Sophy Ron went from scavenging for rubbish at a dump in Cambodia to studying at the University of Melbourne, showing that scholarships can be truly transformational.
Sophy Ron (TC 2018) has a story that most couldn’t fathom. Growing up in a province of Phnom Penh in Cambodia, Sophy spent much of her childhood in a garbage dump. Here, she and other children scavenged for things to sell, while her parents worked at a nearby rubber plantation. Farm work was unreliable, and many times her family was uprooted as they searched for cheaper rent around the dumpsite. The houses Sophy lived in had canvas walls and holes in the ceiling. ‘I slept under the rain, because I saw my parents do it and I thought, if they’re okay with it, I’m okay with it too,’ she says.
Sophy’s life wasn’t just uncomfortable, but also dangerous, and she can recall at least three occasions when she narrowly escaped death as heavy rubbish items tumbled from trucks. In spite of her situation, Sophy had no other life experience to compare to, and hence considered her situation normal. ‘I just guessed that it was what everyone did,’ she says with a shrug.
It wasn’t until her older sister was taken in by the Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF) and was given the chance to go to school that Sophy got a sense of what she’d been missing out on. ‘[My sister] was clean and she looked nice,’ remembers Sophy. ‘I didn’t even know what school was – all I thought was that if I went there, maybe I could look nice too.’
Eventually Sophy was also taken under the wing of CCF, and, at age 11, began going to school and learning English. Understanding that school was an inaccessible privilege for many children, she began running classes for village children who weren’t fortunate enough to receive a formal education. ‘I knew they wanted to go to school like me, but didn’t have the chance, so I taught them at my home.’
Sophy’s natural talents as a communicator and entrepreneur ultimately helped her secure one of Trinity College’s first scholarships for Cambodian students, awarded through a partnership with CCF. The all-inclusive scholarship, valued at around $300,000, includes a year of Foundation Studies at Trinity College’s Pathways School, followed by a three-year degree at the University of Melbourne while living at Trinity’s Residential College. ‘I can’t describe how I felt when I found out I got the scholarship,’ says Sophy. ‘I just couldn’t stop smiling and I felt like my life was going to change.’
Since graduating from Foundation Studies in June 2019, Sophy has commenced a Bachelor of Arts and has settled into her room at Trinity College. ‘I’ve never had the chance to live like this,’ she says of her current living arrangement. ‘When I was at the dump, I lived in a small room, crammed in with the rest of my family, and it wasn’t even a proper building. It’s so nice to have a room on my own, while also being surrounded by such friendly people.’
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