Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

I quit school to support my family

A year since he happily restarted school, teenager Sokhom* from Cambodia’s rural Svay Chrum District often thinks of the children still labouring on the farm he once worked at. “When I see my friends still working, I don`t feel happy at all,” he says, with sadness in his eyes. “They should be in school.”

Sokhom was just 14 years old when he gave up his Grade 6 studies in order to support his family. However, this situation is not uncommon in Cambodia, with one in five school-aged children engaging in work.

“I quit because my family couldn`t afford for me to stay in school,” says Sokhom. “I quit to go digging and ploughing.”

Jobs are scarce in Sokhom`s district, located around 110km from Phnom Penh, and even when available, they are very poorly paid. Sokhom took up work on a local industrial farm, toiling from 7.00am through to the evening, to bring home just US$3.70 – US$4.90 a day.

The work, which involved digging and moving earth with hand-shovels and driving tractors, was hard and exhausting for Sokhom, and also dangerous.

“It was tiring, and made me sweat a lot,” recalls Sokhom.

“There were many children working. They were unhappy,” he says. “Some were ploughing and would try to put on the brake and got tossed out of the tractor. Some tractors got stuck and the drivers were tossed in the air. Some tractors even fell over.”

Earning money to help his family was difficult for Sokhom: “It was just tiring work,” he says. “I didn`t feel that happy. I knew children shouldn`t have to earn money when they are under 18 years old,” he adds. “Children can get sick, and tired.”

School was not the only sacrifice. Sokhom`s childhood was replaced with the weight of responsibility of providing for his family.

Six months into his labouring work, without education and proper protection, Sokhom was facing an uncertain future, all too common in places like Cambodia, where too many children are scarred by poverty.

Thanks to ChildFund Cambodia, which works closely with local communities on education projects that keep children from poor families in school, Sokhom was given a chance to return to his studies, and regain his childhood.

“ChildFund allowed me to go back to school. They support me with clothes, bags, books and a bicycle,” says Sokhom.

“I met new friends when I started Grade 6. The lessons weren`t that hard because I`d studied them once already,” adds Sokhom, who initially had to repeat Grade 6, but eventually passed.

Sokhom is now half-way through his Grade 7 studies.

“The lessons are a little hard, but I learnt to spell and think by myself. And I get to play with my friends,” says Sokhom, who loves to play volleyball. “I am happier in school.”

Sokhom now dreams of becoming a teacher. He knows that the best way to achieve his goal is by going to school and getting a good education: “If I could, I wish to graduate from Grade 12. I want to be a teacher so I can teach my own students.” Sokhom adds: “I want adults to encourage all children to go back to school.”

“Children should not work because it tires them out easily,” adds Sokhom. “They should go to school for their future.”


Listen to Sokhom’s story

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