Give Phnong Children the Gift of Education

Jun 30, 2014

An offering of rice from an ancient tradition

Sony, her mother and her dad.
Sony, her mother and her dad.

Phnong Education Initiative student Sony lives among a cluster of 8 families in a remote village of 100 people. Her family home has walls of split bamboo and a corrugated tin roof which is beginning to rust. There is no documentation by the government that the 1.5 hectares of land they utilize belong to them, instead they are entrusted with the land by the head of their village.

Sony explains her academic goals, “I’m now standing between 8th and 12th in my class of 53 and I want to do better! On weekdays I attend school while staying at the dormitory at Oraing under support from Lotus Outreach. I come home here on weekends and help with farm work.” She then adds, “My plan is to stay in school until I complete year 12 and then work for my community employed by an NGO.”  

Sony has modern aspirations, but Phnong cultural conventions pervade her family’s daily life. As indigenous minorities to Cambodia, they speak the Phnong language, practice animism, and are highly superstitious. Four hours before we arrived, Sony’s older sister had given birth to a baby boy; her only medical assistance in the effort was the offering of a small hen and a vase of rice wine by a shaman midwife. Thankfully the birth took only four hours, and both mother and baby are healthy.

Living as they do, so isolated from modern Cambodian society and government, they are vulnerable to a variety of dangers. Illegal logging has plagued their ancient and sacred forests. Land-grabs by private companies have displaced many villages. The people are offered no services or representation by the Khmer government, and there are no public schools which speak Phnong.

Education through the Phnong Education Initiative can help these people avoid the dangers and difficulty imposed by outside society. The program provides primary learning to them in their own native language, teaching many children to speak, read and write Khmer; they also learn basic math and history. This basic learning will prove invaluable to the program’s 31 students as they strive to move forward from a position of severe marginalization.

In addition, 20 young Phnong people are being trained to be teachers to others through the Phnong Teacher Training Center.  After a two year course, the young students receive their certification by passing an exam at the Mondulkiri State Capital.  They then return to their home villages and pass the gift of education on to younger generations.

Sony’s family prepares rice for us via a traditional method, steaming it inside a hollow bamboo shaft over a bed of coals. The simplicity and honesty of such an ancient method is striking, and it seems a shame that people so generous and good could be left at risk of the societal dangers impending from outside their forested village.

With your contribution of $20, we can provide an entire month of teacher training to an eager Phnong student. Through the power of education, Sony and her family can preserve their traditional lives while being more empowered to fight the forces of marginalization working against them.

Thank you for supporting the Phnong Education Initiative!!

The midwife
The midwife's offering to assist in childbirth.


Mar 31, 2014

Ms. Soar Brings the Fire of Knowledge to her Community

Ms. Soar is salutatorian of her class of 20!
Ms. Soar is salutatorian of her class of 20!

Ms. Soar is studying to be a teacher in Steung Treng Province, but there is something special about her. This intrepid young woman is a Phnong-language teacher, and she is studying to teach the people from her homeland in her own mother tongue.

Having come from a house with bamboo walls and no door or windows, Ms. Soar knows the difficulty of being one of a rural, minority people marginalized by the broader society. As a young student, she left her remote home to study at the Orang Lower Secondary School about 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) away. She did this as part of Lotus Outreach’s Phnong Education Initiative (PEI). Since then, her studies have taken her as far as the provincial capital to obtain teacher certification, so she can bring the fire of knowledge to the minds of other Phnong-speakers like herself.

A history of marginalization, combined with the kind of exploitation that usually accompanies it, has left the Phnong people largely without access to educational resources, minimal wealth, land, or infrastructure. The Cambodian public education system teaches only in Khmer, and so people who speak other languages are left by the wayside.

Ms. Soar made the journey to find her own education as a child, and since grade eight she had the dream of becoming a primary school teacher herself. With scholarship support, residence and materials provided by Lotus Outreach, she excelled in school, especially in the area of mathematics. The cost of supporting a secondary-school student with everything she needs to excel is only $250.00 per year!

It was very important that she study as hard as she did, because in order to become a teacher she had to travel to the Provincial Office of Education in the capital of the province. She had never been to a city as big as the capital before, and had never met so many different people before.

When she arrived to take her examination to become a teacher trainee, she found 160 other applicants vying for only 55 positions.  Thanks to her hard work and study, she passed the examination and was able to study at the Phnong Teacher Training Center!

