Han Phally’s Journey from Rubbish Dump to University

Of the 5 girls who have made it to university from the People Improvement Organization, 3 are being sponsored through Dharma Care’s Srey Lak Program for Girls. If you started life on a rubbish dump in a third world country like Cambodia, your chances of making it to university would be comparable to the proverbial camel passing through the eye of a needle. Yet, through hard work and the support of donors and PIO’s teachers, these young women have attained what would have been a far distant dream when they were picking through rubbish to find food, clothing and shelter.

Before Phymean Noun, the founder and CEO of PIO, placed her in PIO’s boarding school, the Stung Meanchey Waste Dump was Han Phally’s entire universe. When the family’s farm in Prey Veng Province failed, Phally and her sister, Kean, moved to Stung Meanchey with their grandmother and uncle. Their home was a rickety tent standing precariously on a pile of Phnom Penh’s rubbish, hardly able to shelter them from torrential rain and punishing wind.

Little children like Phally would work alongside adults picking through the toxic waste looking for things to sell. On a good day, they would earn 3000 to 4000 riel, or about $1.20 a day. They scavenged for food and clothes in the rotting rubbish.

Life on a rubbish dump is perilous, especially for kids. The air is pungent with toxic fumes from carelessly discarded hazardous chemicals. Falling into a hole in the rubbish can prove lethal. Injuries from sharp objects are common. Phally remembers kids being killed by rubbish trucks whose drivers failed to see them.

One day, when Phally was 9 years old, she met Phymean who frequented the rubbish dump persuading kids to study at PIO. Phally begged her grandmother to let her go to school. Initially her grandmother was reluctant, but when she found out that food, shelter and education are provided for free, she agreed.

Phally’s life was transformed: not only was she provided with three nourishing meals a day, there were also snacks and dessert; she was given clean clothes to wear and a home in PIO’s boarding school, known as the Shelter; doctors and dentists provide regular healthcare; she was able to study alongside other kids with backgrounds like hers; and most importantly, she was given a future.

Today, Phally is a student at the National University of Management with aspirations of owning her own business and helping other kids like her. Though she has little time to spare, she is also working at a shop as a cashier to help support her family who are still farming in Prey Veng Province.

Han Phally (right) and her sister, Han Kean (left) at PIO

Recently, Phally thanked Dharma Care’s sponsorship via a YouTube video:

There are many more girls like Phally whose lives could be transformed by your generosity. Please visit our Srey-lak Program for Girls page to make a donation.

Miyako Armytage