When my father passed away our life changed dramatically. Now our main source of income was gone. Mother, aged 45, now had three children, the oldest, me, around 17 with a disability, a daughter around 14 who was just finishing in primary school, and a 10 year-old son still at primary school. Our house was very simple and in need of repair. How would we survive?

Mother agreed with my sister, Sreymom, that she would have to stop her schooling and find some work to bring in some money. It was such a hard decision as our parents always wanted all the children to have an education as a way of making a successful life.

Mum and Sreymom got a net and went fishing, but without a boat. They had to walk into the nearby river. They aimed to catch fish and sell to someone in the village to make prahok (fish sauce). 1 kg of fish would mean $1, and it could take hours to catch this much. They did not know anything about fishing and did not know which parts were good to throw the net in. Sreymom became unwell with sunstroke from always being in the water. It was so hot as there was no shelter in the river from the hot sun. She was not used to this life and became unwell, so desperate were they. They did not make much money so, after a time, they looked for a job as a cleaner.

Saying goodbye to a daughter and sister

Sreymom found a job in a wealthy Khmer persons house, and then mum heard about the chance for her to work in Malaysia as a housemaid. This proved successful and my sister left Cambodia for another country, leaving us. We were all so upset to see her leave us but we had no choice.

She was not well treated there. The owners were cruel, insulting and verbally abusive, but not violent. She spent nearly every day for two years sweeping and mopping their floor and washing their clothes – she developed sores on her fingers from being in the water all the time. We had no way to communicate with her, as my sister’s employers did not help her stay in touch with us. We knew what can happen to girls in other countries so we were so worried when we didn’t hear from her.

She came back from Malaysia with some money and she agreed to use it to make our house a little better. It was starting to collapse and we were very grateful to be able to make it stronger. Sreymom had learnt English when she was away and, like me, could learn a new language quickly. She found a job in a barang (foreigner) restaurant in Kompong Som (Sihanoukville, about 80 km away) where she further improved her English.

Sakun's sister Sreymom and her daughter. 

Now I leave too

Although I had graduated from school my skills were not great and I didn’t yet have a job to learn from. I decided that I was not going to be a burden to my mother. I wanted to be a good son who could fend for himself. There was nothing going in Kampot so I made my way to the city and did a year at a vocational training, learning how to fix electronic things including mobile phones. I learnt how to pull them apart, fix them and store music on them.

After a year I still didn’t have a paying job after that training, but I had made some new friends. I was determined not to return to Kampot, and found a job through making friends with family who ran an electronics repair workshop. I started work there, with the promise that I would have three meals a day paid for, and, if I needed to go back to Kampot, they would pay for that. Either a bus or a taxi.

Although not actually getting paid, I worked long hours, and some nights didn’t finish until 9 or 10pm. I then had to make my way back to the owners house where I was staying. It was a long way, travelling by wheelchair, and bad people come out at that time and I was very vulnerable. It was scary.

After two years the worker got married and there wasn’t really room for me any more. I was still determined to be a good son and not rely on my mother, but I also knew I didn’t like this work so much, and I couldn’t push myself back late at night, so my options were narrowing.

I didn’t know what the future would bring but I missed my family and hope against hope that something better would await me in Kampot.

Sakun today