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!
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 http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/pei/.
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 http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/pei/.
The Phnong Education Initiative just wrapped up its third year this past December, and we are delighted to report that in this short period of time, the program has already graduated 20 Phnong scholars from the Provincial Teacher Training College. All of these promising young educators are now back in Mondulkiri’s public classrooms paying forward the gift of education to other linguistic minorities. The cost of training one teacher—who will spend her lifetime inspiring and educating other Phnong children—is just $340 for the full two years.Of our 31 lower-secondary school students, all but three had remained in the program at the close of the year. Three girls dropped out of school to enter arranged marriages, and we were unfortunately unsuccessful in persuading them to delay marriage until they completed their studies (in Cambodia, it is illegal for a child to attend public school if she is married). Three equally needy girls have been identified to take their places and are now attending school regularly. Overall, 90% of students advanced to the next grade level in 2012, and 26% of them ranked in the 75th percentile of their class.The program’s cultural club continues to research and document Phnong cultural traditions, and recently prepared and presented a report on Phnong funeral processions. Members produce traditional Phnong scarves, baskets, and wine which they showcase in the cultural center and sell to local visitors and tourists. The students also recently stocked the Phnong Cultural Center with traditional skirts, jars, baskets, gourds, and arrows.The program’s student council in Oraing recently started a small vegetable garden to serve the school dormitory, and installed a pond for a small fish farming operation. This effort is aimed at enhancing the nutrition of our scholars, and may eventually provide a way to generate income and enable the program’s self-sufficiency.We thank you for giving the gift of education to these promising young students, and we look forward to keeping you posted on the program’s many successes in the months and years ahead. If you have any questions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
During the past quarter, we are pleased to share that not a single PEI scholar dropped out of school, demonstrating the growing commitment to education in Mondulkiri’s Phnong communities—even in the face of extreme poverty. In late September, four of our teacher trainees graduated from the Provincial Teachers Training College in Kampong Cham, two of which are already teaching in (predominantly Phnong) primary school classrooms in their home districts, showcasing the multiplier effect of investing in capable linguistic minority school teachers.In the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, we launched a high-profile enrollment campaign, which was conducted by 10 teachers, 105 students and 30 villagers/parents. The central message of the campaign was “Sending Children to School is Like Saving Wealth for Your Children,” and poor villagers across the program area were informed of Cambodia’s Right to Education law, and admonished to enroll their children in local schools at the start of the academic year. The impact of such campaigns is well-established; MIT’s Poverty Action Lab reports that every $100 spent on education advocacy in the developing world results in 40 additional years of education. Recognizing this substantial return on investment, all of Lotus Outreach’s scholarship programs incorporate awareness events, public forms and enrollment campaigns designed to increase community understanding of the importance of sending children to school.The Phnong Cultural Center continues to thrive, and we recently purchased eleven new Phnong artifacts to display to tourists, school children and broader members of the community. The program additionally collaborated with the Vinacomine Company to bring beds, mats, mosquito nets and blankets to the children living in the Oraing school dormitory.The Phnong communities in Mondulkiri are recognized as some of the most isolated on the planet, and very few education and development programs are reaching them—despite demonstrable need. We’d like to give a special thanks to you for giving Lotus Outreach the opportunity to expand education and cultural preservation in these villages, and we look forward to watching the program’s success unfold over the months and years ahead.All of us at Lotus Outreach wish you health, peace and prosperity in 2013.
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