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Higher Education for Impoverished Cambodian Girls

by Lotus Outreach
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Higher Education for Impoverished Cambodian Girls
Higher Education for Impoverished Cambodian Girls
Higher Education for Impoverished Cambodian Girls
Higher Education for Impoverished Cambodian Girls
Higher Education for Impoverished Cambodian Girls
Higher Education for Impoverished Cambodian Girls
Higher Education for Impoverished Cambodian Girls
Higher Education for Impoverished Cambodian Girls
Higher Education for Impoverished Cambodian Girls
Higher Education for Impoverished Cambodian Girls
Higher Education for Impoverished Cambodian Girls
Higher Education for Impoverished Cambodian Girls
Higher Education for Impoverished Cambodian Girls
Higher Education for Impoverished Cambodian Girls
Higher Education for Impoverished Cambodian Girls
Higher Education for Impoverished Cambodian Girls
Higher Education for Impoverished Cambodian Girls
Higher Education for Impoverished Cambodian Girls
Higher Education for Impoverished Cambodian Girls
Higher Education for Impoverished Cambodian Girls
Higher Education for Impoverished Cambodian Girls
Zoom meeting
Zoom meeting

The COVID-19 crisis has posed challenges for people across the world. For CATALYST scholars, our continued support during these difficult times is crucial as girls are unable to attend school and no longer have the support of in-person meetings. Keeping this in mind, we have made some adjustments to our approach as this virus continues to affect all of our lives. 

On March 14, the government of Cambodia announced the closure of all public and private schools. Most of our CATALYST scholars left their city dwellings and travelled home to stay with their families, some of them however, are still working jobs and doing self-study. The girls continue to write daily journals and stay in contact with one another through Facebook and WhatsApp groups. Students are engaged with online learning and are able to continue their studies with at home materials. We have ensured access to online learning by providing cell phones to CATALYST girls who did not have internet access. 

Monthly CATALYST meetings have been shifted to online video calls. CATALYST Year 3 girls are continuing group projects while Year 4 students are working on their theses, even as data collection has become difficult. Everyone is very happy that they can stay connected and the monthly meetings encourage and support focus on their studies. One scholar, Sreynich, said “Monthly meetings online are very powerful. They encourage me not to forget my lessons.”

We also began conducting daily online English language classes for all 56 CATALYST scholars. The girls are divided into their language levels and every morning they receive an assignment to complete by the end of the day. We have 90% participation! CATALYST scholar Theary reflects on the online English class: "I have learned and researched with different exercises, and learned to do it on time."

Here are some stories we would like to highlight:

Dina, a 4th year student in Accounting at Vanda Accounting Institute in Phnom Penh, is working in Phnom Penh and still receives her full salary but her studies are affected by COVID-19. Her school has begun giving online classes (through FB live, FB messenger & Telegram) but in order to attend the classes she must use extra data, her phone bill has gone up from $2/month to $5/month to support her online studies. Additionally, the class schedule sometimes clashes with her work and teachers can change the schedule suddenly which makes the balance between online learning and work challenging.

Yanida is a 4th year Economics student at Royal University of Law and Economics in Phnom Penh. Her school doesn't provide online study or any form of group assignments. She is currently writing her thesis and contacts her teachers online when she needs assistance. Her thesis topic is “Improving Family Livelihood Through Informal Economy”. COVID-19 has impacted her ability to collect data and it has thus been difficult to get work done. 

We are so impressed by the dedication of every scholarship recipient during these challenging times. First year CATALYST girls are anxious to get back to school while 3rd and 4th year girls are eager to graduate. They miss living in the new CATALYST residential home and can’t wait to be back together and in school. 

Thank you so much for being a part of their journey and for your support during this unpredictable time.

