From A School Teacher To A Construction Worker
March 5, 2015, 8:47 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

From A School Teacher To A Construction Worker

 For more than ten years, Um Sophy, 33, had lived a gracious life as a teacher at a primary school near her house in Lor Peang village, Kompong Tralarch district, Kompong Chhnang province. Every morning, she would leave her house to go to school, dressing up in a teacher’s uniform and carrying a bag with school books and exam sheets she had marked for her students.

More than ten years late, many students she had taught are finishing their high school and are ready to continue their studies at the university. The light of their future is just around the corner.

However, Sophy’s life has turned upside down. These days, she also wakes up early in the morning, but she is not going to school anymore. She dresses up in old clothes and go to a nearby pagoda to do construction work with her husband.

In 2009, Sophy said she fled to Thailand with her husband to avoid arrest in a high profiled land dispute with the KDC Company, owned by Chea Kheng, wife of Minister of Industry, Mine and Energy Suy Sem.

“I was leading the protest, so they wanted to arrest me,” she said, sitting on a wooden bed under a friend’s house in her village. She added: “The court charged me with inciting the villagers to protest.”

Sophy said the land dispute between the villagers and the company would be able to be solved if the government intended to do so. But, she said the court was not willing to do it.

“The [constitution] says we are all equal in front of the laws,” she lamented, “but the powerful people are always above the laws.”

In Thailand, Sophy’s life had turned from bad to worse. After finding scarcer work in Bangkok, she and her husband decided to follow a trafficker who promised them a construction job with a higher pay.

“We were riding in a truck for hundreds and hundreds of kilometers far away from Bangkok,” she recalled. “And I started to wonder where they were taking us to.”

Finally, Sophy said they ended up on an island in the southern part of Thailand, where she met four or five other Cambodians who had been trafficked there. Without passports and travel documents, she said she and other fellow Cambodians were forced to work without pay.

After four months, she said a Cambodian friend managed to find a phone number of a relative in Cambodia and asked him to call the Cambodian Embassy in Thailand for help. She said the embassy intervened and all Cambodian workers were rescued, while the trafficker had escaped.

Sophy said she and her husband were sent back to Cambodia in 2011 along with other Cambodians who had been trafficked to work on the island in Thailand.

Back in Cambodia, however, she said she faced another problem: her name had been deleted from the list of teachers at her school.

“The headmaster told me that my name was removed from the list when the government carried out a census of the civil servants while I was in Thailand,” she said. “Now, I have lost both my land and my job.”

Without having her rice field to farm, Sophy said she could not earn enough money from the construction work to support her two young children.

“When I was teaching and we had our land to farm, we had enough food to eat,” she said, carrying her baby on her lap.

Sophy said she would like to appeal to the government and other authorities to reinstate her as a teacher.

“I had studied for a long time and now I have lost my teaching job,” she said as she choked in tears.

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