The intelligent and genuine Marie Cammal graced Ladies Magazine with an inside view on running her own NGO Sok Sabay. The day to day is never easy but very rewarding to see the lives of Cambodian children evolving into successful and smart Cambodian adults who are given kindness and opportunity to further their lives. Marie Cammal has a great gift of knowing what others are capable. She is an incredible woman in business in Cambodia and someone the Ladies team admires greatly for her courage and humble love.
Can you tell me what you do?
I have a shelter for mistreated children, so people who have been enslaved, abandoned, starved or in chains by the parents. It’s mostly domestic violence and the children come to my NGO. It’s like a boarding school. Kids go outside but also inside for school in a shelter. My NGO is called Sok Sabay. I have been running the shelter for over 20 years now. SO the first student I rescued now has her bachelor’s degree, 4 year lawyer degree, tourism, and one from rape. So I am quite happy.
How did you get to that level of success? How did you build it up?
I trust on their capacity. They are very clever so I push them to study. They study very hard during the day and also at night. They have math, biology, physics, chemistry and study until 8pm. They have holidays but otherwise they stay in the center. I run it like a big family, so the big teach the small; the small teach the smaller. So we are very open to music, classical music. Most of them play an instrument from clarinet, drums, piano, violin, recorder. We do local arts and have an art exhibition once a year. We are very connected to Singapore and get lots of funds through Singapore. We go once a year to a charity night in Singapore.
How did you come up with the idea?
It’s a long, long story, but I spent a few years in a refugee camp so an Asian refugee camp holding people from Laos, Cambodian, Vietnam, but to the Khmer refugee camp. So I really felt the Khmer needed my help of training as a nurse and tropical medicine. I learned Khmer at the university of London, so I spent a few years in South East Asia for refugee people then I studied to come to Cambodia and was back and forth from Cambodia for over two decades
And it’s just grown since then?
Yes, well I don’t take anymore. My last rescue were just one year ago. Last year I rescued 15 more children from the rubbage dump and that’s too much. I like to rescue one and increase the integrity of the shelter before rescuing another one. But last year was special because I went to a new rubbage dump where kids were starving, mistreated, parents with a lot of alcoholism. So I rescued them, but now I am very busy with Laos program at the moment and cannot rescue any more kids. Most of my children go to university. You have to push the students to give them a better life. They cannot go back to square one. They come from very extreme poverty, extreme domestic violence. If you give education to the youngest, they can change that community, they can change that family, they can buy a house and land for their parents and their parents can die in dignity. It is really to slow down the process of poverty in Cambodia. A better future, responsible citizens, they can vote, they can be part of the society and not put in apartheid. The poor people have no voice, but once you have education you have a voice as a woman.
For people who don’t know about this, what can they do to help?
Well of course funds are the best. If we have funds we can promote more education. Like, last year we were struggling, so we had lesser sports and things. If we don’t have money, we can’t fund our program. No work is silly; you have to be the best at what you are doing. They need to learn to push themselves to be better and want to be better. I am less like a mother and more like a coach.
What advice to you have for other women who want to do what you are doing?
You need lots of courage, lots of self confidence, lots of strength, and a little bit of crazy. (not sure how much *chuckles*). You know when you start you never know where you will end up. And when you start you are like I cannot do that, but when the children are there then you just do, you have to push for her, you have to push for him, and eventually you have to push for them. When you get old it gets harder because you are tired
What makes me happy is when they come to see me, they have a job, and you become like the moon. You become their uncle. And when they come back to see you once or twice every year, or two years because they know I am strong, I am for them, I will never cheat them, so I am like an uncle. I am their uncle. It’s kind of cool you know? Because then they get me thinking Wow! I have achieved a lot. Some of them are taller than me *laughs*. It’s an exhausting job and I work every day, but at the end of the day I am happy. You have to fight not only for you but for the mothers, the children. etc. You have to tell and teach people they are strong enough to stand for who they are. Help people to be strong, especially female. Start small, fight for yourself and fight for your people and then you will succeed. For me, where there’s a will there’s a way anywhere in the world.