Yem Sovannry first came to the attention of the Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF) as a shy provincial girl who was scared of going to school and meeting new people.
But all that has changed and she is now confident and an outstanding student who speaks near-fluent English.
Having encountered many hardships in her life, she was motivated to take her education seriously and to study intensively.
“I used to collect bottles to sell for some small amounts of money to pay for my daily needs,” she said.
She believes in the power of education and there’s no doubt that it has changed her life and that of her family unimaginably.
“Without CCF I wouldn’t be who I am today. I wouldn’t have everything I have now.”
Sovannry grew up in a poor family from Kampong Cham province. Her father worked on a rubber plantation, providing the family’s main source of income. His earnings were too little to afford to send Sovannry to school.
As the struggle of rural life continued, her mother decided to move to Phnom Penh to find work, leaving Sovannry’s father to work in the province.
Sovannry went with her mother and they rented a house using money her father sent from Kampong Cham.
Speaking with a lump in her throat, Sovannry remembers her mother borrowing money from their neighbors and relatives so that she could give birth to Sovannry’s younger sister.
When Sovannry first encountered CCF she did not have proper clothes. Then she was provided materials to study and emotional support from CCF.
“I just started to love school when I saw other young children like me can read and write.”
As time passed, she became one of CCF’s outstanding students and received prizes every month for her work.
Now Sovannry dreams of becoming an English teacher, despite never before dreaming of being able to speak English herself.
In 2014 she was chosen from about 200 applicants to attend the Global Youth Leadership Summit in California.
Despite her busy schedule, she has given numerous talks aimed at inspiring young people to be more confident, boosting their confidence at public speaking.
“I won’t leave CCF behind when I get older. If I become rich, I would fund CCF, and make it bigger,” she says.
Chhom Phanith, CCF’s leadership development supervisor, believes Sovannry will do great things in the future.
“She has a big heart, compassion towards other people. She is open, patient, understanding, wise and a kind-hearted young leader. Also, what I love about her is that she creates opportunities for others to step in and be leaders as well.”