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.
It can be hard to appreciate what you have until you compare it to what others don’t have. This was the first time I’ve been to Cambodia and experienced the poverty that affects millions of people. Driving out of the Siem Reap airport, I immediately saw family of four driving down the road on a scooter, which seemed amazing, and something we’d consider dangerous in Australia or America. And that family seemed somewhat wealthy compared to others I saw in the remote villages far away from the bustling city of Siem Reap.
Surviving and investing in the future
We experienced a day in the life of secondary girl students, and observed the life skills program provided by the Girls’ Education Room to Read leaders. The girls receive varying degrees of support from Room to Read – such as school supplies, uniforms, and bicycles to get to school and back – based on individual needs. The life skills program is led by two graduates, both of whom are attending university; One is in her final years to become a doctor, and the other is in her final year to become a teacher. Both young women came from poor families in the same village, and are the first in their family to graduate secondary school and go on to university.
After watching the life skills program with the secondary school students, we visited the homes of two girls. We listened to their stories and experience their home lives, which poignantly illustrated the state of poverty their families live in, and how hard they work to have the opportunity to go to school. The intelligence, bravery, talent, and determination these girls have to finish school and have a better life is inspiring.
Seat, 17 years old
Although Seat is 17, she’s only in the seventh grade because she’s had to drop out of school multiple times to work. Seat spends her days in the rice fields, earning less than $3 a day so she can help pay for medical bills and take care of her mother. She whittles down her own meals to be able to give more food to her younger brother, which affects her health and keeps her from feeling strong enough to work and go to school. Her bicycle frequently breaks down with flat tires, so she is out of school for days, instead feeding pigs for 20 cents an hour so she can fix her bike. Seat feels guilty for going to school, as she feels obligated to work and earn money to help support the family. However, she loves reading and going to school, and is determined to graduate.
Gaia, 14 years old
Gaia lives with 13 other children along with her aunt and uncle in two huts. Her parents migrated to Thailand to earn money, while her aunt takes care of her, her younger sister, and two year old brother. She cannot send letters to her parents, because they are both illiterate. The separation from her family is hard on her, but she loves school – her favorite class is English – and she wants to graduate. She is only able to continue school through the full sponsorship from Room to Read’s girls education program that provides her with school supplies, a uniform, and a bicycle for transportation.
Life skills and post-graduation support
Room to Read provides training for relevant life skills for all enrolless in the Girls Education program. The goal is to help them increase the likelihood of securing jobs after graduation. Life skills training address very real needs of the girls, and are taught by teachers as part of Cambodia’s national curriculum. Coursework includes health and hygiene, self-awareness and empathy, communication and interpersonal skills, presentation skills, decision making and problem solving, critical and creative thinking, and coping with emotions and stress.
Since 2010, more than 400 participants from the Girls’ Education Program have graduated from high school. Room to Read Cambodia organizes various events to orient the new graduates, and to ensure they find the greatest success when pursuing their university studies. The orientations focus on how to prepare for university life, and how to hone their skills for their desired jobs. Most students typically pursue jobs in rural development, teaching, accounting, and healthcare. 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.
Why do we do this?
During the discussion between the Atlassian team and the secondary school students on day two of our trip, one of the girls asked us,
Why are you helping us? What is the benefit to Atlassian in helping girls like us in Cambodia?
We are lucky. We have had the support of our families and countries to get an education, as well as the opportunity to work for a great company like Atlassian because we have that education. When you see how much each girl has to struggle just to be able to finish school, and the opportunities they don’t have that come so easily to us, it’s a simple decision to get involved and support Room to Read’s mission. Atlassian’s mission is to advance humanity through the power of software, and we are doing that in partnership with Room To Read.
You can pitch in, too
This is an amazing purpose and mission that Atlassian is a part of, and I hope you will engage with us to help out in some way. Buy a starter license from Atlassian (all proceeds go to Room to Read), donate, or just ask us on how to get involved!