From October 2010 to March 2011, the Lotus Pedals project gave away 186 bicycles to vulnerable girls across Cambodia, with 45 more scheduled for distribution in the coming weeks. Eighteen year-old Roeun Sonang, a grade 9 student at Chan Sor lower secondary school is one of them. Her family rents 1.5 hectares of land to grow rice, but after turning over nearly half of their yield to pay the landowner, they must still buy rice to eat a few months of the year. With her father, a soldier, stationed at the Thai border, the family doesn’t have the manpower to increase their yield.
The pressure to drop out is omnipresent, but Sonang and her family are determined that all four children should stay in school. They work seasonally and live largely on vegetables that they grow in their garden, rarely eating meat. Until Sonang was selected to receive a bike, the kids walked about 1.5 kilometers to school. She explains what a difference the bike has made for her.
“Since I had to help around at home in between school and had to walk that far, I sometimes got to school late, sometimes had to miss school, and most of the time I felt tired when I got to school and couldn’t concentrate on the lesson which impacted on my school performance,” she says. “I came 15th to 20th in the class then. After getting the bike from the program, it eases me in both traveling to school and to attend any activities with Youth Club. I now arrive on time and can pay full attention on the lesson. I rank between 5th and 9th in the class now!”
What’s more, she carries her younger siblings on the back, so in fact, four children benefit. Sonang and her family wish the best of luck and success to you, the donors who make Lotus Pedals possible. She is determined to make good on your generosity by studying hard to become a lawyer. With a bike to get to school, her chances just got a whole lot better. Thank you!
Gate scholar and bicycle recipient Kreach Sopea wears her big sister’s shirt to school every day; it is stained and still bears the older girl’s name. Sopea’s mother, a widow with four children to raise, can barely afford to keep her in school; Sopea spends her days off foraging in the swamp next to her house for wild vegetables and crabs to sell at the local market. This earns the family about $0.75 a day.
“I know what it’s like to be poor and uneducated,” says Sopea’s mother. “While we couldn’t do it without the scholarship, we are still sacrificing an income so that Sopea can be well educated, and have a better life than I did.”
With her new bike from Lotus Outreach, Sopea has one less hurdle between her and a whole new life. “I am now determined to finish grade 12, and get a job doing secretarial and office work,” she says. For a 14 year-old girl living in a swamp, achieving something so modest will be nothing short of a dream come true.
Thank you - your donation has given an extra hand to a Cambodian girl with big dreams. Watch the video below to see Sopea at home with her mother.
Although poverty presents the most pervasive challenge to the people we serve, the sad reality we often encounter is that many women must also overcome abuse at the hands of their own fathers and brothers. This is the case of Teuk Thida, an avid student who was forced into a karaoke bar after the sixth grade to pay for her brother’s wedding.
The middle child of five, Thida was often thrust into the role of an eldest sibling due to the negligence and mischief of her older brothers. The family’s small plot of land could not provide enough rice for subsistence, so her parents also worked on neighboring farms for $3 a day. To help, Thida scavenged for vegetables, river shells and snails to sell after school, bringing in an extra $0.50 on a good day. None of this distracted her from her studies: she left her house every day at 5am to walk six kilometers to school, usually finishing the year near the top of her class.
As Thida was finishing primary school her oldest brother was planning to marry. With no job and no family savings to rely on, he turned on Thida to come up with $150 to cover the expenses. Behind her parents’ back, who were often away working in the fields, he beat and harassed her to come up with money. In desperation, she turned to her neighbors for loans, but all she could manage was $112. So she fled, terrified, more than 50 kilometers to Phnom Penh in the hope of both escaping her brother’s wrath and finding a way to repay her loans. She found work as a servant for the proprietors of Goat Soup karaoke bar, where Lotus Outreach operates a Non-Formal Education (NFE) project.
