Allow us to introduce TOM. His name is Ream. Throughout his childhood, Ream spent his days working in the Steung Meanchey landfill sifting through garbage for scraps of plastic and metal to sell to nearby recycling centers. Despite working from sun up to sun down, he would earn barely one dollar a day and he was struggling to provide for his mother and younger siblings. The largest landfill of its kind in Southeast Asia, hospitals and chemicals companies dump their waste here everyday, leaving the air heavily polluted toxic chemicals. Working in this hazardous environment was extremely dangerous, injuries were common for Ream and he was at high risk for serious health issues.
TOMS Giving Partner Cambodia Children’s Fund works with these children to provide an option for a better future. CCF offers comprehensive childcare including education, healthcare, nutrition, and safe shelter. Ream was enrolled almost five years ago and after advancing in his Math, Science, and English courses he has caught up to his grade level and is excelling in his studies. At Cambodian Children’s Fund, Ream has not only received new TOMS Shoes, but also helps distribute them through the organization’s young Leadership Program. Ream and his peers help educate students on healthy habits and the importance of wearing shoes. They organize distributions and encourage students to study hard to become leaders of their community. Through his work with CCF’s young Leadership Program, Ream is opening doors for a better tomorrow for children who were once in his shoes. #IAMTOM.
Spoken in his own words, here is Ream’s story.
My name is Ream and I’m 18 years old. Before I came to Phnom Penh, I lived in my home village in Prey Veng province.
My mother and father had to move away to try to make a living, but they found nowhere they could do it except on the dump at Steung Meanchey. My family was very poor. After a few months away, my mother came back to bring me to help them at Steung Meanchey. I was scared of that place when I got there. Working all day, my father and mother could make maybe $3. I stayed at home looking after my young brothers and sister.
After a while, my mother needed me to go garbage picking too. It was very hard for me and I felt scared. It was dirty and dangerous, and I knew people looked down on me. After a few months, I made some friends and one of them, my best friend, also came from my home province of Prey Veng. His name is Vannak and, with a friend, I felt a little better than before and we always went garbage picking together.
In the evening Scott [Neeson, the founder of Giving Partner Cambodian Children’s Fund] always came to Steung Meanchey to help people there. Again and again, I tried to ask Scott to take me away from there and let me study in CCF. At Steung Meanchey I never had the chance to study. Life was just finding garbage and getting money. Sometimes I could make $1, on other days about 20 cents.
One day I went to the place where we sold the garbage and I was gashed by a piece of sharp old metal. Another garbage seller helped me clean the wound with water. Scott was at Steung Meanchey the next evening and asked me, “Are you OK? What happened to you?” I told him about my leg. He cared about me and that made me very happy. He took me to CCF to cure me, and I stayed there for two days. Then [I] went back home, back to my garbage life.
One month later when I came back from garbage hunting with my friend – it was 3:47 a.m. — I don’t know why I remember that — I saw my mother crying and I asked her, “Why are you crying?” And she told me [that] I can go to study in CCF…I’m suddenly very, very happy.
When I went to CCF, I didn’t know anyone there. Only one person; Scott. I didn’t sleep at CCF – I went home to the dump every evening. But one night, three weeks later, when CCF knew all about my family, they told me I could sleep there, too, and live there like the others.
I’m so very happy staying at CCF. I study so many subjects; English, computers, sport, painting, dancing — so much. I get good food there that I had never thought I could have. But especially, I get to go to Public School and get sweet love and warmth from CCF. I have studied hard, [completing] two years in one. When I was in Grade 7, I did so well I was jumped straight to Grade 9 and now I’m in Grade 11. Next is University — for me!!
If I did not have CCF, I would still be a garbage picker and my future would be full of problems. But now is nothing like before and I can dream and study and one day I will be a businessman.
I never dreamed that my life could change like this.