After tragedy struck his family twice in the same year, Dat Pheakdey continues to fight for his and his younger sister's education while volunteering with World Vision to improve the condition of his community in Kampong Thom, Cambodia.
Pheakdey, a 17-year-old sponsored child, is now participating as a reading camp facilitator under World Vision's sponsorship programme in Prasath Balang, Kampong Thom. Pheakdey, a hero in his village and one of the top students in his grade 10 class, unfortunately, lost both parents over three months.
Pheakdey acknowledges that he was uninterested in school when his parents were alive. But the constant encouragement from World Vision and his sponsor gave him strength. "Before, I never really cared much about school," he admitted with a laugh. "I failed my second grade and didn't want to go back to school. However, after joining World Vision, I felt inspired and decided to continue. In the following years, I even reached the top of my class,” he added.
Unfortunately, amidst his academic accomplishments, he experienced a devastating turn of events. "When my parents noticed so much improvement after I joined World Vision, both in my character and education, they decided to stop drinking. They got sick, and they passed away four years later. We've been living without them for a year and six months now," he recalled of the difficult time.
Despite his grief over his parent's deaths, Pheakdey had to force himself to fight for his younger sister and his village, showing no signs of the difficulties he faces daily. His mature demeanour tells the story of a boy far older than his years, with nothing but a resilient, determined, and dream-filled heart on display.
“I felt very scared and alone. I wanted to stop school, but I was blessed with the emotional support of World Vision staff—sister Sonei and my teacher to return to school," Pheakdey said. As the primary caregiver for his younger sister, he is now juggling an extensive list of responsibilities; he works part-time as a farmer and gardener to supplement his income while studying and working as a World Vision volunteer. Two of his older sisters work in Phnom Penh to help support him financially.
“When I was a sponsored child, my sponsor would ask me how my studies were going, and I was so excited to tell him that, with his encouragement, I got to be at the top of my class. I felt so loved and inspired that I have remained at the top of my class since,” he expressed, pride seeping from his words. Even amidst adversity and occupational responsibilities pulling him back, Pheakdey remained within the top ten students in his class.
Pheakdey's determination has been recognised throughout his community. Along with his work with World Vision, he is an outspoken advocate for child protection, protecting children from violence and harassment. When discussing tangible improvements in his community, Pheakdey explained, "Apart from being a reading camp facilitator with the World Vision programme, I also advocate for child protection in my community. We would participate in the training and employ it to promote child protection among teachers, parents, young people, and children themselves. Since World Vision came in, I noticed that every house in the village had a clean toilet, good sanitation, clean water, less malaria incidence, and children attending school more frequently, reducing the rate of school dropouts."
"I have so much appreciation for World Vision, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when my sisters in Phnom Penh couldn't make any money. The organisation was a critical support system for me and my family," said Pheakdey, who acknowledges World Vision for making his community a safer and healthier.
In an inspiring turn of events, Sonei Ny, World Vision International in Cambodia’s Community Development Facilitator, has noted significant growth in Pheakdey. “From the timid persona we initially encountered to now a confidently leading figure, it is clear Pheakdey has undergone an impressive transformation through his involvement in the children's group,” shared Sonei.
"I want a legitimate job and to be able to help my sister and the community. That's why I returned to finish my studies." Pheakdey exhibited his true selfless personality, linking bravery and love with a sense of responsibility in the face of tragedy, becoming a symbol of perseverance in his community.
"After being inspired by World Vision, I want to be an English teacher and a writer when I grow older," remarked Pheakdey with a smile. He has evolved from humble beginnings to become a compassionate leader who serves as an inspiration to other children in his community. “World Vision is part of my support; I'll be heartbroken if they leave because the organization's initiative has significantly improved my community," said Pheakdey.
“Despite shouldering familial responsibilities at a young age, Pheakdey's resilience continues to inspire others. Living without parents and stepping up to take care of his younger sister, Pheakdey unabashedly demonstrates that surrender is not an option and that a dream can indeed become a reality. His courage serves as a testament of strength and motivation for other children to aspire to,” said Sonei, World Vision Area Programme staff.
“To enhance community improvement, we strongly believe in the paramount importance of encouraging children. Often, they endure struggles they cannot vocalize. However, considering our close relationship with the children, we can discern these challenges through their expressions. We work diligently to earn their trust, fostering an environment wherein they feel safe to share their problems and express their thoughts," Sonei ended.
Story and Photo: Sar Pisey, Casaneth Ros, Um Vandeth