At just 15 years old, Thida found herself suddenly working a slave wage. At 18 ½ hour days from 4:30am to 11:00pm for $30 a month, she had been better off selling snails and shells from the river. Instead she swept her bosses’ house and bar, cared for their two children, clerked in their grocery store, and washed dishes in the bar at night. She was, however, permitted to attend NFE classes with the karaoke bar’s female entertainers. This proved to be the sliver of luck that would reverse her fortune.
During a donor visit in mid-November, Thida was identified as being young enough to return to school, and Lotus Outreach’s director of operations made a note of her name. The NFE program manager returned shortly after to gauge her commitment to her formal education, and found that with a bicycle to cover the nine kilometers to the lower secondary school nearest her village, Thida would happily return to attending classes regularly.
The owner of Goat Soup didn’t take kindly to the idea, and threatened to withhold Thida’s wages if she tried to leave. NFE's program manager intervened with a few threats of her own – namely a lawsuit for child exploitation. By the end of the month, Thida was on her way home with scholarship materials and her Lotus Pedals bicycle.
“I am very happy with the bike – it’s the first ever that my family has owned!” says Thida. “And with more education I will be able to get a better job, that doesn’t have long hours like what I had been doing.”
With her brother living in another province with his new wife and the door to secondary school propped open, life has been much brighter. Yet the road ahead is full of challenges for Thida. Although she packs a rice lunch from home, she sometimes must buy food at school. Two required courses (Math and Physics) are fee-based and exam papers must be purchased. Although this averages only $0.60 per day, the small sum is a strain on Thida’s family.
Thida remains focused on the opportunities now available to her, aware that ironically, without being run off to Phnom Penh she would never have come into contact with NFE, Lotus Pedals or the bike that has made secondary school a reality. “I hope at least I can hang on to school until grade 9, so that I can have a better understanding of how to live a better life in the future,” says Thida. “I love studying very much, but if my family cannot afford to keep me in school through high school I may come back to NFE to learn tailoring skill, especially to support my little sisters’ education.”
With the continued support of our generous donors, we will help Thida reach her goal of finishing high school so that when she does join the labor force, she will have the strongest bargaining position possible. Given the opportunity to prove herself academically, a strong student like Thida may even attract a scholarship for higher education. We thank you sincerely for standing beside us to touch the lives of hundreds of girls just like her.
How Lotus Pedals is keeping girls out of the sex trade (and in school!)As a result of your generous support, we were recently able to provide new bicycles to 13 bright young girls living in Phnom Penh’s red light districts so they can get to school!Living in brothel-based communities, the daughters of illiterate sex workers are at a high-risk of following in the footsteps of their mothers—often by the age of 14 years old. In partnership with the local Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Khemara, Lotus Outreach has been providing Non-Formal Education (NFE) and Skills Training to urban sex workers for nearly five years, helping hundreds of women and girls find better opportunities while escaping the lethal pitfalls of Cambodia’s notorious sex industry.While adult sex workers learn basic literacy, mathematics and vocational skills, their children attend daily classes alongside them to prepare for enrollment in public school at an age-appropriate level.The daughter of a former sex worker, 13 year-old Moeung Srey Pov is an example of how female empowerment reverberates through generations. She moved to Phnom Penh with her mother, Seng Ly, at the age of eight, where she helped raise three younger siblings and sold coffee to supplement her mother’s income. With Srey Pov’s help, her mother successfully completed the NFE program and is now a full-time staff member of Khemara.When Seng Ly realized that NFE would provide caretakers for her youngest children, she opted to send Srey Pov to the NFE classes which were held a short, safe walk from their home. At that point, Srey Pov had only reached the second grade, and could hardly read or write. Yet over the course of the year, she proved to be a sharp student and was often at the head of her classes. In October of 2009, the program staff enrolled her in sixth grade at a local primary school.Srey Pov was elated to go to public school like other children her age. “I felt very happy, and at