Sophy Ron spent her youth at an infamous Cambodian trash dump known as “Smoky Mountain,” where she was surrounded by waste and hazardous odors.
The 21-year-old is set to start studying at the University of Melbourne and dreams of operating her own business less than a decade after fleeing.
The Steng Meanchey dump in Phnom Penh, where she used to live, has long been a symbol of the country’s poverty.
Thousands of individuals sift through the garbage every day in the hopes of finding edible food and recyclables to sell.
Ms Ron would make 50 cents on a good day, enough for a couple bowls of rice to feed her parents and six siblings.
“I didn’t realize it was stinky, and I didn’t realize it was filthy,” she said.
“Because I slept, ate, and did everything there, it became my home.”
Ms Ron said that her family was forced to reside at the trash site due to heavy debt.
Ms Ron lost out on an opportunity to study since the local school only accepted one kid per family.
She claimed she went to school with her elder sister and learnt as much as she could by peering through the classroom windows.
From a landfill to a school.
After an accidental meeting at the garbage with Scott Neeson, the founder of the Cambodian Children’s Fund, her life was forever transformed (CCF).
“He asked if I wanted to study English, and I had no clue what English was at the moment,” Ms Ron explained.
“I dashed home, ecstatic because he promised to drive me to school.”
Since its inception in 2004, Mr. Neeson’s charity, which was highlighted on the ABC’s Australian Story in 2012, has offered education, housing, and medical care to thousands of Cambodians.
According to UNICEF, Cambodia’s poverty rate fell from 53% in 2004 to 13.5 percent in 2014, yet children’s living conditions remain inadequate.
According to a United Nations study from 2018, a third of children under the age of four are stunted, and almost half of children aged five to 14 do not have access to proper restrooms.
Ms Ron recalled her first day of school at the age of 11, when she observed groups of youngsters laughing and playing for the first time.
She was also a quick learner and communicator, and by 2016, she was on stage giving an English-language Tedx Talk.
“This is the message I’ve carried with me throughout my life: don’t give up. It doesn’t matter what the situation is.”