Online teaching
Online teaching
Back home helping with work
Back home helping with work
Workplace during COVID-19
Workplace during COVID-19
Thesis work!
Thesis work!
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Group photo
Group photo

[SIEM REAP PROVINCE, CAMBODIA, January 18]—After 14 years providing scholarships to students through the GATE Program, Lotus Outreach organized its first ever Alumni Gathering. This was an extremely important event for both Lotus Outreach and the alumni, and it happened to coincide during a visit of LO's Board of Directors. 

There were over 100 people in attendance for the event including 74 alumni, 26 CATALYST scholars, eight from the LO Board of Directors, and four Lotus Outreach Cambodia (LOCAM) staff.  

Featured was one of the first alumni of the program, Sima, who gave an impressive and touching testimonial in English (translated into Khmer by LOCAM's Project Officer). Sima graduated high school under GATE (2010) and received her bachelor’s degree in Law under CATALYST (2014). She shared with those in attendance about her life, study and work experiences.

 "When I was in ninth grade, I wanted to drop out because my parents could not afford school. Luckily, I received scholarship support from Lotus Outreach which provided me with enough uniforms to wear, books to study, and a bike to ride to school. I could study tuition classes like other students. As a result, my study got better and better every year until I passed high school in 2010." 

"In November of 2010 I left Banteay Meanchey Province to study in Phnom Penh City. I knew nothing in Phnom Penh but I had someone behind me who was not only kind to me, but kind to everyone. I was very lucky to meet her. She is the Country Representative of Lotus Outreach Cambodia. That said, I would like to thank Lotus Outreach for financial, spiritual and material support for myself and other students. Without you, our lives would not be bright.” 

Sima went on to encourage juniors to study and work hard to position themselves for success in the future. She left them with a poignant message: "Failure is a starting point to becoming successful.”

After this meaningful testimonial, the group discussed formalizing the Alumni Association and began to brainstorm small projects that would benefit both its members and society at large, as a way to give back and “pay it forward”. All of the alumni were in support of this and many of them offered ideas for how to get started. 

From this discussion four committees were formed to serve as an Executive Committee under the advisory of Lotus Outreach Cambodia. Those committees are as follows: Committee of Action Plan/Implementation, Committee of Fundraising, Committee of Communication and Media, and Committee of Finance. Heads of each committee were also identified and will be responsible to recruit members. An Alumni Executive Committee Group will also be formed on Telegram for ongoing communication. 

These four committees will work together in 2020 to decide on activities, how to raise funds and alumni member engagement. In addition they will meet annually where the Executive Committee can present their achievements, challenges, lessons learned, as well as elect the committee for the year to come.

For years we had thought and talked about forming this alumni association. We had even asked in our social media group on Facebook if the alumni were interested in having gatherings and forming an association with the intent to give back. Many had shown interest and were waiting anxiously for this first alumni gathering. 

We are grateful to the board members for making this long awaited alumni gathering happen and are thrilled and looking forward to the first pilot project led by the association. We will raise funds locally and take it from there.

Sima shares ideas
Sima shares ideas
Sima with Board of Directors
Sima with Board of Directors

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Sophin (left) receives gift for journal writing!
Sophin (left) receives gift for journal writing!

To help our scholars improve their English, as well as to stay connected with them, CATALYST has asked students in year one and year two to keep an English journal which they send to us through Facebook Messenger. The program provides small gifts as an incentive to the top three students who have written the most journal entries each month. 

Since our year three students have a bigger workload at school, CATALYST has asked them to write one essay a month. In October one of our our students, Sophin, decided not to write an essay in English, but instead wrote a long reflection in Khmer showing her appreciation for the program and the donors for giving her the precious life-changing gift of education. Here is what she wrote:

"I am the luckiest person to have been in the CATALYST program. I have received sufficient support for my studies. I had never imagined I could afford tertiary education since my family is so poor. 

The knowledge I have gained in the CATALYST program has exceeded my expectations. I have been able to attend many trainings which have built capacity in all of us CATALYSTAS. I still remember crying in the Self Confidence & Communication Training when I was encouraged to open up and speak from my heart. 