the same time I was in awe of my teacher since she was so kind to me. She didn’t take a tuition fee from me and told the class not to be mean with me because I am an ‘NGO kid’ - which means I am poor.”Despite her enthusiasm and progress, five months later Srey Pov lost her transportation to school. Her neighbors had been giving her a ride on their bike, and when they dropped out she was forced to do the same. For a little while she took a taxi, but at $1 a day it became too much for her family to sacrifice.This October, NFE once again got Srey Pov back in school, a little closer to home. Since a neighbor also attended Toul Kok Primary, for her first days Srey Pov shared a taxi with her for $0.37 each a day. Yet this left her vulnerable to the fate of her friend, and although reduced, the expense of transportation remained a burden on her family. To make sure little Srey Pov could complete the year, we recently provided her with a Lotus Pedals bicycle.“I feel very happy because I won’t have to spend money on a motor taxi anymore,” boasts Srey Pov. “Even if my neighbors drop out again, I won’t because now I can ride my bike to school every day.” She plans to give her friend a ride on her bike, so the girl doesn’t have to pay for the taxi alone. When we ask if the two girls will take turns riding the bike, Srey Pov looks mischievously at her friend and jests, “she doesn’t know how to ride a bike, so I will ride her. But she has to pay for parking!”Armed with her own means to get to any school within several kilometers, Srey Pov plans to at least graduate high school. At that point, she’ll see if she can afford to continue to college. As far as her career plans, the specifics are still fuzzy, but Srey Pov is aiming high: “I want to do something that people value and admire.”Srey Pov’s story serves as a stark reminder of how easy it is for vulnerable young girls to slip through the cracks in Cambodia. With the right support, it can be almost as easy to keep them on track. Lotus Pedals provides one cheap, effective method for shoring up those cracks.As a result of our generous donors on GlobalGiving, Lotus Outreach plans to distribute 158 new bicycles to at-risk girls as the school year gets underway in Cambodia. We look forward to keeping you updated on the many successes of the Lotus Pedals project and thank you again for your support!
Phnom Kravanh (meaning “Cardamom Mountain” in Khmer) is one of six districts in Cambodia’s Pursat province. This rural, mountainous region is sparsely populated and some parts remain heavily mined, as the district is a former fighting zone between the Cambodian government and Khmer Rouge insurgents. The Cardamom mountain range is considered one of the main biodiversity hotspots on the planet, with 16 distinct ecosystems and 14 globally endangered and threatened species. It is one of the last seven remaining elephant corridors in Southeast Asia and is the hunting range for the Pileated Gibbon, Asiatic Black Bear, Malaysian Sun Bear, Marbled Cat, Southern Serow, and half of Cambodia's bird species. Due to a lack of alternative livelihoods, indigenous people often resort to illegal logging, wildlife poaching, foraging, and slash-and-burn agriculture to ensure their survival. While many conservation efforts in this area are underway, few organizations are working with local populations to provide them with alternative economic opportunities.
Expanding education, economic opportunities and settled agriculture are recognized as the most effective strategies for combating both the human and environmental effects of poverty in this extraordinary region of the world. In partnership with the Cambodian Organization for Children and Development (COCD), Lotus Outreach has launched an integrated social development program which aims to improve the livelihoods of local people through the provision of microloans, farming toolkits and of course, educational scholarships!
As a part of the scholarship program in Phnom Kravanh, Lotus Outreach (empowered by YOU!) recently provided 19 impoverished minority girls with bicycles so they can get to school. Research shows that each extra year of schooling boosts a girl’s eventual wages by as much as 25%. Improving a girl’s life options will not only help her and her future children, but will decrease her dependence on activities that are harmful to the local environment.
Because Lotus Pedals has been such a tremendous success, we have decided to expand! Our local partners have indicated that the demand for bicycles greatly exceeds the supply, and there are countless children all over the country who are just a bicycle away from dropping out of school—or re-enrolling. You can help us help them by telling your friends and family about the Lotus Pedals project and encouraging their support: http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/lotuspedals/.
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