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Sisopheareth is the inaugural winner of the Australian Alumni Association of Cambodia’s Community Leadership Award.

Third time’s the charm: Sisopheareth’s tenure down under

Education is empowering and changes lives.

“As a strong development partner, Australia is committed to helping Cambodians access a world-class education,” Australian ambassador Angela Corcoran said.

Each year, the Australia Awards Scholarships program provides a life-changing opportunity for up to 50 Cambodians to complete a master’s or PhD in Australia.

Tum Sisopheareth is an Australian Awards Alumni who is using her skills to make a real difference to the lives of Cambodians. She is a provincial coordinator for Room to Read, an international NGO that aims to improve and encourage reading habits in Cambodia.

She is also a teacher trainer at the Regional Teacher Training Centre in Kampong Cham. Sisopheareth was born in Sokang in Kang Meas district, Kampong Cham. “My father was a teacher and my mother was uneducated. My father died when I was very young but my mother understood the importance of education and ensured her five daughters went to school.”

After high school, she was trained in a regional teacher training college in Kampong Cham. It was then that she applied for an Australia Awards Scholarship and got lucky on her third attempt. She jumped on this opportunity and moved to Adelaide with her family.

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“It was fascinating to learn in a new culture. There are high expectations placed on Australian students to self-direct their own study, and initially I struggled to learn how to research properly. But I was grateful for the academic support I received from Flinders University and the Australia Awards Scholarships program,” she said.

Her study in Australia not only improved her technical knowledge, but also helped strengthen Sisopheareth’s confidence, communication and critical thinking skills.

“Living and studying in Australia was a life-changing experience. I would encourage anyone thinking of furthering their studies abroad, especially women, to take a bold step and apply for an Australia Awards Scholarship,” she said.

When she returned to Cambodia in 2008, armed with a Masters in Education Leadership and Management, Sisopheareth took up a role as provincial coordinator with Room to Read. “Everything I learned from my Australian master’s degree has an impact on the way I work now. I am involved in program management, including managing finances, and working with key decision makers and school principals, teachers and communities in two provinces.”

Many students ask her about her path. Her advice to them is to identify their vision with a clear plan, and follow it.

“I had my own ten-year goal for 1998 to 2008, which included furthering my studies abroad and I made sure I achieved it,” concluded Sisopheareth.