FREEDOM WRITER SCHOLAR, STEVEN CHHEM
Steven Chhem's family came to Long Beach, California as refugees, fleeing the Cambodian Genocide amongst thousands of other Cambodians. The city of Long Beach is currently home to the largest Cambodian population outside of South East Asia. As a single mother of four children, Mrs. Chhem does everything she can to care for her kids, but was never able to receive a high school education. Growing up, Steven (pictured above) recalls his mother picking up aluminum cans and glass bottles while walking him to school, in hopes of selling them to a recycling center, and doing labor-intensive jobs.
Every morning before school Steven, a Wilson High senior, wakes up early to go to work in his school’s cafeteria. When Steven was a sophomore, Mrs. Chhem was diagnosed with five hemorrhages in her brain, so he helps care, cook, and provide for his mother and siblings. He says, "Throughout my life my mother has been the most influential person to me... Watching her struggle inspired me to strive for the best. Her outlook on life changed my perspective of the world. I now appreciate and view my life in a different way- with an open mind and a generous heart." Living his life with a spirit of generosity, Steven enjoys volunteering at the Veteran's Hospital and participating in initiatives to help the homeless.
Despite his alcoholic father passing away a few days before Steven’s thirteenth birthday and his mother’s illness, Steven has remained dedicated to his studies and participates in school activities that foster his creative side. One of his fondest memories from school is the first time he performed in the Wilson Dance Show. Regardless of his family’s struggles, they all showed up to support Steven, filling him with a sense of pride and the realization that he could succeed with their love and encouragement.
The Freedom Writers Foundation is ecstatic to have Steven as one of our nine 2015 Freedom Writer Scholars. It is our mission to honor his perseverance by granting him a scholarship and providing support throughout his academic endeavors. Steven aspires to pursue a degree in Accounting and Business Administration and become an Accountant. He believes that through hard work and commitment, he will become successful and independent.