Sophy grew up in a war-torn country. With the Khmer Rouge taking control of Cambodia, she and her family had very little food to eat, worked all day at risk of punishment, and didn’t have access to education or medical support. When her father was killed, her family struggled to survive. Yet, Sophy was considered lucky, as she wasn’t one of the two million people (a quarter of Cambodia’s population at the time) who perished under the regime.
Once the Khmer Rouge regime ended in 1979, Sophy’s family struggled to rebuild their lives. Her mother remarried a very violent man who directed his anger towards her family. One day, despite their pleas to stop, Sophy’s stepfather killed her sister with a piece of wood. Her mother spiralled into depressed and died several months later.
All alone, Sophy had no option but to continue to live with her stepfather. After a few months, he married a woman who forced Sophy to work from early morning until late evening. Sophy would work in the rice field and collect rattan. With no free time and no one to care about her, Sophy never had the opportunity to attend school.
Sophy’s stepfather was killed by stepping on one of the millions of landmines left over from the war. This meant that she had to work harder than ever to support herself, and she was overcome with a feeling of helplessness.
That feeling changed when she was approached by an artisan association to work with them. Sophy learnt how to paint statues and earned a good income for her work. She was finally happy, and when she met a man in her village at age 20, she decided to get married. Sophy chose him as he didn’t smoke and drink alcohol, unlike many of the men in her village.
Sophy gave birth to her first child a year after getting married. Despite being allowed by her employers to take maternity leave and return to her role, her husband didn’t allow her. He was jealous that she worked away from home and expected her to stay and do housework. He began to drink alcohol and became an alcoholic. With the alcohol came violence, and Sophy’s life was back where it had started.
Sophy began collecting rattan to make baskets for 25 cents each. She also worked on a farm and completed seasonal shifts as a builder. Despite working three jobs, her salary wasn’t anywhere near as much as she made when she was a statue painter.
Sophy started spiralling into depression, and with four children to look after, she never had a free moment. Sophy was often sick and her hospital bills pushed her family further and further into debt.
In 2014, Human and Hope Association opened our new community centre just 300 metres from Sophy’s house. Whilst conducting assessments for scholarship students, our staff came across Sophy at her home. We offered her a role as our Sustainability Assistant, where she would be in charge of cooking, cleaning and taking care of our farm.
Sophy’s husband agreed that she could work with Human and Hope Association, as it was close by. As time went by, Sophy’s role developed from part-time to full-time, with her taking on additional responsibilities such as teaching in art class and promoting our organisation to the community.
“Working at Human and Hope Association makes me so happy. The staff are so friendly and treat me like their family. I finally have the support I need. I earn a good and stable income to support my family, and have access to health care. I feel so proud that I can send my four children to school and now my parents-in-law are also proud of me.”
Sophy’s four children now study in our educational programs, including English, Khmer, preschool, art class and library. They continue to study in public school, with her eldest child already in secondary school. Sophy has learnt basic Khmer through our language classes and also partakes in weekly staff development workshops and external training sessions. Through our staff savings scheme, Sophy has been able to start a chicken farm and build a well for her family to access water. Their quality of living has been steadily increasing.
We work with her husband to reduce his drinking and violence by involving him in our family happiness workshops. Sophy continues to live with him in the hope that he will change and be a positive role model for her children.
“My ultimate dream is to see my children have good knowledge and good jobs in the future. I also hope that my husband will improve his behaviour so that we can live happily.”
Change in our community doesn’t come easily; it takes a lot of hands-on work. Our local team work with whole families like Sophy’s to provide them with the education, training and support that they need to break the cycle of poverty and lead happy lives.
To continue this important work with the families in our community, we need your support.
A donation of $120 can provide education to a Cambodian child for a year.
Choose Human and Hope Association as your end-of-financial-year charity. You can literally change a life like Sophy’s.