Now the Phnong Teacher Training Center Dormitory in Steung Treng province is her home, and Ms. Soar is studying pedagogy with 19 other daring minority students. Each one of these people dreams of bringing the power of education to their own villages. Better education means better health, better earnings, better representation in government, and  

Ms. Soar has the support of her family, her immediate community, and even the license from the provincial government! Now all she needs is your support! Donating just $20 covers an entire month of teacher training for a minority student.

Thank you for supporting Lotus Outreach and the development of minority communities like this one!

Secondary students with study materials/uniforms
Secondary students with study materials/uniforms


Dec 30, 2013

The boundless dedication of Ms. Sreynei

In the most isolated countryside of Mondulkiri province lives a young student of the Phnong minority named Sreynei. Sreynei is sixteen years old and is currently in the 9th grade at Preah Lower Secondary School. She’s the oldest of six siblings, and she has been a part of Lotus Outreach’s Phnong Education Initiative (PEI) for three years.

Sreynei’s home is hard to get to, even by Cambodian standards. The house is barely reachable by four-wheel drive SUV, with a dried up riverbed serving as a road for part of the journey. Flooding during the rainy season carves impossible ruts into the riverbed and other roads alike. Lotus’s field staff got stuck several times along the way, and yet Sreynei has followed this path every day to get to school since the age of seven!

The home of Sreynei's family is located 12 km from the Sre-Preah Lower Secondary School in a village with half a dozen other small houses belonging to ethnic Phnong people. Their one-room house is elevated on meter-high stilts to protect from seasonal flooding. It has split bamboo walls, a tin roof, and no windows, electricity or running water. The wooden floorboards inside are spaced one-centimeter apart, so the bare earth is visible a meter below.

It is a well-known fact that hearts are what make a house a home, and though Sreynei’s parents are both completely illiterate, they are warm, and they converse easily about their lives and how they live so remotely and simply. Her mother gardens on about two hectares of land quite far from the house, cultivating cucumbers, rice, gourds and eggplant. Her father gathers frogs and fish from ponds and streams that flood and dry seasonally. He also gathers and sells a certain tree sap which effectively patches leaks in boats.

After having problems with water-borne illness, the family has started boiling their drinking water, though they admit it is difficult to do all the time. Newly installed nets help keep out some of the mosquitoes and protect the family from endemic malaria. They still have trouble from time to time.

Advancing from such a remote and difficult starting place is full of challenges, but Sreynei keeps her dreams like a spark in tinder. She says, “My dream is to be educated, because as a Phnong I don’t want people to look down on me and berate me like they did to my parents.” She reveals with a sly smile that she is deciding whether she wants to be a Phnong teacher, a nonprofit worker like Lotus’s Raksmey Var, or a health worker.

Because the 12km hike between her house and school is so difficult, Sreynei has relocated to the residence provided by Lotus’s PEI much closer to the school. She says that staying there helps her focus on her studies, and saves her from a long and difficult journey. Momentarily she is back to walking the long path, while she cares for her mother who has fallen ill.

Lotus Outreach believes that opportunity should not be denied to someone for any reason, not for their ethnicity, nor their language, nor the location of their home. Funding this literacy and teacher training program does not take much; just $250 funds school and supportive services for a girl for a whole year! The dedication of Lotus’s 40 PEI students is insurmountable. With just a little support, you’ll never know the places they’ll go! 

Inside Sreynei
Inside Sreynei's family home.
This simple home holds a lot of hope.
This simple home holds a lot of hope.
Oct 1, 2013

The resolute Sameoun Boch and other excellent news

Boch (left), seen here posing with fellow students
Boch (left), seen here posing with fellow students

In the remote northeastern region of Mondulkiri, education resources are scarce, especially for women of the ethnic minority Phnong. While secondary education rates among Cambodians in general rest around 35%, for men and women of the Phnong minority, secondary education rates remain even lower at 16%. Literacy rates for highland minority tribes are even lower: 5.3%, and literacy rates for ethnic minority females bottom out at less than 1%.

Sameoun Boch is a part of expanding that 1%! Boch is a 19-year-old Phnong Education Initiative beneficiary living at Dak Dam village with her parents and three siblings. Boch is now at grade 9 of Oraing Lower Secondary School, which is about 35 km away from her house. Lotus Outreach’s Phnong Education Initiative has been providing support to Boch since grade 7. This has allowed her to remain at school, overcoming education boundaries that keep most young women from even attaining basic literacy.

“I didn’t think I could study until grade 9 as I used to think about dropping out even when I was in primary school. However, the scholarship support has really motivated me and taken some of the burden away from my family”, Boch said. “I am doing better at school than before because I have enough time to focus on my studies and I can attend regularly my extra classes on Math, Physics, Chemistry and Khmer Literature”, she continued.

