Soknang is 23 years old and that means, in Cambodian terms, that she grew up during years of extreme poverty – and by extreme I mean children eating bark off trees and catching insects to eat. I mean a time when Cambodia was utterly neglected, in fact more or less cut-off from the rest of the world. Then double that hardship, because as you can see she has been born without hands and with deformed feet so that movement is difficult. But don’t feel sorry for Soknang. She has the determination and intelligence to rise above her handicaps. Using her toes she can write in Khmer, or English – which she has patiently learned – and these days she operates a laptop, though for the life of me I cannot work out how she operates those functions that require one to hold down the ALT CTRL keys as well as type. She can do it, and her ambition is to hold down employment as a university qualified accountant.
But how do you attend university when your family cannot afford the fees? How do you manage transport into town each day – a half hour trip – when you cannot pilot a motorbike or bicycle? How do you reach your potential?
Kuon Soknang (Kuon is her family name) is perhaps lucky that she comes from a community as cohesive as Bakong, which is where we operate a small language school which provides free language education, and computer classes, to local students to top-up their State education at the Hun Sen Bakong High School. In fact Soknang has never attended Savong’s School, yet there is an increasing degree of co-operation between these institutions.
At Bakong High, Soknang had one teacher in particular who championed her cause and sought some kind of sponsorship for Soknang who has – to date – attended just a few weeks at University after her family scraped together $30 for short-term tuition fees “until something might work out.”
Soknang learned from her few weeks at University that she is up to the challenge and so her ex-high-school teacher approached Savong because he’d heard about the Savong School Scholarships to university. Would Savong be able to assist?
Savong, the teacher and Soknang held a lengthy meeting to discuss the young woman’s situation and to work out a plan for the academic year ahead. It was agreed that she would be sponsored, with fees covered as well as transport to her University CUS in Siem Reap. Regarding her living arrangements which weren’t ideal given her physical situation, it was agreed that Soknang would be housed with other senior students who are in residence at Savong’s family home which is a guest house in town.
With arrangements confirmed there’s pressure on us to find a 4-year sponsor, but that should be the easy part – that’s where the global village can assist.
This story has unfolded during the last few days, yet for Soknang the resolution of her problem about how to get support through university is just the latest stepping stone along her life pathway. She faces challenges ahead, for sure. But one way and another her community has helped connect her with those who can help. I look forward to reporting on her progress.