October 01, 2019
My name is Sony. And 8 years ago when I was in grade 7, I joined Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program. I grew up in a city many of you may have heard of – Siem Reap. It’s known for Angkor Wat and beautiful temples that represent the heritage of the Khmer people, beautiful sites of which we are very proud.
Like these temples, we all have a past that forms our foundations. And when I was invited to tell my story with you, I wondered how much I should actually share. A large part of my past meant growing up with an alcoholic father and watching my mother struggle to make ends meet. But no matter how long the hours she worked, no what she endured, she showed me what it meant to stand up again and again.
There were many points in my life when I wanted to give up. Because my mother was almost always working, I spent mornings and evenings taking care of my brother and managing the home. Many times, the financial strain, the family pressure, the studying, it all felt like too much for me.
But the life skills I learned in the Girls’ Education Program helped me keep going. They showed me I had a deep strength inside that I had not yet realized. I learned how to persevere and had my social mobilizer there to encourage me when I wanted to give up.
I learned how to express and manage my emotions in a home with a lot of turmoil. I learned how to manage my time to make sure my studies, chores and brother were all cared for.
But the most important part? I learned how to look ahead and know where I stood was not the end, but just the beginning.
I learned how to plan for university, to think about my career, and take steps towards the future I wanted, not the one I thought I was destined for.
If I didn’t learn this in the Girls’ Education Program, I’d be living a very different life right now. I wouldn’t be here in New York speaking in front of you all. Honestly, I would probably be a timid farmer or sugar cane juice seller working in the outskirts of of Siem Reap, the hard workers many tourists don’t see.
But now, I stand here proudly. I’m the first woman in my family to not just graduate from secondary school, but also go to university. I’m here as the first person from my village to come here to New York.
I’m here with hope for my future, that my degree in international relations will help me become an ambassador one day.
I no longer let my past limit me. Instead, I use it as motivation – because I know whatever obstacle is ahead I have what it takes to overcome it.
All of my life I watched my mother sacrifice. So, I do this for her and for all the Khmer girls who have yet to realize what they are capable of. Like the temples of Siem Reap and me, we can all leave a legacy we are proud of. We can pave our own paths and open doors for other girls to follow.
So thank you for making this possible.
Thank you for believing in girls like me.