"I was a scavenger at the landfill. I went to work there with my mother", Sopheak recalls. Before coming to PSE, he had lived at the municipal landfill in Phnom Penh for 10 years, which today has closed and been moved to outside the capital. As a child, he never could have imagined such a nice future. His life changed the day he met Christian and Marie-France des Pallières, PSE's founders.
"I remember the day when this French cople, accompanied by a young Cambodian girl who translated what they were saying came to see me. After asking me questions about my life, my family situation and my needs, this couple, Papy and Mamie, brought me right to PSE. The first time I walked through the doors of the association, it was night time (sometimes around 10:00 p.m.). Papy and Mamie then took care of me like I was their own child and allowed me and my brother, to take a shower with real soap, and to sleep comfortably in a room. Honestly, at the time, I wasn't too sure who Papy and Mamie were!"
Sopheak came back to PSE in 2000 and started going to school the day after his arrival. He stayed for about 12 years, from primary school on up through vocational training.
"I learned so much from PSE, because when I was a student, I really was like a blank slate. I didn't know anything. I learned everything from the kids in grades above me, and from my teachers. They taught me everything" says Sopheak.
"My dreams were different from the other students. I didn't want to work in Cambodia since I thought that the salary was really low and as such wouldn't allow me to improve my family's situation. I wanted 'a big salary and lots of money'. So, I started to do research on the Internet to try to find a job somewhere overseas. I found job offers from all over the world. I was lucky enough to be allowed to interview and then was hired."
The following week, Sopheak began working on a cruise ship in charge of client relations. He was the only Cambodian employee, everyone else was from another country. He came away with many life lessons from this experience. The cruise ship traveled to countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore, Laos and China. Sopheak worked with them for around a year and then decided to return to Cambodia so he could be near his family. Next, he began working at a restaurant in Phnom Penh.
"In May 2013, I started working in a restaurant in Phnom Penh. I was reminded of what I had learned in school. In July of 2014, I came to the Khema Pasteur, a restaurant that is part of the Thalias group, which is where I continue to work today. At first I was just a waiter but after only a month I was promoted to assistant manager."
Sopheak also founded an English conversation club to help his colleagues improve their speaking skills. In fact, one of his personal goals is to share his knowledge, just like what his PSE experience since, "without PSE, I would not be where I am today."