Glimmer of Hope


Joun Sophal’s family is made up of 9 members. Sophal’s wife, Khong Joe and his 7 children aged 3 to 20 years old. Fortunately, five of his children are able to go to school with the support from PSE. The other two have not reached schooling age. 43 year-old Joun Sophal is a rubbish collector.

Sophal begins his day at 3:30 in the morning. He brings along with him his rubbish cart and lunch as he heads to the new dumpsite at Cheng Erk, which is about 10km from where they live. Everyday, he walks around 1 and a half to 2 hours to reach his destiny and is able to start picking waste at 5:30am, he takes a short break for lunch and again continues digging and picking until 4pm. He then walks back for home until around 5:30pm. Joe, on the other hand, takes charge of housework. Once the children have eaten and left for school, she starts to sew jute sack at home to earn extra and normally finishes at 9:00pm. Sophal is able to earn around $6.5 a day from scavenging, while Joe earns about $4.5 a day from selling sack.

Their meager combined earnings are just enough to pay for their food and house rental in Steung Meanchey, where they found themselves years back just to be closer to the dumpsite, which was closed down in 2009. All 9 of them manage to fit in 4m by 5m dilapidated house with materials made out of rotting wooden frames, pieces of plywood callously nailed as patched walls. Their roof is made of old zinc. “We have been living here for the longest time and I cannot remember a single day that we did not face any problems in our surroundings. Flooding has become a casual thing during the rainy season. We have been used to the smell and buzz of the mosquitoes but we also try to be careful in the best way we know just so our children will be free from diseases. It is hard to avoid diseases though in a place like this,” said Sophal.

“Apart from our daily expenses such as food, transportation and utilities, we try to keep some small amount for medicines,” he adds.

Sanitation is another concern for Sophal and many other families around the community. Among the 100 families around the area, there are only 4 communal toilets provided by PSE for their use; the landlord do not agree to build more than this number on their property. With very limited sanitation facilities, most of the families, specifically children always go around the village to defecate. “I have no choice but to sometimes bring my children to the field, because 4 toilets are not enough for all the people here. I hope that when we live in the new place, we can experience some good changes. By that time, I hope my children will be able to live healthily and can concentrate well on their studies without being ill anymore,” added Joe.

Sophal’s family has visited the Smile Village site and was explained about the plan of the area they are going to move into in the near future. There are excited about the new location due to its closeness to the new dumpsite. The thought of not needing to wake-up at 3:30 and walking for almost 2 hours gave Sophal encouragement.

Sophal and Joe also look forward to the new skills they will learn from the livelihood training that will be provided to them in Smile Village. The prospect of gaining new skills and new livelihood opportunities give them a glimmer of hope.