“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” —Nelson Mandela
More than a decade ago, Sophy Ron was just one of the faceless and nameless children living in a garbage dump in the city of Phnom Penh in Cambodia. Born poor, she grew up with the 40-hectare piece of land where people threw their trash as her home, and she would wake up every day to the pungent smell of the Stung Meanchey Municipal Waste Dump, locally referred to as “Smokey Mountain.”
Naturally, the garbage dump is where she and her family depended on for their living. Throughout her young life, Sophy scavenged through the mounds of trash looking for items of value that they could sell and earn enough to feed the family.
Because of her circumstance, the young girl didn’t go to school and only got her first taste of education at 11 years old, when members of a non-profit organization visited the area on a mission. The Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF) sent her and other underprivileged kids to school, and the rest, as they say, is history.
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On their website, the CCF described Sophy’s former life as a scavenger, and how she would “spend seven days a week knee-deep picking through noxious trash on the dump to earn money for her parents.”
It also wrote that the young girl survived “by eating discarded food that she managed to scavenge from amid the filth.”
But on May 24 this year, Sophy stood before the entire batch of graduating students at the Trinity College in Melbourne, Australia to give her valedictory speech. Yes, she graduated valedictorian.
She was quoted by the Indonesian Instagram account suaramudaid (“Young Voice” in English) as saying (roughly translated from Indonesian):
“I was born from a parent who works as a scavenger. Living in a garbage dump, we often eat food from landfills.
“11 years ago, I just felt what was called education. One thing that makes us survive to face this life is ‘THANK YOU.’ A glimmer of hope began to emerge, there was an institution working in the social field to help children who could not afford to continue their education to college and I was lucky to get that opportunity and I did not want to waste that opportunity.
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“Thank God, finally I was able to finish my education at Trinity College and became one of the best graduates.”
The 21-year-old also received a coveted full scholarship to the University of Melbourne — the first student from CCF to do so.
As she faces more challenges ahead, Sophy only has this to say: “Thanks for being supportive people! I love you all!”