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!
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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!!
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!
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!
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