From Dump to Doctor

When it comes to receiving an education, not everyone begins on a level playing field. But one Cambodian doctor is a proud example of how to seize an opportunity at the bottom ride it all the way to the top. 

Raised on Phnom Penh’s notorious Stung Meanchey landfill site, Lach Sopheara knows and understands all too well the importance of seizing opportunities and making them count. Born into a family with 3 brothers and 2 sisters, he, like many in the area worked in the landfill to earn just enough money to buy the bare necessities to make through each day.

Lach remembers attending public school at a very young age, a luxury that not many families can afford in the area, but I didn’t last. “I attended grade 1 through grade 3, but had to quit school due to my family’s need to help out and work in the garbage dumps to make money” he says.  The money they were making at the landfill was enough for food or an education for Lach but not both. So with immediate demand of feeding a family more pressing than the long term potential to educate one child, the decision was made to keep all the children at home working on the landfill.

That was until the French NGO Pour Un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE) came along offering an education for young children of the landfill whose parents were unable to afford steady access to schooling. Lach took full advantage of his newly given opportunity at PSE. where he excelled in most Cambodian classes, and also took up French and English, two languages he speaks fluently today. Upon completing grade 12 with outstanding marks, Lach, and some of his siblings were given the opportunity to take on a challenge that is not easily attained by children from the landfill: they were offered university placements paid for by the NGO and its partners. With little hesitation, Lach jumped on the opportunity, as did his siblings. He spent 8 years studying at the University of Health Sciences, earning a Bachelors degree in general medicine. Lach fondly remembers working tirelessly to push through medical school, careful not let down those who had given him a worldview beyond the Stung Meanchey landfill.

PSE gave me a golden opportunity to make something

Today, Lach works in Phnom Penh as an ophthalmologist in a non-profit hospital, finding ways to use his good luck to give back to those less ways to use his goods luck to give back to those less fortunate than he. “It is important for me to pay it forward, and use my skills to make a difference. PSE gave me a golden opportunity to make something of myself and I’ve not lost touch of that, just like I’ve not lost touch of where I came from,” he says. “Just like with education, health is not something we can all afford. It is a luxury and I want to be able to make a difference here in my own way”.


Words by Vivaddhana Khaou