A Second Chance
By Lorraine Harding
Cambodia has a tumultuous history, which has gone from great prosperity to tragedy and now it is beginning to rebuild itself after a long, devastating war.
Lead by Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge decimated this country, which killed an estimated 1/3 of its people and now left Cambodia’s average age of the population at 30 years old.
With the catastrophe of bloodshed and millions of lives lost, this has left many with little or no education and at a distinct disadvantage functioning in this modern world. Many of these people were forced to drop out of school at an early age and work in factories to sustain their families.
Now, these people are being given a second chance at an education in a revolutionary new initiative lead by the Cambodian Government.
Unveiled by the Cambodian Health Minister, Nath Bunroeun, an innovative program has been introduced to give supported learning to those who had no choice but to leave school at an early age.
In conjunction with UNESCO and other organizations involved, this program is now giving people a second chance to receive an education and to break from their present confines of illiteracy. Representative Anne Lemaister said “The scheme is part of government efforts to ensure quality education and learning opportunities for all Cambodian by 2030.”
In a collaborative union of efforts and focusing on the garment industry, according to a 2015 report – 90 percent of workers in these factories are female and under the age of 24 years old. Most come from poor rural communities and did not have the opportunity to receive an education.
At present, a total of 120 workers have been selected and are taking part in the program (with 110 of them being women). Currently, 6 factories are participating from the areas of Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Kandal and Kampong Speu Provinces, who are involved in this revolutionary new undertaking.
The Cambodian Government has plans to expand the project to 18 factories by the end of the year.
This is offering an opportunity in this first of its kind pilot program to make a real impact on people who want to learn to read and write.
Kuy Sreykeng a 22-year-old literacy teacher, who is volunteering with the program enjoys working with the factory staff and can quickly see progress.
“It is good for workers to have the opportunity to study because most of them have little education,” she said.
After providing 60 hours of learning over a 3 month period, these new students can now read, write their names and calculate simple mathematics. This is only the starting block for many, who now have an access to the world of books and the internet.
SIPAR director Hok Sothik, who is also part of the initiative aims to build libraries in the garment factories so that anyone will have access to education material and books. He already has 16 libraries around the country and wants to add 2 more this coming year. He hopes to ensure this revolutionary literacy program goes nationwide to educate people from the poorer communities.
Studying has become a very important part of Cambodia and the people are working very hard to educate themselves like Son Chonoo, who is 24 years old student and works full time at a hotel.
He comes from a small village near Angkor Wat Temple and is putting himself through university.
There are a total of 7 learning establishments in Siem Reap and he is working full time at a hotel 7 days a week to achieve his dream of entering the tourism industry.
Each day after work he attends classes, which start at 6 pm and there he will spend his evening until 9.30 – where he studies 6 nights a week.
Now nearly in his final year of the 4-year course, he struggles each term to get his tuition fees together. Earning $US200 each month from his full-time work at the hotel, he sends $100 to his family and the other $100 goes to his tuition fees.
Son is the 3rd child in a family of 6 children and his older brother also started studying but due to financial reasons, he could no longer continue; while the next oldest went on to become a cook – so Son will be the first in his family to receive a formal higher education.
Working hard to achieve his goal, this industrious young man is becoming the new face of Cambodia. “My mother, father, brothers, and sisters are very proud that I am continuing my education and I want to help my family,’ he said.
His younger brother is now completing year 12 and also plans to enter the tourism industry. In the coming months, his younger sibling will leave school and the family home to live with Son in Siem Reap. The advice he has given his younger brother is to work for a year and save up his money – then commence his studies.
Khmer children at a very young age are taught the importance of family and in a community that is making up for lost time – the necessity of an education has now become a focus for many of the Cambodian youth.