Before joining this program, I wasn’t able to explore the outside world and I didn't have a broad general knowledge, so my thinking and expression was very limited. But I'm different now! With all the trainings that I have experienced, I have become a strong and brave person who can express and share her opinion much better both at work and school. Not everyone receives such a life-changing opportunity like this!

A once destitute country-side girl has become an outstanding student in the class at Vanda Accounting Institute and has been promoted as head of teller at Reach Thisak Micro-Finance. I wouldn't have come this far without the care and generous support of the program and all the donors. I will continue to study hard and I will not let you down. I will use my knowledge to help develop my country as much as I can. Thank you so much!"

 

Sophin participates in team building game
Sophin participates in team building game
Sophin gives books during study visit
Sophin gives books during study visit
Sophin takes part in Gender Concept training
Sophin takes part in Gender Concept training
Sophin at school
Sophin at school

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Following the leader with eyes closed
Following the leader with eyes closed

In May, we took our CATALYST scholars on a study visit where they were given leadership training. One month before the trip, we asked all 44 CATALYST scholars who wished to be leaders during the study visit to nominate themselves for a vote. Nine ran for the election and seven students were elected to lead small groups of six members each. 

The group leaders were given a budget to take care of their member's food and transportation. Group members were from different provinces. They first had to come to Phnom Penh, the capital city, and then the following day, travel by bus from Phnom Penh to Mondulkiri Province.

The leaders had to keep receipts of their members' transportation costs and get each member to sign on a form whenever they were given money for food. Additionally, each group was tasked with a main responsibility:

  • Group 1: Prepare snacks for everyone for morning of the first day as we didn't have time to stop for breakfast on the way, and handing t-shirts & scarfs to year one students
  • Group 2: Make sure there's water for everyone
  • Group 3: Maintain hygiene and hand out study visit pass to everyone
  • Group 4: Count members when getting back on the bus
  • Group 5: Prepare study visit banner for group photo shoot and for tying to the front of the bus 
  • Group 6: Take care of the study materials to be given to primary school students
  • Group 7: Take care of materials for leadership training 

In the evening of the second day, all the CATALYSTAS were led to play some leadership games such as: 

  • Pass the Hoop:This game involves having a group stand in a circle and hold hands. One of the people in the circle has a hula hoop around their arm. The idea is to pass the hula hoop all the way around the circle. This strengthens teamwork and problem solving skills, crucial for any leader, as they’re not working in a vacuum. Most importantly it teaches communication, which might be the most fundamental skill for any successful leader.
  • Blind-lead v.s. Sight-lead: For this game, a leader or "head of the line" is chosen and the members all line up behind the leader. At first all the members are asked to close their eyes and follow the leader when she moves around. After that all the members follow the leader with their eyes open. The followers must decide whether or not to follow the leader when they can and cannot see. This activity involves leadership and building trust. 
  • Building the Highest, Strongest and Most Beautiful Building: Students are divided into three groups and are given five minutes to build the highest, strongest and most beautiful building out of whatever they can find at the spot. 

After playing these games, the students were asked to reflect on what they had learned.

Sophin gave her take on 'Pass the Hoop' game: "The game required us to work collaboratively to pass the hoop and to come up with creative problem-solving strategies to move the hoop around the group. It also trained us be quick but cautious."

Sarik reflected on Building the Highest, Strongest and Most Beautiful Building: "To achieve the goal, someone had to take the lead and assign tasks, including watching the time, to all the members. It required creativity, teamwork and good communication."   

Samnang expressed her feelings regarding the Blind Lead game: "I first found the game very difficult because I couldn't see, I didn't know where the leader led us to and I was worried that I would step on something or trip, so I didn't want to follow my leader. However, after a while I decided to put my trust in the leader and just followed her steps then I become less anxious and everything went well."

