Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Growing up in Cambodia: Tou Eourn aged 14

Eourn washes a motorbike.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2012/Reid
Tou Eourn has never attended school and works as a motorbike wash attendant in Svay Anthor Village, Prey Veng province.

“My name is Tou Eourn and I’m 14 years-old. I’ve been living in Prey Veng province for two to three months now. I used to live in Battambang province with my parents until they divorced. After the divorce, my mother and I moved to Ratanakiri province and I lived in a pagoda with the monks.  I used to assist many monks and be a monk boy. I worked as a monk boy for five years.

Then my mother remarried a man who used to have many wives. He is 60 years-old and helps out at the pagoda during the festivals. My mother and stepfather do not work.  They live in Kamchay Mea district which is thirty minutes away from here by motorbike.

My mother sent me here to live and work for my stepfathers’ old neighbours to earn some money. I live in the back of the shop. I wash motorbikes and wash the cleaning cloths. I also help with re-fuelling the gasoline bottles. I live alone in the shop but near my neighbours. I earn 100,000 riel (US$ 25) per month.

I had an older sister and brother but they are both dead. My sister died when she was three years-old and my brother died when he was two years-old. They both died from illnesses. I have four younger sisters but three died. One sister died when she was one month old and the other two died when they were two months old.
Eourn after washing a motorbike.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2012/Reid
I only have one living sister left and she is three years-old and lives with my mother. I rarely see my mother but I will visit her for the Pchum Ben holiday. I will stay there for three days and then come back.

I don’t go to school because my mother is very poor and I give all the money I earn to my mother. I work every day. I sometimes get up at four or seven in the morning. I would like to go to school but my mother doesn’t allow me to. My job is light work and I don’t have to work hard.  When I was younger, I insisted that I go to school, but my mother would say she couldn’t afford to pay for a school uniform and school bag. I have never been to school. I wanted to go to school like other boys. There are not many children where I live so I have no-one to play with. Sometimes I play with my neighbour which makes me happy but I miss my mother.

Once, when I had free time from the pagoda in Ratanakiri, I went to play in the school grounds with the other children and they chased me away. Some of the school boys asked me how much I learnt from living at the pagoda. I told them I learnt a few verses.

My favourite possession is my mother the most because my father used to hit her often. One time he hit her so hard, her head bled and that’s when she decided to divorce him. My father asked me to choose between him and my mother and I chose my mother.

When I get older, I want to do business. I want to work in Thailand and catch seafood and earn lots of money. If I could have one wish, I’d wish to live with my mother forever, I feel sorry for her.”

As told to Reth Yuth and Angelique Reid

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