From the rural provinces of Cambodia to a Master of Environmental Law at MLS
Phanna Sok believes in the transformative power of education.
"My university education unlocked my mind and opened my eyes to the reality of Cambodia where there is apparent social injustice," he says.
Growing up in Svay Rieng, one of the poorest provinces in Cambodia, Phanna Sok watched his two parents sacrifice a lot to pay for their children's schooling, determined that they would receive a good education.
Now, he comes to Melbourne Law School on an Australia Awards scholarship with aspirations to work in Cambodia's Ministry of Environment.
Unlike most people from his town, Phanna was able to pursue tertiary education thanks to the sacrifices of his parents. He first obtained a degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) from the Institute of Foreign Languages, Royal University of Phnom Penh. Next, he obtained a Bachelor of Law at the Royal University of Law and Economics.
While undertaking his legal studies, Phanna worked for the Vishnu Law Group, a non-profit law firm which offered legal services to those unable to afford them. It was in this role that he was exposed to victims of land grabbing.
"During the course of the work with the law firm, I learned more about human rights abuse and environmental rights violations. That was where my strong interest in environmental law was activated," he explains.
Studying in Phnom Penh, Phanna was taught by many professors who had been educated in Australia.
"When I looked into it, I discovered Australia was home to very many great universities. I saw Melbourne Law School offered a course that correlated exactly with what I would like to achieve in Cambodia."
Once he finishes his Master of Environmental Law, Phanna aspires to work in the Ministry of Environment of Cambodia. Specifically, he wants to take part in the implementation of Cambodia's first ever Environmental Code.
The Master of Environmental Law student says he has been impressed by a lot of things at MLS – but the library has impressed him most of all.
"When I first arrived, I was so obsessed with these resources that I was planning to read all the books and journal articles I saw, but it is just impossible because are too many of them," he says.
Phanna is the proud and grateful recipient of an AusAid grant. He says it has not only been an opportunity to experience life in a developed country, but also to garner an education that will allow him to create change in Cambodia.
He is also thankful that he has been able to bring his wife to experience Melbourne. He contrasts this to how his father was forced to leave his family to work in Phnom Penh.
Amazingly, Phanna's sister, Phany Sok, also attended MLS on the same AusAid grant. She went on to work at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh.
Reflecting on what it is like to follow in his sister's footsteps, Phanna says it is both a source of inspiration and of pressure."I have to do as well as, if not better than, she did, which I find quite challenging."