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Growing up in Cambodia: Phoen Sopha aged 8

Phoen Sopha
© UNICEF Cambodia/2012/Julie Masis
Phoen Sopha lives in Ormal village, about 30 minutes from the capital city in Battambang province

As told to Julie Masis

Phoen Sopha lives in Ormal village, about 30 minutes from the capital city in Battambang province, north western Cambodia. Sopha said she was 10 years old, but according to her birth certificate, she is only 8 and will celebrate her ninth birthday in November.

Battambang, Cambodia, September 2012 - My name is Phoen Sopha. I don’t remember my birthday. I was born at home, in the village.

Today, I washed clothes – my mother’s, my fathers, my brothers’ and my own – cut water grass, brought water from the pond, and cooked rice. I know how to cook rice, but I can’t cook anything else yet. I don’t know how much time I spent washing clothes today. I washed clothes with my older sister Raksmey. We wash our clothes every two days. If it’s raining, we can’t wash our clothes. To wash our clothes, we have to first bring water from the pond and then we scrub the clothes with a brush and soap. I like washing clothes.

The water grass that grows in the rice fields is for the pigs because it has chemicals in it to help the rice grow. In the pond, the water grass is for eating.
Today, I had fried rice for lunch – without meat or eggs, only with chili peppers. And for breakfast, I had rice that was left over from yesterday evening, and sour fish soup from yesterday. We warmed it up, and it was delicious. My favorite soup is Vietnamese sour fish soup.

The parrot is my favourite animal because it can shout and talk. I like puppies too, but we only have one big dog here.

School will open again in eight days. I will go to Grade 4. I can read and write and count to 100. I know the numbers and I can add and subtract.

When I grow up, I want to have a sewing shop at home. I don’t want to work in a garment factory.

I am afraid of snakes and tigers. I used to walk at night to bring food to the neighbours, and I used to see snakes on the road and I was afraid. When we have good food for supper, we share it with our neighbours. And the neighbours, when they have good food, they will share with us. I also saw a snake once while I was gathering firewood. It was a green snake, and they are poisonous.

I have only a few shirts from my school uniform from last year and only one skirt. I also have two dresses. This red dress I am wearing now, my mother borrowed money from the neighbour to buy for me, because I had no clothes. Right now, my stepfather owes money to someone, so I have no shoes to wear to school. My stepfather said that right now we are in debt, and until he gets paid, he won’t have any money to buy shoes for me. School will reopen in only a few days.

I found two big shoes on the road and brought them home. They are both from someone’s right foot, and they are different sizes – one is really big, and the other one is smaller, but still too big for me. I call these shoes the “the cow” and “the buffalo.” I used to slide and fall when I wore really old shoes.

Currently, I only have a stepfather. My father never comes to visit me because he separated from my mother. I only went to visit my father once, but he was not at home. He left my family when my mother was pregnant with me.

I have three older brothers, one older sister and one younger sister. I have three friends in this village, and at school I have many friends. I like skipping rope.

I have been to Phnom Penh once, and I have been to Battambang town for concerts, but I don’t go there very often. A car to Battambang costs 5,000 riels [US$1.25].
My house has only mats – one mat is for my parents, and the other mats are for my sisters and my brothers. We cannot eat these yellow bananas – they are for the baby. My house has no television, so if I want to watch TV, I sleep at a neighbour’s house. I usually do that a few days per week.

I like reading, but I have no story books. I like pencils, but I have no colour pencils. I like dolls, but I only had a doll once, when my mother bought it for me. I used to play with that doll and pretend like it was my baby. I really need colour pencils because the teacher asks us to draw pictures in class, and I have no pencils.

 

 
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