Besides the regular curriculum content, the students at Oraing School also participate in life skill activities. Boch is the leader of the vegetable cultivation project. She says that performing as the leader builds her confidence and helps her develop good communication skills with her teammates and teachers.

When asked about her future, Boch says that her most immediate goal is to successfully pass grade 9 examinations. In order to achieve this, she has been studying extra hard, reading as much as she can and being very attentive in her homework. “I am committed to studying really hard for my grade 9 examinations because I would like to continue my studies in grade 10 next year,” she said. With the dedication and determination that Boch has shown thus far, surely she will exceed even her own expectations!

The Kampuchean Action for Primary Education (KAPE), our local partner on the Phnong Education Initiative, recently assessed the cultural and life skill activities at the school. On a test designed to assess their understanding of the benefits of manufacturing traditional Phnong articles such as scarves and baskets, the students scored an average of 92%. All of the students (100%) were actually able to make these items by hand! In addition, a life skills program officer from KAPE taught the students more about how to monitor their learning progress on life skill activities such as fish farming and vegetable cultivation. The officer showed the students how to use a monitoring list, and also gave further input on how to be more effective when fish farming. The students were greatly interested and keen to monitor their life skills performance at school, using both the technical and managerial knowledge they gained. How wonderful to witness these young people flourish while still maintaining a strong cultural identity!

To learn more or make a donation to this project, please visit

LO's Raksmey, Boch, students & the cultural center


Jul 11, 2013

Turning the educated into educators...

A joyful Nheun
A joyful Nheun

Nheun grew up in a small ethnic Phnong village about 3 km from Oraing lower secondary school in Mondulkiri, Cambodia. Like all Phnong, Nheun’s family spoke their own language at home and gradually picked up Khmer while being forced to adapt in the early grades of primary school at a time when there were few, if any, Phnong teachers. Minority communities everywhere face varying degrees of social exclusion that often negatively impact the broad spectrum of human development indicators including education, health, and infant mortality.

It’s for these reasons and more that the Phnong Education Initiative (PEI) was conceived in 2009. The PEI program, which is delivered in partnership with Kampuchean Action for Primary Education, has two goals: a) ensure Phnong girls can stay in school through basic scholarships and b) support teacher trainees from the Phnong community who will return to minority classrooms and pay forward the gift of education.

Nheun started in as a basic PEI scholarship recipient in 2009, and continued on to teacher training college in Stung Treang with support from the project. In July 2012, Nheun took the national pedagogy exam and ranked fourth in the entire province. Today Nheun is back in the classroom about 15 km from her home village, and now teaches a class of 13 third-graders.

Nheun recently received her first paycheck which was a long-awaited event for her entire family. She tells us, “my parents and two elder sisters didn’t go to school at all but my mother always supported my education, especially as no one else in the family was educated. While I still had to work like everyone else, I wasn’t made to work too hard and had time to study. From my own side, I always wanted to remain in school as long as possible no matter what difficulties I faced. My father was sick for many years and that brought a lot of pressure on all of us to make up for the loss of income. He died in 2006, and my elder brother was the one that had to drop school in year 9 to become the breadwinner.”

In terms of her teaching career, Nheun tells us the village children are very irregular at attending school which makes subject mastery difficult. Despite the challenges, Nheun pushes forward. “I go to the village very often to ask why parents are not sending the children and try to motivate them to send the children to school every day,” she shares. Nheun’s passion for education also shows in her colorful classroom, which is sprinkled with creative teaching-aids she collected during her time in pedagogy school.

Though Nheun tells us Khmer is becoming more widespread in her community, she still encounters many Phnong children that struggle with the language. “Many of these children arrive at primary school with very little Khmer. I’m happy that I’m able to help my students with my mother tongue so they can get ahead more quickly than children in my school days. Back then, there were absolutely no Phnong speaking teachers.”

PEI is working to change that, and will graduate an additional 16 Phnong teachers this year. In addition to mainstreaming Phnong children into the Khmer-based education system, PEI is celebrating and preserving Phnong culture through the creation of a brand new cultural research center and museum in the region.

To learn more or make a donation to this project, please visit

Nheun with her pupils
Nheun with her pupils


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Lotus Outreach

Sacramento, CA, United States

Project Leader

Elise De Grande

Executive Director
Sacramento, CA United States

Where is this project located?

Map of Give Phnong Children the Gift of Education