Drunk Driver Cuts Short Life of Struggling Student

PHNOM PENH – Growing up in poverty in Pursat province, Nget Sreymao was the only child in the family who could pursue higher education in Phnom Penh.

Her luck did not last. Sreymao died with three others in a traffic accident caused by a drunk driver.

Born in Pursat province’s Talor Sen Chey district, Sreymao, 24, was a junior student majoring in architecture at the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA). Her death shocked her widowed mother Nget Im and sister Nget Sreyroth, a factory worker.

The crash took place at the Russey Keo bridge’s traffic stop. Four people died at the scene and another four suffered injuries ranging from minor to serious.

Sreyroth said her sister’s death left her and her mother as the only ones in the family which had only three members.

“Sreymao was an outstanding student, I did not expect anything from her besides seeing her have a bright future,” she said.

“My heart aches when I see mom still hugging my sister’s photos. Mom still can not move on after my sister’s funeral in our hometown.

“Sreymao passed the baccalaureate examination automatically in 2020 when former PM Hun Sen allowed all grade 12 students to skip national exams due to the continual transmission of COVID-19,” she said.

Sreymao left her hometown and put all her efforts into applying for scholarships in Phnom Penh. Hard work paid off and she received a 100% scholarship in architecture and urbanism at the Royal University of Fine Arts.

Sreyroth recalled bitter memories with her only sister.

“As mom got divorced from dad when Sreymao was only two years old, she lacked warmth from the family and rarely reunited with the family.

Mom and Sister Struggled to Earn for Sreymao’s Education

To make a living, Sreymao’s mom, Im and Sreyroth worked to plant crops and remove grass. The job required them to leave Sreymao, then eight, behind.

Im had no choice but to keep Sreymao in her relative’s house so that she could study. Sreymao could only visit her mom and sister during holidays.

“Sometimes we left her for almost a year as both of us migrated to work in Thailand,” Sreyroth said. “Her challenge was to confront her life alone, stay alone and she was even lonelier when she came to Phnom Penh to study.

Sreyroth said all the burdens were left to their mother after their father left.

Seeing how challenging it was for her mother to earn a living, Sreyroth decided to drop out of school at grade 7 and help with money.

“Although I dropped out, I always encouraged Sreymao to study and not give up,” she said.

“Mom and I strived very hard at that time as we had no one to rely on. Mom could earn only 10,000 to 20,000 riel per day, so the three of us tried so hard to live,” she said.

“Later, I could work in the factory to earn extra income. Although I was already married, I still supported my sister with her school fees and her daily expenses.

“Although we did not earn much, we still encouraged her to never give up. I always told her not to think she is a burden to the family, what she only should care about is to finish her studies.”

Sreymao Put All Her Efforts in Studying

Life is not so hard for students from middle-income households. However, Sreyroth said life was hard for the poor like them. Although Sreymao received a scholarship, she still had to pay for daily expenses.

“My sister stayed in a rented room with her friends for $50 per month,” she said.

Sreyroth said when her sister first came to Phnom Penh during the COVID-19 pandemic, she encountered difficulties as they could not afford to buy a phone for online study. 

“With insufficient materials for online studies, Sreymao’s studies fell behind. Unfortunately, her scholarship was revoked. However, she still moved forward but another burden was to pay her school fees,” she said.

“We could not afford to pay for the whole year, so we decided to pay for each course. In terms of expenses, we only gave her 500,000 riel per month for food, room rent, water and electricity.

“After she died, I have to care most about my mom. It was too sudden so we found it hard to control our emotions,” she said.

Sreymao’s death has left a lasting regret among leaders, civil servants, professors and students at her faculty, who also expressed their condolences for her loss.

Drunk Driver Detained and Charged

A spokesperson for the Phnom Penh Municipal Court said driver Neang Samoun, 56, was charged with reckless driving, negligence and breaking the Law on Road Traffic by driving under the influence of alcohol of 0.54mg/l and causing multiple deaths.

Originally written in Khmer for ThmeyThmey, this story was translated by Rin Ousa for Cambodianess.

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