We are pleased to report that at the close of the 2011-2012 academic year, all 31 girls receiving scholarships through the Phnong Education Initiative passed their exams and were promoted to the next grade level! Five of the girls even placed on the top ten of their classes (which have as many as 80 students), and overall the scholars performed better than their peers which is significant given the severe penury and marginalization these students face.Our teacher trainees are likewise doing well, with 16 of the year-one trainees now carrying out their teaching practicum in primary school classrooms. By gaining hands-on experience in teamwork, student monitoring, teaching methods and school management, these young women are being prepared to pay forward the gift of education to other disadvantaged Phnong children in their home province of Mondulkiri.While working to mainstream Phnong children into the Khmer-based education system, the program also focuses on celebrating and preserving Phnong culture and language through the development of a new Phnong Cultural Center which teaches minority children how to make traditional Phnong baskets, bows, paintings and scarves while compiling and documenting Phnong cultural traditions including recipes, wedding rituals and handicraft techniques. The Cultural Center is open to the public, and the students are able to sell their handicrafts, using the profits to improve education in the region.PEI: Turning Students into EducatorsThe story of Pet Pearny, an 18 year-old Provincial Teacher Training College student, is great example of what the Phnong Education Initiative is designed to achieve.Pearny is from the Phnong minority group in Oraing, Mondulkiri. She is the elder sister of six siblings, all of whom live with her parents in a small wooden house with a tin roof. When Pearny was in primary school she never imagined she would be able to reach lower secondary school level (the equivalent of junior high). At that time, she reflects, most of the people around her didn’t value education and very few bothered to send their daughters to school, preferring instead that they stay home and tend to their siblings or help on the farm. Compounding these unfavorable conditions are the distances to schools in Pearny’s home region; her lower secondary school is 15 kilometers from her house. Furthermore her parents could not afford the costs of education—such as transport, school supplies and books—no less ensure the family had adequate food. Fortunately, she received a scholarship from PEI which allowed her to focus on her studies without worrying about how she could pay for necessities such as uniforms, notebooks, pens and other study materials.While in school, Pearny began dreaming of one day becoming a teacher in her community so she could show people the benefits of educating children, especially girls who are often forbidden by their parents to go to school.Pearny successfully completed the grade 9 diploma exam in 2010, and due to the teacher shortage in remote areas, the Cambodian Ministry of Education Youth and Sports allows students who pass grade 9 to apply to train as primary school teachers. Pearny’s home region has a big teacher shortage so she applied and passed the examination to study at the Provincial Teacher Training College with continued support from PEI. “My dream has now come true!” she tells us.The Provincial Teacher Training College Deputy Director tells us, “Pearny is a Phnong girl who shows high commitment. I hope that she will soon graduate and go back to help the children in her community.”We thank you for generously investing in the futures of these girls, as well as the countless children that will move through their classrooms in the future.
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