Instead of going to school, Sophy Ron spent her days as a kid picking trash in a landfill in search of food and recyclables to sell, trying to learn what she could by peeking into her older sister’s classrooms.
Now 21 years old, she’s off to the University of Melbourne’s Trinity College with a scholarship.
Ron’s family moved to the Steng Meanchey landfill known as “Smoky Mountain” in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, because they couldn’t pay back an overwhelming amount of debt, according to the ABC in Australia. But everything changed for Ron at age 11, when the Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF) gave her the opportunity to enroll in school.
Ron met Scott Neeson, the founder of CCF, by chance in Smoky Mountain.
At 11 years old, Sophy Ron was forced to work at a waste dump in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in order to support her family https://t.co/jfQH0cYnTG— Ratri Srikandhi (@suksmaratri) June 18, 2019
"I ran home feeling happy because he promised he would take me to school,” Ron told the ABC.
At the time, the local school only allowed each family to send one child to classes.
CCF helped Ron receive a scholarship to attend her first year at the University of Melbourne’s Trinity College, where she’ll continue her studies this month. The organization educates over 2,000 children at its schools and aims to teach students to become leaders and create a better future.
Without education, many children struggle to leave landfills like Smoky Mountain. A lack of access to clean water and proper sanitation leads deadly diseases spreading easily between waste and feces in landfills. A recent UNICEF report found that in Cambodia, a third of children under 4 years old were stunted and about half of children between the ages of 5 and 14 did not have access to proper toilets. It’s crucial for children who live in landfills to understand the importance of sanitation and hygiene to take care of themselves and their families, the agency said.
Since Ron left Smoky Mountain, thousands continue to rummage through the trash daily. She plans to use her bachelor's degree to start a business and continue working with CCF to provide education housing and medical treatment for Cambodian communities.
“I hope it [college] changes my life in the future," she said.