Rei “Rockstar” Sarmiento takes a break from the rock scene and immerses herself in social work, side by side with a beautiful jewel.
In Cambodia, her name means diamond, but what she does for the benefit of others makes her shine even brighter inside and out.
Sovanna Tan, or Cecile as called by many, is your typical 21-year-old. She likes to hang out, meet a lot of people and have fun. But what makes this French-Cambodian student, taking up a managerial course, stand out among her peers is that while most of her classmates back in France took the corporate path for internship, she headed east to volunteer for an NGO (non-government organization). “I’m looking for something that makes sense in my life,” she said.
Working for Passerelles Numériques (Digital Bridges), a French NGO that gives college scholarships to students in developing countries, she did a lot of fieldwork, going to mountain barangays and depressed areas of Cebu and the neighboring islands for social investigations. While other foreigners explore the Philippines through its popular tourist spots, Cecile discovered it best by immersing herself in the harsh realities behind edifying monuments and fancy landmarks, where she mingled with the poor.
Asked why she decided to volunteer in the Philippines and other Asian countries, she said that aside from the fact that developing countries need the assistance most, it is also because of her roots. Her father, a Cambodian, plays a big influence in her life. Growing up in an environment where her parents sponsor Cambodian scholars ,and her relatives are into NGO work, Cecile doesn’t find it hard to get involved in their cause.
But living in a foreign country is not easy. For five months in the Philippines, she had to fight homesickness and the everyday challenge of living in an unfamiliar land, not to mention her own worries and self-doubt. Yet, with the help of her colleagues, the continuous support of her family and friends back home and the people in the field, she developed self-confidence and grew attached to Cebu and the many things about it. Cecile loves Cebu’s kinilaw and adobong manok so much she wished she could stay longer and have an endless supply of them in her dining table.
But it’s the opportunity to try to help others and to be able to stay with the people she’s working for that gave her self-fulfillment. Small things like being called “Ate” by the poor children and seeing them starting to realize their dreams gave her immeasurable joy.
“I think I’ve never had this feeling before, it makes me feel alive. Even though I don’t have much free time because of fieldwork, every morning I wake up happy and excited to go to work,” she said.
After finishing her thesis and completing her internship program here in Cebu, Cecile is set to go back to France, full of hope that she soon she will be doing what she loves most, helping others.