From being scavengers on a dump site to launching their own film production company, a group of talented young Cambodians are forging their futures. Words by Marissa Carruthers; photography by Charles Fox.

The future was unthinkable for the young boys toiling on the capital’s dump sites. Days were spent rummaging through the piles of rubbish offloaded there daily. The only thing racing through their minds was how to survive that day.

“Life was very hard,” says Phan Ream, 22, recalling his grueling scavenger days trying to support his family in the only way he knew how. After being taken in by NGO Cambodia Children’s Fund (CCF), Phan and four pals were introduced to Patrick McKinlay, a Scotsman who was then working as the organisation’s donor relations manager.

Spotting their creative flair and passion to carve a path for their futures, he self-funded, with the help of others, a 13-week basic filmmaking course, run by charity Azizza “The course was short but even I could see that it had awakened some real latent talent,” says McKinlay. “That’s when the first thoughts that this could be developed as something the guys might build on for the sake of their own futures.”

Determined to transform their lives and utilise their newly-found skills, the group set about launching their own film production company, devising business plans and strategies, and securing funding to invest in essential equipment and office space to get them off the ground. “At the time, we were from the dump sites and were very poor,” says business manager Lim Sokhay, 22.

“The NGO provided us with an education and we felt we were ready to work and support our family. We were all interested in the media industry so we came together and decided to start our own business. It was something we’d always wanted to do.”

With the backing of McKinlay and Soung Sopheak, former CCF head of art and drama, OnePlus Media was launched in January with a five-year, no-interest loan to buy the equipment for their high-tech editing suite and movie-making. Under the deal, no repayments are due until after one year of operations. The repaid loans will then being used to fund similar opportunities for underprivileged youngsters. “We never imagined we would be doing this,” says Phan, “so we want to eventually be able to give something back and help others who are in situations like we were.”

“These young people all had very hard lives, some as scavengers on a rubbish dump, but they had real enthusiasm and ability,” adds Soung who continues to act as the company’s advisor. “Since then they have created and produced many short films as well as a whole range of high quality work.”

Business is already booming for Phan, Lim, Sokha Mengly, Voun Boren and Va Chenda, who specialise in commercials, event and promotional videos and film production and editing. To date, they have worked on travel projects, filmed motorbike tours across the country’s roughest terrain, and created hard-hitting documentaries and light-hearted dramas, tackling topics as diverse as dog-loving gangsters to bullying in a Karate class.

“This is what we love doing; it’s our passion,” says Va, 22, sitting in front of a Mac working on the company’s latest project in the cool, soundproofed editing suite in their Phnom Penh office near Street 51. “It has been difficult and we have learned a lot – we still are – we are very grateful to everyone who has helped us, and want to be able to help others eventually too.”

McKinlay says he escaped a life destined to be a factory labourer in his native Scotland through joining the military eventually to become a squadron leader in the RAF. “That’s all I want to do here; give others, the OnePlus gang, the same sort of utterly unpredictable opportunities that I got so their lives can open up and their own abilities and effort shape their future,” he says. “All I want from them is that they do the same for others in their turn. Pass it on. That’s what good luck is for.”

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