After her mother's death in 2004, Matt filled the absent parental role for her siblings. She felt it was her duty as the eldest. Matt works in a garment factory along with her two sisters and lives in a rented room on the industrial outskirts of Phnom Penh.
I’ve been working in garment factories since 2004. It’s been ten years. During those years, a lot in my life has changed. I used to live with my aunt before I started working so I would do all of the chores around her house. Now that I earn my own income I can afford to buy whatever I want and I can help my younger siblings go to school. I have two sisters and one brother. I am 28, my brother is 26, the third is 24, and the last one is 19 years old. My two younger sisters also work in garment factories but our brother goes to university.
I had a rough childhood so I want to forget about it. When I was young I sold things in the market like fish and meat. I sold anything I could. I would sell things for other people, too, in order to save for my siblings and me to go to school. We lived in Sihanoukville then and my family was poor. All of my siblings had to work to earn money for school at the age of seven or eight. In 2004, my mom passed away. That’s when I quit school.
My father was a drunk. He always caused problems – swore at us or threw things around the house or kicked us out. Because of his abuse I decided to bring my siblings to Phnom Penh to live with our aunt. After living with her for about 4 months we had to rent our own house. The financial burden was too much for her.
When I was a child I dreamt that I would finish school and get a good job that could support my family and me. When my mother died I had to quit school to work because I am the oldest sibling. I was only in fifth grade. I felt such pity for myself after quitting school. Ultimately, I had no choice. Time wouldn’t stop. I had to look forward and take care of my siblings.
I must sacrifice myself for their sake. It hasn’t been easy. At times I feel really irritated and stressed but when my siblings behave themselves, and don’t give me a hard time, I feel my capabilities are limitless. Even if we don’t have parents, we still have each other. As the eldest sibling I feel a great responsibility to be a good role model for my brother and sisters.
Financially, we can only depend on ourselves. Unlike others whose parents are still alive, we can’t survive without working. I don’t have the luxury of living that way. If it were up to me I would not work in a garment factory. I want to open a small shop where I have the potential to earn income daily. With my current job, I have to wait until the end of the month to get a paycheck from the factory. By that time, I need to pay rent and it seems I have nothing left. Unfortunately, I don’t have the ability to realize this dream for myself right now because I need to support my brother who is in university. Once he graduates I could probably quit my job at the garment factory and open my own shop. I’m optimistic about my future. When my siblings were young, I worried they wouldn’t listen to me. But it turns out my siblings are good kids. I hope the future will be easier. Since I am having a hard time for their sake now, I believe they will think about me when they have jobs.
Translated by ជួន ចន័្ទ រាសី Choun Chan Reasey.
This interview has been edited for clarity. It was conducted on August 10, 2014 outside Matt’s room in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.