn 80,000 Riel, which is around $20 USD (United States dollars) per month. Thea said that sometimes she is really discouraged, but her mother keeps telling her not to give up. Getting an education is the only way for Thea to make sure that she has a brighter future – and is not reduced to becoming a prostitute or a robber.
Sokunthea is a hard-working girl. She gets up at 4:00 am to finish her housemaid tasks before she runs off to school at 6:50 am. After leaving school at 11:00 am, she rushes to the market to buy food to cook for the house owner. She prepares another meal for her employer, and then rushes back to school to study English from 6:30 – 7:30 pm. Thea told me that she is getting more accustomed to her very hectic life; she is now able to do many tasks without tiring.
She kept telling me she that she wants to be a good role model for the younger generation. Although she was born in a poor family, it is important to Thea to set a positive example by overcoming obstacles and creating a brighter future for herself. Sokunthea’s teachers report that she is an excellent student, but Thea said that she often gets upset when she feels that her teachers and her friends ignore her and are not sensitive to her struggles.
Every month Thea sends a little money to help her parents. Her mother has a small business selling vegetables at the market in her hometown in Svay Reang province, but her father cannot work because he has had tuberculosis for many years. It makes Thea really sad to see her father suffering so much, and she wants to earn enough money to be able to cure him. With a face that is both sad and hopeful, Sokuntha said that every moment of her life is a struggle. She knows that she has a long way to go before achieving her highest goal – to become fluent in English and to be able to enroll at the university.