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Sophea grew up out the back of a market. Her life was not easy.

“My mother was cruel and hit me whenever I did something wrong. At times I thought she might not be my real mother because she was so cruel towards me. My father was the only one who showed me love.”

Then one day a friend of Sophea’s father grabbed her, pushed her into a car and drove her 300 kilometres away. Sophea remembers that moment clearly.

“My father just looked at me, allowing her to take me, without saying a word. To this day, I don’t know if he did that to sell me or to save me from my mother.”

Far from being saved, Sophea’s abuse became even more severe in her new home. Kept in slavery by the woman who took her, Sophea was not allowed to go anywhere and was not given enough food to eat.

For years, Sophea moved between homes in the woman’s community. Everyone was violent towards her – even the children. While they would go to school, she was forced to take care of the cows in the field.

“I just wanted to be like a normal child, going to school with loving parents.”

Sophea tried to run away many times but each time she would be caught and face further abuse. She even tried to commit suicide by jumping out of a window but, thankfully, did not succeed.

One day, Sophea took one of the children’s bicycles and pedaled as fast as she could for as far as she could. Eventually, she was stopped by some people who said she was too young to be riding alone in the dark. They took her to the village chief, who referred her to Hagar.

“When I first came to Hagar, I was so happy. Happy to escape a life of violence and running away. Happy that I had found a safe place. I found parents who loved me and gave me a chance to go to school. I finally got what I always wanted.”

Of course, that was just the beginning of Sophea’s long journey to healing.

“It’s been 12 years since I first came to Hagar and my life has changed a lot. Through Hagar’s help, I was able to finish primary and secondary school…Through the years, my passion to help girls like me has become stronger.”

Sophea is now in her final year of university. She is studying to become a social worker. Outside of her studies, she volunteers with a number of charities that work with disadvantaged children. Her strength and resilience is inspirational, and she is so grateful to Hagar’s supporters.

“I want to thank every one of you… If not for people like you who help girls like me, I wouldn’t be here today… Thank you for walking with me in this journey.”