If you are born into a poor family, it is often difficult to break the poverty cycle. However, this 38 year old man has worked hard all his life so far to lift himself and his family out of poverty.

The eldest son, grown up in a poor and widow headed family of four children, Arbitrator Nhean SoMunin did without many physical comforts and sufficient food through out his childhood. He had to work since a young age in order to share his family’s subsistence burden. After school, he would scavenge for recyclable items to sell, and later sold bread along the street, fed pigs, sold corn cookies at the public parks in Phnom Penh in the evening and sold vegetables in a muddy market in order to help his family.

When he was 11 years old, he experienced the tragic loss of his father, who was also the breadwinner in the family. The death of his father and with his vulnerable mother caused his family much difficulty. Arbitrator So Munin had to shoulder most of his family’s financial burden and take responsibility for his younger siblings’ education and future. In his teenager and early youth, he had a number of different jobs including as a: soil carrying worker; cyclo and motor taxi driver; cleaner at private school; and then Thai and English language teacher.

Normally, children should not have to do this work, but Arbitrator So Munin did not have a choice. He had to force himself to do them so that he could provide for his family. Because of the heavy manual labour he had to endure since his childhood, he has had serious health problem from an early age. “Because of the soil carrying work I used to seriously hurt my back and I almost became permanently disabled when I was only 14 years old,” he said.

Despite the fact he had to work very hard to support his family, he never gave up studying. Arbitrator SoMunin has always lived by the motto “Knowledge and skills are the basis for a life with freedom and pride”. Moreover, he was a student with considerable academic achievements. When he was in high school, he received an outstanding achievement award in mathematic. Arbitrator So Munin’s study paid off: in 1993 when he received a public scholarship to study at the Royal University of Phnom Penh and obtained a BA major in Geography while he was working full-time with a number private companies earning a subsistence salary.  The little personal income he earned, he split between supporting his family and paying tuition fees as he was attending an English Language-based Bachelor of Law program at the National Institute of Management where he was an outstanding student. His academic achievements did not end there: he received a British Chevening Scholarship to study and obtain a Master of Arts in Governance and Development in the UK (from the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex),  a scholarship to complete one academic year of legal research  in the USA (at the University of Michigan Law School) and a scholarship to attend an Executive Postgraduate course on Public-Private Opportunities for City Regeneration in the Netherlands (at the Institute for Housing Studies, Erasmus University).

With this great educational success, Arbitrator So Munin no longer needs to do hard and difficult physical labour as he had done in his childhood. He has worked as legal & governance consultant, land law expert and legislative drafting expert for various TA and development projects of donors and International NGOs  such as USF-CLEC, EWMI, UNICEF, ADB, World Bank, DANIDA, UNDP, GTZ, EU etc.

In the second year of operation of the Arbitration Council (AC), with his well-known strong academic background and relevant work experience in field of labour law, contract law and industrial relations Arbitrator So Munin was solicited and nominated by the ILO project advisor subsequently appointed by a Prakas of the Ministry of Labour as a member of the AC on the Ministry list. 

Arbitrators do not earn a salary for their work at the AC, but do receive an honorarium; however, Arbitrator So Munin is very happy with his contribution to the work of AC. “I am so proud to be an arbitrator with the AC because it is a national independent institution with high reputation locally and internationally  and earning a great deal of respect for all stakeholders for resolving collective labour disputes based on Labour Law and equity principle” he said, adding that “it is my great privilege to be able to contribute to the legal development and building a rule of law in Cambodia.”

Presently, besides serving as labour arbitrator at the AC, Arbitrator So Munin is a commercial arbitrator registered with the National Arbitration Center (NAC) of Cambodia, a Senior Legal Advisor at HBS Law Firm, and independent consultant for a number of donor funded projects. He attributes his accomplishments in life to hard work, integrity, and valuing work and study. He is especially proud of living according to the slogan “Studying is part of everyday food and life”.