Cambodian farmer girl, domestic helper, and now economic zone champion

Ms Sor Chinda, former domestic helper in Kuala Lumpur, now customer relationship officer at Sanco Poipet Special Economic Zone in Cambodia. -- PHOTO: TAN HUI YEE
Ms Sor Chinda, former domestic helper in Kuala Lumpur, now customer relationship officer at Sanco Poipet Special Economic Zone in Cambodia. -- PHOTO: TAN HUI YEE

TALL and confident, Ms Sor Chinda emerged from her office as soon as our car pulled up at the information centre in Sanco Poipet Special Economic Zone, north-west Cambodia.

My interpreter and I had turned up unannounced, but it was hardly an issue for the 30-year-old customer relations officer, who proceeded to answer my questions about the development in flawless English.

“In one or two years’ time, it will be like Kuala Lumpur,” she said, trying to paint a rosy picture of the future awaiting this grubby Cambodian border town.

Then, without skipping a beat, she said: “If it is like Malaysia, then I won’t miss Malaysia anymore.”

Malaysia?

“I spent 10 years in Malaysia, and came back to Cambodia four months ago,” she said.

Her life story came tumbling out.

She had gone to Kuala Lumpur 10 years ago as domestic helper. She was undernourished and had only four years of schooling, but impressed her employers by working hard.

They decided to send her to English classes at a private school.

“My madam used to tell me: ‘I can’t give you money but I can give you knowledge so that you can feed yourself.’”

Ms Sor Chinda studied English for six years – including one year full time – eventually becoming good enough to help out as a receptionist in her employers’ firm when she had time off from housework.

She even bagged the “Cambridge English: Preliminary” test certificate, an intermediate level certificate.

But her parents’ ill health prompted her to return to Cambodia last year.

These days, she spends her time convincing international investors to sink millions of dollars into factories at the special economic zone in Poipet.

Few of them know that she cannot write Khmer. “I don’t know how to write my own language, because I only studied up to Grade Four,” she said. “I can only read and write English.”

Several times, she had considered writing to the Malaysian newspapers to counter the impression that Malaysian employers abuse their domestic helpers. But she did not know where to start.

Even though she now earns half of the US$400 (S$531.46) she used to make in Kuala Lumpur, she marvels at how far she has come.

“Can you imagine, I was  just a farmer girl who used to go the paddy field every morning... I never had enough food to eat.

“But when I was with Madam and Sir, I could eat whatever I wanted…

“I just want to say, thank you, thank you, thank you.”

tanhy@sph.com.sg