Sarom’s husband left home 10 years ago to work in Thailand to provide for his family. She stayed in Cambodia to take care of her two children. “I am the oldest of five and I migrated when I was 13 years old to help my mother. Today, I want to give my children the chance of an education”.
Mrs. Sarom Ouey, Social Ambassador
Sarom is a 34-year old mother of two and, as many Cambodian women, she has been left behind. Her husband went to Thailand 10 years ago to work in an electronics factory. He earns between 4,000 and 7,000 Baht per month (115-200 USD), a small salary to support a family of four. Back in her village, Sarom takes care of their two children by herself.
Sarom knows very well why Cambodians decide to leave their country, their hometown, their family behind them, in order to find a better employment. She comes from a family of migrants herself. In 1998, after a severe drought and a series of floods hit the area, rural communities struggled to make ends meet and it became very difficult to find a source of regular income. Sarom’s mother, like many others, decided to try her chance abroad and took her 5 children with her. Sarom, the oldest of her siblings, was 13 at the time. “We were hopeful that there would be job opportunities for us over there and that we would get the chance for a better life”, she said.
But the family did not make it that far as to cross the Thai border. The travel to the border cost them all their savings and on top of that, Sarom fell sick. The mother decided to settle down in the border town and was helped by the militaries stationing in the area. To sustain the family and support her mother, Sarom would not halt before anything. She would climb trees in search of fruit, accept any petty work at the market or even fetch the lilies at the pagoda’s pond to resell them. The money was, however, never enough to feed her and her brothers and sisters.
She was only 13 years old when she crossed the border for the first time to work in Thailand. A Cambodian man delivering water bottles in the village, whom her and her mother knew for some time, promised her work at his factory in Thailand, just across the border. And in fact, the work was there, but handling the heavy water gallons was too hard for Sarom. Soon, she was forced to go back to Cambodia and moved with her mother and siblings to Poipet and her ordeal begun again. Sarom juggled three jobs at the same time: helped her mother baking cakes, which she would sell at the market, push heavy carts across the border and sell insects.
Once she turned 16 years old, a broker helped Sarom and her sister cross the border without any documents and took them to a sugarcane plantation. There, Sarom and her sister were left with very little food, only a small pack of rice in the first week and sugarcane juice to sustain themselves. “After a few weeks, it became very hard for us to work in such physical conditions, we were very weak and so we decided to go back to Cambodia and tried to find work at the border.”
This sour experience did not discourage Sarom and her family from migrating again and they quickly decided to join other families, this time to work in a big farm for 300 Baht (around 9 USD) per day. The families worked very hard for 5 months but they never received their salaries. When the employer asked Sarom’s mother to go back to her village and bring more people to work with them, the family seized the opportunity to escape. They easily found another workplace and got paid this time, although significantly less, 120 Baht per day of labour (around 3 USD).
Sarom returned to Cambodia and begun a family of her own. Once her daughter was born, she decided not to leave her behind. With a second child born two years later, the family could not support itself. Sarom’s husband decided to leave to Thailand to provide for the family, whereas she stayed in the village to take care of their children. “They are too young to be by themselves and I want them to go to school and have the chance of an education. I never had this chance, I don’t know how to read or write. I want a different future for my children”. But living on one income is not easy and Sarom does not know for how long this situation can last. “I don’t want to leave my children alone, but we don’t have money and I will soon need to go back again. They would have a better life if I can find a well-paid job in Thailand”.
Sarom joined the Self Help Groups in 2014. She used to express her hopes and fears in an energetic and enthusiastic way. Thanks to her strong interest in safe migration and her willingness to share her experience, she has been chosen to be one of the five MIGRA ACTION Social Ambassadors. She now attends the Self Help Group meetings regularly and tells her story to inform people in her community about the risks of irregular migration.
Sarom knows that by sharing her experience as a mother, she may influence the decision people make in the future to migrate or not. “In my village, I see children of migrants dropping out from school with no one to look after them. Without proper attention, these kids can feel depressed, lonely and get seriously sick”. Children suffer from the absence of their parents and a better salary does not necessarily replace everything, especially when they are young, in need of special care and close medical attention.
“My youngest boy doesn’t have a very good health, I don’t know what would happen to him if I decided to go back”. When she shows pictures of her two children, there is hope in Sarom’s eyes, hope that their future will be bright and that she will be there for them, always.