The Phnong Education Initiative provides minority students in Cambodia with scholarships and housing assistance so they can continue to attend school. Otherwise these students would be forced to drop out of school due to poverty and/or distance from the nearest school. The indigenous minority, Phnong, survives on subsistence agriculture. Literacy rates for highland tribes are 5.3%, and females among this minority fall to 1%. Phnong Education Initiative provides children and teacher trainees with scholarship packages, and aims to change to gender imbalances.
Cherbb, a 15 year old that is in 7th grade lives with her mom, Krum in their home at Pu Haem Village. Cherbbs family and 25 other households share a large part of Phnong’s community where they continue to practice slash burn agriculture on land that sits on the edge of the ‘Mondulkrir Protected Forest’ area which has one of the largest continuous stretches of dry and semi-evergreen forests in South East Asia.
Cherbb’s community has a local primary school, by her estimation it is, “a 20 minute walk up a hill,” but the nearest secondary school is 14 kilometers away. At least half of the children from this Phnong community don’t finish their first year of high school because it becomes too far and too expensive to commute, so they are forced to drop out.
Luckily for Cherbb and her sister, their parents see the value of education and receive support from Lotus Outreach that allows them to stay in dormitory accommodations during the week and then return home for the weekends. Almost all of the PEI students work on the weekends either on the home plot or to earn money doing seasonal work when it’s available near their homes. Cherbbs mother tells us, “With an education a girl can and often will, support her family with the salary from the type of job education will ensure. Without assistance from the program, which pays for school uniforms, books, tuition and weekly stipend we also wouldn’t be able to afford the cost of transport and incidental expenses and Cherbb would have to drop out. We feel education is important and valuable, but we can only do what’s affordable for us. We are very thankful for the support”
Cherbb is very happy to have transitioned from primary school into 7th grade, “its my dream to teach English at lower secondary school level, I am very keen to learn English"
The Phnong people have been living in mud floor dwellings with wood and thatched roof huts for hundred of years. The Phnong community lives 40kms from then nearest health clinic. Infant mortality although preventable, is very common problem. Cherbbs mother spoke of her experience with this, “I actually had 4 children and two died of diarrhea, one at 4 months and one only a week old. Even though we only have two children, I'm not well and use the birth control pill to avoid pregnancy. We drink water from a ring well not far up the hill and boil it to avoid infections.”
The traditions and culture of the Phnong are difficult to hang on to, as interest in preserving their culture becomes less important than their immediate survival. Cherbbs mom expressed, “We will continue to support Cherbbs education as best we can until she finishes year 12 and becomes a Lower Secondary School Teacher”. Given that no one else in the village has ever achieved more than a 10th grade education, Lotus Outreach is encouraged to assist students such as Cherbb as long as possible. We will continue to support them towards a goal of higher education and an overall well being to in the Ethnic Phnong communities of Cambodia.
Thank you to all the supporters who allow young students like Cherbb to attend school, Lotus Outreach couldn't do it without you!
The following story highlights the huge impact this program is having on the lives of Phnong speaking minority children living in impoverished conditions within Cambodia. For just $130 feed a student in profound need like Sagn for an entire academic year, and rejoice in the greatest gift of all: the gift of education!
Sagn is a Phnong speaking student in grade 7 at Oraing high school. She lives in Potro Village within the Oraing District of Mondulkiri Province. She is the youngest child of 6 siblings; all of her brothers and sisters are married and have left home to live on their own. Sagn is 14 years old and still lives with her parents in a small cottage with bamboo walls.
Unfortunately, her father suffers from a respiratory illness and thus cannot work while her mother can only work part time in the rice fields, because she is getting older and more fatigued each day. Her older brothers and sisters did not have a chance to go to secondary school, because school is so far from their village. Living 18 kilometers away from the nearest school, Sagn never expected to attend secondary school.
Luckily, thanks to Lotus Outreach and this program, she got a scholarship from our partner KAPE that provided uniforms, a pair of shoes, study materials, monthly stipends, and most importantly, a spot in the dormitory close to the school with a very nice kitchen, toilet and pump well for all the scholarship students living there. This great opportunity has completely changed the trajectory of Sagn’s life.
