When describing the importance of the work that DDD does, one of the observations we’ve returned to several times here on the blog, is how the young Khmer and Lao people we have employed are characterized by working and studying hard. They take the opportunity and their responsibility very seriously at a young age.
“All they have is me”.
She was referring to her family and to the fact that she is their only opportunity for achieving some level of financial security in the future.
Sokunthea grew up in rural Cambodia, close to the Vietnamese border. When she was one year old, her family moved to Battambang. The move was spurred by the military activities close to the Cambodian-Thai border, as her father was in the DN army and had to follow the action.
Sokunthea is the youngest of the family’s eight children, and she was able to attend school longer than any of her siblings: They all left school after 9th grade – a few of them even earlier than that. They have their own families now, and work as farmers or have small businesses, where they sell fruit or textile.
During Sokunthea’s final year of high school, her parents could no longer afford the expenses that come with studying, and it looked like she had to drop out of school. It was due to the grace of one of her older brothers, who worked as a driver and therefore could afford to cover some of the cost, that Sokunthea was able to finish the 12th grade and get her high school diploma.
But after finishing high school, it was clear that Sokunthea needed to find a job and help support herself and the rest of the family. Her friend offered her a job in her phone shop, where she made 5000 riel – the equivalent of $1.25 – a day.
In 2008 Sokunthea heard from a friend that DDD was seeking operators. She passed the admission test, was hired as an operator, and then received the scholarship that allows her to now study accounting at the university. Beyond receiving the scholarship, she also makes a salary at DDD.
“I can’t support my family a lot, but sometimes I can send enough money home to pay the electricity bill. When I can, I do it.”
She tells me that she and everyone in her family were very, very happy, when she was accepted to work at DDD, because they knew it meant she would get the chance to educate herself. An education leads to a better job with a higher salary: it’s a promise of better times to come. Sokunthea explains, “I want to be an accountant – a good one – so that I can support my parents when they get old.”
In a couple of years, when Sokunthea has finished her studies, DDD will help her find another job where she can apply her experience and skills, and where she’ll go on to make approximately four times the average salary in Cambodia.
Naturally, Sokunthea is happy to work at DDD and to attend the university, but she’s also sad and gets upset when telling her story. She is worried about the future: “My father had a heart attack, and I worry about his health every day.” She knows that she is all the family has, and there is no doubt she knows that that is a big responsibility to carry.