Panha (whose name has been changed to protect her identity) says it’s easy to identify the most difficult moment of her life. This is her story, as told to Mother’s Heart social workers, who have been supporting her for the last year.
" I am twenty-four years old, the youngest of seven children.
In 2013, I completed 12th grade and my cousin told me about an organisation that offered scholarships for agriculture degree in Phnom Penh. So, I came to PP from Siem Reap to apply for the scholarship and was accepted. I was very proud.
I studied agriculture for two years and was in a student dorm which I met my boyfriend, who is now my husband. He is an orphan and was part of the same organisation that I got the scholarship from.
I became pregnant. As soon as I found out, I went home to tell my family and find support.
When I told them, I saw they were ashamed of me. They couldn't accept my baby. My older brother and my parents took me to a hospital to terminate my pregnancy. I was lucky. The hospital realised my family was forcing me to go along with the procedure. They refused to perform the abortion and I ran back to my school dorm in Phnom Penh.
I was so alone and sad that my family was unsupportive and embarrassed. My husband was very supportive but we were both just students. I was very lonely and depressed. The organisation that was supporting me through university told me to go to Mother’s Heart for counselling. My partner and I love each other and he was willing to marry me but I had no other support. We had no money, and my family had disowned me.
When I came to MH, they told me that they would accept me although I didn't fit their criteria of being single and pregnant. They said they saw my desire to become a great mother, to continue my studies, and have a good relationship with my partner. I was so grateful for the financial and emotional support.
One day the staff went to visit my family to do family mediation, but they said that the shame was still too strong for them. They gave me an ultimatum: if I wanted to go back to visit with my baby, I had to be married. When I heard this, I became very depressed and felt unworthy and lonely. They cared more about their reputation than they did about me or my baby.
My baby was born. He was beautiful. My husband and I were so happy. It helped heal my wounds and I vowed to be a good mother, and never to abandon him.
A few months later, our church helped us arrange a small wedding. I felt happy and content that day. I was starting my own family. My father and my older brother even came to our wedding. We are mending fences. I know it will take time to forgive each other, but we can do it.
I had my diploma. I know I can overcome the challenges that life gives me. My baby has been recently diagnosed with Down Syndrome. But Mother’s Heart is supporting me and I know that I will love him, he might be a little slow, but he is my heart. I enjoy his beautiful smile, and take him to the physiotherapist every week.
I am grateful for all the help that I was given by the organisations that God put on my path."