Sagn has lived in the dorm since school started in November 2014. At first she was homesick and she found it difficult to live on her own, but after getting support from the older students in the dorm, she feels more confident and is now much happier. Besides her regular classes, Sign attends a study club that teaches girls how to make bracelets and Phnong scarves for the cultural center. Every day she spends three hours taking extra classes in Math, Khmer literature, and Chemistry with support from her scholarship.
During the holidays she goes home to help her mother at the rice field especially during the harvest time. “I am so happy to be a scholarship student,” Sagn stated.
“This scholarship has given me a chance to get more education than I ever would have gotten and I feel I am more confident in speaking to other people. Before I was really shy and I did not like to talk to people I did not know. Moreover, I know now that people have to help each other; not only in living, but in learning as well. I have learned a lot from the other people around me.”
Help more girls like Sagn through our PEI scholarships, and give the gift that never stops giving!!!
The Phnong Education Initiative (PEI) provides scholarships to children in profound need in Cambodia, which include housing assistance so they can live closer to school and complete their studies. Furthermore, PEI supports training for Phnong-speaking teachers so they can return to their home villages and pay forward the gift of education by helping other linguistic minorities succeed in the public school system.
This past fall, Thaeg, aged 18, completed her 2-year PEI training program and passed her final examination with funding provided by Lotus Outreach. After her completion of high school and teacher training, Thaeg became a teacher at Sre Iy primary school this past November.
Thaeg commented on her difficulties in school as a young, minority child and her dream of becoming a teacher in order to help other minorities like herself succeed.
“Teaching is my favorite job and [was] my dream when I studied at primary school because my ex-primary school teacher, Ms. Sophea, had encouraged me... She is friendly to students and is a very supportive teacher. She is always in my heart and I would like to say thank you to her. When I was in grade 1, I was not able to communicate well in the Khmer national language while it was taught in the classroom, as I am a Phnong speaking child. I could not understand and learn quickly, because I was often absent from school because I felt I made too many mistakes when I talked to my teacher in the Khmer language. Because of this, I had to repeat the first grade.
I understood the situation and I am now a primary teacher who can speak two languages—Khmer and Phnong– and it is very easy for me to teach students, especially Phnong children in early grades, to learn and communicate well in Khmer. I am excited to meet new teachers, students and communities in my new school. I hope to see many Phnong minority youth [obtain] jobs in the government sector. In 2 years, I would like to be a secondary school teacher...”
Help others like Thaeg receive education and give back to their communities. Access to education is a universal right that we at Lotus Outreach believe all should receive. Support us in taking further steps in this hugely impactful direction!
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!
Kvet is a 9th grade Phnong student at Oraing Lower Secondary School. Her mother, a widow, lives about 12 kilometers away in a small home with bamboo walls and a curtain for a door. She has 2 brothers and 4 sisters. Because Kvet’s home is so far from the Oraing school, Kvet stays at the dormitory during the school year. On holidays she goes home to help her mother work in the fields.
Kvet has been a part of the Phnong Education Initiative (PEI) since she was in the 7th grade. She began at Oraing Lower Secondary school, paying to live in the dormitory, and also trying to cover food and school supplies costs on her mother’s very limited income. She wanted badly to continue her education, but it was obvious that it would not be sustainable for her family. So Lotus Outreach selected Kvet to receive complete academic support through PEI.
Through PEI, Kvet receives books, a backpack, pens, uniforms, monthly stipend, and tuition support. It costs just $265.00 a year to completely support Kvet’s study.
She has greatly enjoyed lower secondary school, and is very glad that she has been able to stay enrolled. She is involved in activities like student council, and she even takes part in the cultural dance program put on by the school.
“I used to be quiet and not very confident before I got the scholarship from PEI. Now I feel confident speaking with different people, and I am good at math and literature.”
The Phnong Education Initiative was conceived to assist Phnong girls and boys with insufficient means to continue their studies at the upper primary and lower secondary levels in the public school system. However, when the first cohort of girls finished lower secondary school in 2003, the program was expanded to create opportunities for students to become Phnong-language teachers.
In 2014, 20 teachers are being trained to provide Phnong language pedagogy to students from this remote and underserved area. Many of our students move directly into teacher training after 9th grade to become elementary school teachers.
Because the need for even basic education is so dire here, Lotus Outreach is trying to cultivate as many teachers as possible, so young students can be educated in their native language.
Your support can help! Donate $20 today and cover an entire month of a teacher’s training!
Thank you for supporting Lotus Outreach!
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!!
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