Australia Awards – Cambodia

Mr Sot Kimson, A graduate from the Crawford School, ANU
Updated: November 2016

ANU graduate pleased parent did not take their neighbour’s advice

Growing up in a village – known as ‘Beong village’ which while being just 40 kilometres from the capital – Phnom Penh, for Kimson it was light years away. He had no idea what life in the city would be like or even what the city actually looked like! But one thing for sure for Kimson the city was very different from the village.

He went to school on foot. It sounds sensible since the typical village children did the same in the rural areas. But wait, he was not a typical child; he has a weak leg after surviving polio when he was one year old. Just getting to school, which was about four kilometers from his home, on a bumpy slippery road was not something easy.

Every so often there was advice from some of the neighbors. They said “sending him to school was a waste of resources. But his parents ignored the often repeated advice and continued to send him to school despite the fact that they also had to support another five children with the produce of a few small-paddy-rice fields.

After completing high school Kimson tried every opportunity to come to the capital city in order to continue his studies. But it took him for about four years just to find a place where he could have some training in English, basic accounting and computer studies. When he first came to Phnom Penh in 1998 it was to visit The Cambodia Trust facility to have his first leg brace fitted and it was through the staff that he heard about Wat Than.

“I was very happy to get my very first leg brace after 17 years it is vital for my mobility and it allows me to walk and stand longer.”

So after hearing about Wat Than in 2001, he asked some of his friends in the village who knew Phnom Penh to take him there. “One of my friends agreed and we found the place.” They allowed him to take the test and it was tough for him since it was an English language test.

“The training coordinator allowed me to sit for the entry test, but I failed the first test and she said let’s meet another time.” She arranged for another test and he failed again and again and again.

“I sat for the entry test five times, however I failed in every single attempt.” Kimson said.

Kimson knew almost nothing about English. He had very basic language skill from one of his friends who studied and taught English in an urban area came to the village every weekend. Not wasting any moment he took every opportunity to study with his friend.

He failed in every attempt he made, but because of his perseverance and determination to study in the center he was given a dispensation under a conditional basis. He must pass two tests in the first three months otherwise he would not have a chance to study in the center.

He passed all the tests in the first three months and his English proficiency was gradually improved a lot. “I was lucky enough to rent a room with a friend from Kampong Cham who taught me English everyday.”

In the middle of the training programme Kimson received bad news from the training coordinator. This time it was not that he had failed the test, but the programme ran out of funds and they had to close it. All the students who were studying there were very worried. Fortunately about two months later World Vision agreed to take over the project.

In March 2004 he completed his training courses and worked as an intern at the NGO CARE international in Phnom Penh and a year later, in 2005 he applied for and was selected to be a staff member. Kimson realized that he must continue his studies at the university, thus he worked really hard toward his dream. Two years later he went to the university and finished in 2011.

From 2007 to 2011 he had a tight schedule, in the morning from 6:00am–7:30am he were studying English language funded by AusAID, from 8:00am–5:00pm working full time at CARE International in Cambodia and from 5.30pm–8.00pm studying at the university.

Since the family was poor, the burden of supporting the youngest brother who was also in university fell on him. All his hard work paid off. In 2015, he completed a challenging Master of Public Policy from one of the prestigious universities – the Crawford School, Australian National University (ANU). He has the highest level of education amongst his six siblings and indeed of anyone in the village.

“After finishing high school in 1999, I had to stop my studies temporarily as my family could not support me so what I had to do was to find a way out to the university myself.”

“I was very lucky to have a chance to do the intern job at CARE International and subsequently was selected and promoted to higher posts.”

“I always had a dream to study in an English-speaking country, so what I had to do was to wage wars against my disability – work hard and study hard.”

“I chose ANU because it is ranked amongst the top universities in the world, particularly public policy.”

During his studies Kimson set aside time to make connections with international as well as national students and his professors and he still get in touch with them.

“I enjoyed my time in Canberra, even it was a bit quiet. But I also took the opportunity to see more of Australia and I travelled to Melbourne and Sydney.”

Kimson has no firm plans for his immediate future, however he is currently working in the area that he loves which is education and further study is something what he wants to explore more.

Sot Kimson contracted polio when he was a child and as a result has a mobility disability – although he has not let that stop him from succeeding in his studies and work life.