My name is So Thach and I am 25 years old.
I was born in a very poor family in a refugee camp along the Thai border. Growing up, I never received care and love from anyone around me, especially my parents. I just remember the violence. My mum and my aunty were very abusive. I remember being hit and bit.
The violence in my family made me retreat. I was so lonely for so long. I was very quiet and I hated crowds. I forgot how to laugh. I acted out, disobeyed my parents and isolated myself from everyone around me. I felt weight of the world’s injustice towards me. I was jealous of other kids who got to go to school and whose parents actually cared about them.
Mum died when I was 12. I didn’t even feel sad – that’s how bitter our relationship was. After she died, things in our family only grew worse. My stepdad disappeared and it was only aunty and us kids – my stepbrother and my three cousins. We were poor and in the camps there were no opportunities. We moved back to Cambodia, our homeland, and settled in the slums of Phnom Penh. That’s the only place we could live. The whole situation was horrible. Aunty was even more angry and violent. And our economic situation was very bad.
In the slums, someone told my aunty about Hagar and she brought me, my stepbrother and her own three children for help.
When I came to Hagar shelter, I felt uncomfortable. I was confused because there were so many women and children. The doors were always closed. I didn’t feel okay and I found it hard to live. I even ran away one time.
It took a long time for me to feel okay. But at Hagar I had the chance to go to school for the very first time.
A few years later, I was referred to live in a community foster family. That’s where I found love without condition. I ran away at the start, but then I started to see my value and my hope. I felt warmth and love from my foster parents and I began to trust them. They helped me build confidence. They were the good advisers and teachers. Living in community built within me confidence and strength.
Now I am 25 years old. I finished grade 12 and now am preparing for university where I will study photography and design.
The good environment around me for many years changed me into the person that I am today. If I am not strong to fight against the obstacles, I will fail forever.
When I stayed with my foster parents, I wanted to be a professional photographer and own a charitable restaurant to provide food for poor kids. I want to see their smiles when they are full with food.
In the future, I want to do whatever I want to do. I do not want to depend on Hagar for my whole life. Hagar wants to see I can walk by my own two feet. I want to tell to everyone that I am the daughter of God. I want to see myself as a light, a light that could shine over my fears.
Before, I was a troublesome kid, but now I am a mentor for younger girls at Hagar. I changed the most when I became a mentor. It seemed like an alarm clock. I knew I knew I needed to change. I needed to be a good role model for others. That’s when I really started to change. I knew had capacity. That’s when I started to smile.
The girls here love me and they are happy to have me as their mentor. I want to see other girls have hope and have freedom like me. I want to see them smile from the heart.
I am thankful to Hagar for restoring what I lost before. Before, I was like an ugly stone which covered by the grass and now I am like a doll that many people love and hug.
I want to forgive my aunty and my mother. It does not hurt me anymore. I used to cry, but now I don’t anymore.
Thach came to Hagar in the year 2000 along with her aunty, cousins, and stepbrother. Her journey has been a long one. Over the past 13 years, she has been journing towards wholeness with the support of Hagar staff, her friends, and Hagar services. Thach began at Hagar’s Women’s Recovery Shelter and moved through education assistance (grades 1-12, and now moving into university), Community Foster Care, Trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (TF-CBT), and transitional care. She is now considered a semi-independent client who lives in a dormitory in Phnom Penh and continues to access minimal Hagar supports. As a mentor for girls in Hagar’s Girls Recovery Project, Thach is giving back to her community and investing in the lives of girls like her who have experienced isolation and abuse. She just finished high school and is preparing for post-secondary education in photography and design.
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