Between the silence of serene plains sandwiched by rolling grass fields and the roaring bustle of an ever-modernising city, what would you choose?
Logic says you might choose the city: most young Cambodians are trading in their rural upbringings for a chance at success in Phnom Penh.
For 24-year-old Phorn Sophak, one of three children born to farmers in Kampong Speu province, this means sacrificing the quiet luxuries of home for a small rental apartment to attend university at Royal University of Agriculture.
But this isn’t a decision he regrets. Majoring in the economics of rural development, Sophak feels that hard living is worth the chance at a good education.
“Many of my friends wonder why I chose to major in agriculture,” he said. “Well, I love it and I think that this is the perfect chance to study and give back to my community.”
During his first and second year of university, Sophak had to borrow money from his friends to afford his tuition bills. He also took up myriad part-time jobs to support himself.
“I worked as sales staff for Soy Source, and I did research for different organisations,” he recalled.
Eventually, Sophak’s tenacity paid off and he was sponsored to study by DKKim, an organisation that supports financially underprivileged students, to continue his third and fourth year of study.
Sophak is eagerly looking forward to developing his family’s farm in Kampong Speu, where he plans to expand it from 22 pigs and 150 chickens to a thriving agricultural hub.
“When I talk about this concept of agricultural development, some old people doubt me and think that I’ll end up working in an office in Phnom Penh,” he said. “They question why I want to eventually work in a rural area of Cambodia.”
Despite a bit of discouragement from the elderly, Sophak isn’t ready to give up.
“It’s everyone’s duty to develop our communities, especially young people because we have the ability,” he said. “I was a born as a farmer’s son, so I want to stand up for myself.”
“I’ll use my abilities to develop my community, starting with family first.”
Sophak added: “If we just wait for someone to come and develop our rural community, then we’ll face a lot of difficulty. I was born in my village and I love my village, so I can do it faster and better than outsiders.”
Sophak hopes that one day, his rural community in Kampong Speu will be at the forefront of agricultural development.