A team of 11 Atlassians visited Cambodia to further our efforts in rebuilding education there. This is a continuing post in our series on the Atlassian Foundation’s contributions to Room to Read in Cambodia. Read more in the series here.
When I reminisce about my time at the University of Texas, I remember being president of my sorority, having fun at parties, and doing the necessary studying to graduate before my parents completely cut me off.
After meeting Kall Kann, Cambodia country director for Room to Read, and a number of the Room to Read Cambodia girls’ education participants, I realized the stark difference between my experience and the girls in Cambodia that have been able to graduate secondary school.
The culture of valuing education is slowly changing in the rural villages, where the typical viewpoint is girls should stay at home past grade 3-4 to help the families raise children, and work in the rice fields for less than $3 per day. Some are able to get higher-paying jobs in the cities working for garment factories or in hotels, which is hard manual labor that pays less than $160 per month. Kann notes that the ability to get higher-paying jobs beyond manual labor is limited without an education. Girls that are able to attend university still have to work daily to support themselves, and usually need assistance from scholarships or their families to continue university to graduation.
The stories we heard made it obvious that their priorities are not about having fun; they are focused on working hard to make a better life for themselves, their families, and their communities.
University graduation ambitions
My colleague Bryan Rollins asked one of the girls who is attending university, Set Lang, what she did for fun on the weekends. She said she works most of the time to afford school and living expenses, and when she’s not working, she studies. Set lives in a small house with five other people, and has been unable to get to know her roommates because of her hectic work and school schedule. She teaches school for grades 7-9, and is studying to earn her certification to teach grades 10-12.
Set misses her family. They still live in the village she is from, and she is able to call them once a week, which is a conversation she really looks forward to. She wishes she had enough money to purchase a used scooter to make it easier for her to commute the long distance between work and school,
Her family does not understand why she needs to continue school, since she is able to teach grades 7-9, but she is ambitious and driven to acquire the degree to teach higher grades in secondary school. Attending university requires more funds, personal sacrifice, hard work, and dedication. There is no time for socializing, and Set relies upon her family for emotional support.
Set has accomplished so much, and is thankful for the support that Room to Read has provided. She continues to work with Room to Read, and is one of the girls we met who teaches the secondary school Girls’ Life Skills Program in Samrong.
I used to wonder why people needed to study hard. It wasn’t until I started working in a garment factory that I clearly realized that manual labor jobs were so hard, and that only education can empower people to work intelligently. This lesson taught me a lot and made me think about what can I do differently for my community. I want to be a teacher because there are still many more children in my community who, because of poverty, can’t go to school. I want to help them with this. – Srey Lin Vann, grade 12 student and future teacher
Room to Read Cambodia helps girls beyond graduation
Since 2010, more than 400 participants from the Cambodia Room to Read Girls’ Education program have finished high school. Room to Read Cambodia organized multiple events to orient the new graduates and ensure the girls knew how to apply for scholarships, prepare for university life, and hone their skills for their desired careers.
Most graduates were able to choose their own career path, with students choosing to pursue jobs in rural development, teaching, accounting, and health care. These young women have become role models for young children and for local villagers, and are continuing to grow in their confidence and self-esteem.
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Why does girls’ education matter in Cambodia and other developing countries?
- Educated women boost income growth. Through a study of 100 different countries, the World Bank found that for every one percent increase in the proportion of women with secondary education, a country’s annual per capita income growth rate increased by about 0.3 percent. In many developing countries that’s a significant boost.
- With the same amount of secondary education as boys, girls earn more. The average girl with a secondary education has an 18 percent return in future wages, while boys have a 14 percent return.
- Infant mortality rates fall when girls’ education level climbs. Children of women with a primary education are 40 percent more likely to survive past age five. Each additional year of schooling for a girl lowers infant mortality by five to 10%.
- Girls are better able to plan their future families. Girls in developing countries who receive seven years of schooling have more choices in life, marrying an average of four years later and having 2.2 fewer children.
- Educated mothers raise educated children. Educated mothers are twice as likely to send their children to primary school as their uneducated counterparts.
Atlassian is focused on supporting the Room To Read Cambodia Girls Education program in 2014. Help us reach our goal by donating today!