Our work in Cambodia to keep girls in school is set amongst a backdrop of so many complex and inter-connecting layers. The Cambodian education system is still recovering from being dismantled through the Khmer Rouge regime - even 35 years later. Most schools are over crowded with teachers on low salaries who are also struggling to make ends meet. This in turn creates a system where the only way students can try and stay on top of their lessons is to attend 'extra classes' by those teachers but at a cost. We receive regular reports that if these extra payments are not paid then students are unable to access the papers/workbooks they need to be able to complete their class lessons. Schools are poorly maintained and classroom environments are hot, dirty, dimly lit with limited resources.
Add to this, the girls we work with are from the poorest urban communities where there is a continuum of violence, alcohol and drug abuse, no infrastructure or access to vital servces and parents struggling to make ends meet. Many of our girls talk about their high levels of stress associated with just daily surviving, let alone trying to navigate school.
However, amongst all this gloom, emerges young girls with a fighting spirit and determination to create a new future for themselves. It sometimes is a rocky road for awhile, but with her own social worker by her side providing constant support and mentoring and as their relationship and bond strengthens, we often see drastic changes and a new found freedom to pursue a dream comes to fruition.
** Sothy was enrolled as a SHINE girl in 2015 when she was 14 years old. However, not long after we enrolled her on our program, it was clear that Sothy was being influenced by friends to skip school and her behaviour began changing and she became aloof and disinterested.
Sothy would constantly lie to her mum about coming to the AusCam office for workshops, instead she was going out with her friends. Sothy’s mother was very worried about her and expressied her concern to the AusCam social worker on home visits.
Through communication and encouragement in individual counselling sessions with Sothy, the social worker was able to get her to think about her future and the decisions she was making. By simply asking questions, it began to make Sothy think hard about things she had never considered before.
Suddenly, Sothy began to make new friends, her attitude changed and she was visibly happier. When her social worker asked her about this change she said, “I have chosen friends that can help me grow and make smart decisions that will make my dreams become reality.”
Sothy dreams of one day becoming a teacher when she finishes high school and hopes to continue her education into university. Now she teaches her 2 year old sister how to read and basic mathematics because she “wants her to know everything”.
Due to the families economic situation, Sothy has also been working part time teaching children to skateboard at a local NGO. This has been a great support to her family. However, this year Sothy will start her final year of school and has decided to stop working so she can focus on her education and prepare for her final exam next year.
Sothy's story is just one of so many stories quite similar of the girls on our SHINE Girls program. We work with each girl individually, with her story and her world. Our social workers are all highly trained and receive ongoing support for personal development, clinical supervision and best practice methods for working in challenging contexts. We are proud of the work we do but more importantly we are proud of the girls we work with climbing the ladder so SHE has a future to look forward to.
*Sothy is a name used for the purpose of this story to protect her identity.