On November 18th, 12 Atlassians from across the globe met in Phnom Penh to participate in our annual trek with Room to Read, an organization dedicated to breaking the poverty cycle in Asia and Africa through the power of education.
The Atlassian Foundation has worked closely with Room to Read since 2009, focusing its efforts on improving literacy and gender equality in Cambodia. Through our partnership we have supported programs reaching 250,000 children, providing them with access to educational opportunities. The Atlassian Foundation was also instrumental in launching a new, in-classroom reading and writing component for Room to Read’s Literacy Program in Cambodia to help young children become independent readers.
For the past three years, employees from across our offices have made the journey to witness first-hand the impact our investment has made on the programs.
Kall Kann, country director of Room to Read in Cambodia, sharing about the Atlassian Foundation’s contributions and explaining the focus on the Girls’ Education Program
Cambodia has only recently stabilized after years of war and political upheaval. Traveling there for the first time, it was apparent to me that our efforts are crucial.
During the Khmer Rouge years of 1975-1979, anyone with an education was the primary target of the genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge. Around 90% of the teachers in Cambodia were executed during this time. When the Khmer Rouge was finally overthrown in 1979, Cambodia was a decimated country, with a quarter of its population dead and an entire generation of teachers wiped out.
More than thirty years later, after traveling the country for ten days, I began to see and believe strongly in the bright future that lies ahead for Cambodia. This is a nation full of inspiring and determined people, and I was fortunate enough to meet many who left a profound impression on my life.
When you educate a girl, you educate a village
The Girls’ Education Program in Cambodia is the Atlassian Foundation’s primary focus. The program sponsors cohorts of girls in secondary school by providing them material support, life skills training, and mentors to continue their education and graduate. The program also provides an enabling environment at the school and engages families and communities to ensure there is a shift in attitudes towards girls’ education over time.
With 42% of girls in low-income countries not enrolled in school, this is an especially valuable undertaking. Investing in girls’ education can end the cycle of poverty in as little as one generation. The Atlassian Foundation’s goal for the Girls’ Education Program is to provide secondary school education and essential life skills training to over 2,000 Cambodian girls per year. This year we have supported close to 3,500 students in the program, and now was my chance to see the results first-hand.
Our second day of the the trek, we drove several hours to visit a secondary school in the remote Kampong Cham Province. Here, surrounded by beautiful rice fields, we were lucky enough to spend an afternoon with several alumni of the local Girls’ Education Program.
While they spoke of the hardships they had faced along their path to education, their resolve and strength of character in the face of these challenges was evident. As I began to understand the immense difficulties these girls had overcome just to be able to go to school each day, I truly recognized how easy it is to take the opportunities we are given in life for granted.
We sat and listened to the former students, most of whom have completed post-secondary education, and heard about their hopes for the future. They were sharing their stories with people they had just met, and the courage this took was not lost on me. Listening to the girls express such gratitude and passion for their education, I realized that although we had only met this afternoon, I couldn’t remember ever feeling more proud or impressed with anyone.
The following morning, we spent several hours at Ta Ong primary school, surrounded by smiling faces and students eager to show us their classrooms and libraries.
A proven way to encourage the importance of education is to invest in literacy and encourage a love for reading from a young age. This is why the Atlassian Foundation has also chosen to sponsor the establishment of libraries where students can have a space, learning materials, and trained librarians to develop their passion for learning.
Our hopes for the future
During our trek, I witnessed the seeds of change that are already growing. Visiting rural Cambodia, it is likely that you may meet a family who just a few years ago believed there was not much point in their child finishing school past grade two or three, but that now, thanks to the efforts of Room to Read and its sponsors,, is beginning to see the value of education in their own community. This is exactly the kind of transformation we want to reinforce and promote.
The Atlassian Foundation chooses to invest in Cambodia to support a bright future that we can clearly envision. It has never been more evident that Atlassians throughout our global offices believe in this vision, as we recently celebrated our 500th employee signing up for our Workplace Giving program, which donates a portion of these employees’ paychecks to sponsor a girl’s education and make a positive impact in the world.
Atlassian and the Atlassian Foundation are committed to advancing education and providing opportunity to those in need. We hope this contribution will have a considerable impact on the future of Cambodia and its people, and I encourage anyone who shares our vision to become involved.