Another leader, Sreynich, interjected: "As a leader, we cannot just choose the smooth and easy roads; otherwise, there won't be improvement/development. We have to challenge our team so they become stronger and can deal with all sorts of obstacles, that's why after leading them through easy path for a while, I decided to take some rough roads."  

The trip wrapped up with electing the best leader among the seven. Gifts, as well as certificates of appreciation, were given to all the leaders. The girls found the training very useful and interesting and could not thank the program and all the donors enough for making it happen. They hope there will be more training opportunities in the future!

Following the leader with eyes closed
Following the leader with eyes closed
Pass the hoop
Pass the hoop
The team leaders
The team leaders

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Students receiving study materials
Students receiving study materials

This year CATALYST Program took its scholars on a study visit to Mondulkiri Province on May 12-14. Mondulkiri is 390kms from Phnom Penh Capital City and is well known for its forested hills and powerful waterfalls. Eighty percent of Mondulkiri's population is made up of ten tribal minorities, with the majority of them being Pnong. 

The study visit this year was different from the previous years because our CATALYST scholars came up with an initiative to "pay it forward" by providing study materials to Pnong students at Pula Primary School in Oraing Commune, Mondolkiri Province as they believe that education is the key to break the cycle of poverty.  

Pula Primary School was a community school and has just been recognized as a public school in the past few years. However, the school has not been developed and there are not enough rooms for every grade that two grades are merged into one and there are only 46 students in the whole school from grade 1 to grade 6.

To be able to provide study materials to all the 46 primary school student, the CATALYST scholars began raising funds in March. By the end of April, they had raised $512 -- enough to provide each primary school student with a school bag, a raincoat, 5 notebooks, some pens and pencils, a pencil sharpener, an eraser, and a ruler!

Actually, CATALYST program didn't have enough budget to take all the 44 scholars to Mondulkiri, but all the scholars were willing to contribute their money to the program so we could pursue our first charity mission. Altogether their contribution came to $558.50, a significant amount to make it happen!

The school is very remote in the middle of nowhere on a hilly road some 10kms off the main street. We were worried as it was very cloudy that day and if it rained, our 45 seaters bus wouldn't make it to the school. Fortunately, it didn't rain. 

When our bus was approaching the school, we could see many children waiting in the school compound and they were smiling in excitement. The school is located in an open space with no fence surrounding and there is only one building with 4 classrooms made of tin roof and old wooden walls. The small children in grade one and two cannot understand simple Cambodian/Khmer (they talked to each other in their ethnic language). No wonder they looked puzzled when we were trying to explain what they should do after primary school regardless of the long distance to lower secondary school (10km) on a hilly road, and all the opportunities out there when they have high education.

After a short talk to break the ice, the CATALYST scholars took turn to give study materials to all the students. Five scarfs with Lotus Outreach Cambodia's logo were also given to the school principal as souvenir for him and his four other teachers. 

This Pay It Forward mission was accomplished with high satisfaction, leaving a lot of good memories, positivity and pride with our scholars. Below are some reflections.

"Seeing their happy faces, I felt very humble as it reminded me of my childhood. I remembered having to stand in the school yard, in the warm morning sun, waiting to receive books and pens from high ranking government official, and now I found myself on the other end of the spectrum giving back to those in need," said Vorn.  

Soy reflected, "I used to feel that I am the most unfortunate one not having enough to support my education. Only when I arrived at the school, I then realized those youngsters have even less than I do. I feel pity for them and I hope they get to finish school to be free from ignorance." 

Srey added, "I am inspired to study hard so I can make good money to help build human resource for our country by helping to educate children in need like them."

 

Happy to get the study materials
Happy to get the study materials
Happy to get the study materials
Happy to get the study materials
CATALYST scholars with students
CATALYST scholars with students
Study materials
Study materials

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Organization Information

Lotus Outreach

Location: Ojai, California - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @lotusoutreach
Project Leader:
Alexandra Land
Sacramento, California United States
$33,328 raised of $60,000 goal
 
503 donations
$26,672 to go
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