"I used to be poor, so I know how poor people feel and I understand the situation,” said 28-year-old Mao Sirun, who works hard to erase illiteracy and improve education in Sihanouk province’s rural areas.
After moving to Phnom Penh from his hometown in Kampong Speu, and again to Sihanouk province, Sirun faced plenty of obstacles financing his studies and maintaining a stable living environment.
But now, Sirun is the Community Education Coordinator at M’lop Tapang, an organisation dedicated to children’s rights, education and care in Sihanouk province.
“When I was in year-10, I earned a bit of money working as a part-time English teacher,” Sirun recalled. “I knew English because I had studied it for two years prior.”
During high school, Sirun could only attend public classes because it was all he could afford at the time; meanwhile, his peers sat extra classes.
This didn’t put him at a disadvantage, however.
Diligence in his studies propelled him towards a successful graduation and a full scholarship to pursue his Bachelor’s in English Literacy at the University of Management and Economics in Sihanoukville.
Back in 2007, M’lop Tapang held a training course on aiding the local community, which Sirun attended. After the course, he was selected as a volunteer at the organisation; shortly thereafter, Sirun was promoted to work as a full-time employee, thanks to his hard work.
Today, it’s Sirun’s job to raise the children’s interest in taking up study and also persuading their parents to send them to M’lop Tapang to study.
Also, he has to encourage those children to stand up for positive social change and help them make a plan on how to achieve their goals.
Sirun said that the hardest part of his job is convincing the child’s parents to send them to study.
“Some parents are still strict with the idea that their child should be earning money for the family, or doing housework and other tasks rather than being at school,” he said.
Sirun added that those children who grow up in a negative family environment, characterised by alcohol, drugs and gambling, are at most risk for repeating these habits.
Yet, Sirun refuses to give up his advocacy work, and maintained that these children still have a good chance at success through education.
Sirun has seen much positive change since he began his work, keeping him motivated.
“I never look at my work as an achievement, but instead a contribution,” he said. “I am really happy when I see that children have a chance to study and their parents understand the value of education.”
In the future, Sirun wants to improve the reach of his work at M’lop Tapang and help even more children get a chance at success.
“In spite of the fact that I cannot personally finance these children, I will always do something for them and contribute as much as I can to those children,” he said.