After being forced to dropout of school (twice) for the sake of her family, Chouma was able to continue her education thanks to support from Sunshine Cambodia and today she is Sunshine’s first law school graduate.
The early years
Chouma was born into a Khmer-Vietnamese family and is the second of four daughters.
From early on Chouma’s father did not take care of his family, leaving her mother alone, struggling to support the four girls.
Chouma began her first year of school in the midst of this turmoil and it was clear from the start to her teachers that she was a bright young girl and eager to learn.
Sadly, it wasn’t long before the situation got worse and Chouma’s mother was forced to take her out of school and move the four girls away.
They were now on their own in a new place and locked into a daily struggle for survival, the outlook was bleak.
By the grace of God, they were introduced to Sunshine by another family (who were themselves beneficiaries of the programme) and soon six-year-old Chouma and two of her sisters began regularly attending catch up classes. Later, Sunshine enrolled the girls into public school, and they continued to enjoy the full benefits of the Sunshine programme.
As a keen learner and newborn Christian, Chouma was particularly grateful for the opportunities she’d been given: “Sunshine Cambodia changed my life! Here I knew God and became a Christian! Here I was reborn! Thank you, God, for bringing me to Sunshine. Our life faced a lot of problems. However, because of God’s grace, my sisters and I were supported by Sunshine. I’m learning life skills, receiving extra tuition, and taking classes in computer, English and craft. The Sunshine teachers also teach me how to serve the other young children too.”
Only a few weeks after saying those words Chouma and her family disappeared suddenly. All the Sunshine staff were shocked and concerned. They had been whisked back to Vietnam, to their mother’s hometown. Chouma was able to make a couple of quick phone calls to Sunshine staff but could not explain much and was very upset to be in a country where everything and everyone was unfamiliar.
It was only recently that Chouma has felt able to speak of that traumatic time:
“My sisters and I did not want to go to Vietnam. We had been born in Cambodia and we didn’t speak much Vietnamese. At first, we did not know why our mother took us to Vietnam. But later, she told us that we could not live in Cambodia anymore. My sisters and I cried and cried when we heard those words.”
Chouma explains that her mother had borrowed a lot of money to help my father start a car repair business but her father secretly used the loan to get another wife:
“The money lenders would come all the time for the repayments, but my mother’s nail business did not make much money and she also needed to pay rent and bills and look after us all. That’s why she decided run away to Vietnam without telling anyone, including my father.”
Her mother had not been to her hometown for over 20 years. It was hard. They did not speak much Vietnamese and had nowhere to stay so they lived with an uncle.
“At first my mother said it would only be for one week but soon it became clear that wasn’t true. The thought that we would not be going back to Cambodia was a nightmare to me! We had to find jobs. First, we helped prepare steamed cakes by fastening the banana leaves with string. We were promised $30 per month but after working 10 days, they only gave us $5. Then my mother, my older sister and I found work as waitresses and dish washers where we could earn about $60 a month. We rented a bike from neighbours to go to work.”
After three months the family decided that they were determined to move back to Cambodia somehow. This meant getting different jobs, that paid more, and saving everything they could. Her mother found work in a noodle shop and her sister got a job as a house helper in another province. By August that year (they had arrived in January) they had managed to save enough and could return home to Cambodia.
Restarting life in Cambodia
The first thing they did upon returning home was to call Sunshine, who happily welcomed them back.
“I thank God who prepares the way and I also really thank Sunshine who did not abandon me, even though we were gone for many months. Sunshine has given me hope and a bright future by enrolling me at a good school. I am amazed at this opportunity. I want to go to university and serve the poor and needy people, like Sunshine does. Sunshine is my example!”
Following their return, Chouma continued to excel at school all the way up to the point that she recently graduated with a law degree from the Royal University of Law and Economics, making Sunshine history.
Her younger sisters also continued their education and her mother and older sister earn enough money for day-to-day living.
Her father is now living peacefully with his new wife and is not harassing them.
Everyone at Sunshine could not be prouder of Chouma for working so hard and persevering through trial, tears and tribulation and continue to pray God’s richest blessings over her life.
Chouma is also overwhelmingly grateful for the opportunities she’s received: “I would like to express my profound gratitude to Sunshine’s staff and donors for supporting and serving many children and their families (including me) with their money, strength, wisdom, and kind hearts.”
*Names have been changed to protect those we serve.