College junior Kim Kosal’s life has been full of hard knocks, but he keeps sprinting toward the finish line — graduation.
Kim Kosal’s entire life is a sprint.
Every day, he wakes up around 5 a.m. to make it to his first business management class of the day at 6 a.m. He attends classes until 11:30 a.m., then takes a 10-minute lunch, and races to his job as an assistant office manager by noon. At 5:30 p.m., he teaches an hour-long English course, then he heads to his third job as a restaurant cashier in bustling Phnom Penh, Cambodia until it closes at 2 a.m.
“Then, I sleep,” Kosal says, laughing. “I pull two chairs together, and usually just sleep at the restaurant. I have to start again so early.”
At 22 years old, Kosal has two years until college graduation — but the finish line still feels so far away, sometimes he wonders if he can make it.
“But if I stop classes,” Kosal asks, “how will I care for my mother? How will I afford another surgery?”
As a child, Kosal lived with his mom, aunt, grandmother and four younger siblings. Kosal’s father abandoned his family, and Kosal only has one memory of him — when he returned randomly once when Kosal was 4 and only stayed for two days.
“I was so angry,” Kosal says. “My mother took on the role of both mom and dad, but life was very hard.”
Kosal’s mother worked hard as a farmer, but they were very poor. Kosal says he and his siblings would go without meals. “Sometimes, in my village, they would collect rice for us out of pity,” Kosal says.
With the help of a sponsor, Kosal was able to stay in school and he studied hard, eventually earning a Holt-funded scholarship to go to college in the nation’s capital city, Phnom Pehn. As a senior in high school, Kosal traveled to the city to look for a place to live and a job before his university classes started, but disaster struck.
Kosal was in a car crash that broke his femur, calf bones and foot in several places. He needed surgery, and doctors lodged a metal rod in his upper leg. A thick, bubbling scar marks the entire length of his thigh.
“When I broke my leg, I was so discouraged,” Kosal says. “I was in pain, and lost my motivation to study. I couldn’t even stand and I was always tired.”
Miraculously, Kosal’s village banded together to raise money to cover Kosal’s medical bills and encourage him to keep studying. Kosal is one of only a small handful of students from his village who have ever had the opportunity to attend college. The generosity of his neighbors inspired Kosal to re-commit to his education.
Now, two years later, Kosal says he is constantly exhausted, but his grades are strong.
“It is still hard,” Kosal says. “I’m still very sleepy, and that makes it hard to study. I need another surgery for my leg. But I know that through school, I can help my family.”
Kosal says that after graduation he wants to use his business skills to help farmers from his village, and perhaps even work for a nonprofit organization like Holt.
“So many people try to cheat farmers,” Kosal says. “And it’s because they don’t know what is fair. But I will defend them.”
Kosal is just one of 46 college students in Cambodia who receive full-ride tuition scholarships and a monthly stipend to cover room and board with the help of Holt sponsors and donors. These students are selected from all over the country because they show tremendous academic promise. All the Holt-sponsored university students attend weekly support meetings at the Holt Cambodia office, and Holt’s on-the-ground staff provide additional support and counseling to help these students reach graduation.
“I am so grateful to my sponsors,” Kosal says. “My life hasn’t been easy, but they believe in me. I would never have this opportunity without them.”
Billie Loewen • Creative Lead