Mealea visiting an ancient Cambodian temple
For Soven Mealea, whose parents were poor farmers, going to college was never a possibility she or her family ever dreamed of. Her parents took out loans just to afford the primary schooling of their five children. A few of those loans were from money lenders whose interest rate was three times higher than the bank’s, forcing Mealea’s parents to illegally migrate for work in Thailand so they could repay the debts.
Mealea’s parents’ impoverished circumstances oftentimes discouraged her from finishing school. From 3rdgrade onwards, Mealea had to supplement her family’s income by selling fruits and cake near her home and assisting with the livestock raising and rice wine brewing at home. She says that she “often got to school late because of those chores and the long distance from home to school (2 mi.), but my school performance was not bad; I was always among the top 10.”
In 7th grade, Mealea’s luck changed when Lotus Outreach began offering scholarship opportunities in Banteay Meanchey Province. With the scholarship’s monthly stipend support and school materials package, Mealea gained renewed confidence that she could graduate high school. More critically, Mealea’s parents rejoiced and stopped pressuring her to drop out of school to supplement the family’s income.
The possibility of attending college entered Mealea’s mind as a high school senior. She knew that her parents could not afford it, but when she passed a challenging exam that awarded her U$300 a year for 3 years of university fees, she made a leap of faith and gained entry into the Vanda Accounting University at Phnom Penh. Mealea soon realized that surviving in the city was a big challenge. The living costs of accommodation, food, study materials, textbooks, and other daily expenses were overwhelming. Her parents, still working in Thailand, were by this point fully committed to seeing their daughter be able to make it through college and borrowed more money to help her. It was at this critical point that Lotus Outreach offered Mealea a GATEways scholarship to secure her college degree. She says that “without the support so far, I would not be able to stay in school; I would have dropped out a long time ago and would have been nursing my many children by now!”
Mealea, left, and friend ride through Banteay Meanchey. While in college, Mealea was always active in seeking out workshops, trainings, and internship opportunities in order to build her capacity and be ready for employment in a very competitive job market. She joined the Vanda Institute’s “Stock Exchange Workshop” which included several field visits to companies. As a senior, Mealea tutored sophomore and junior year students in accounting related subjects, greatly improving her presentation skills and building up her confidence. In 2012, Mealea got her first job at the Sunway Hotel group where she earned U$120 a month as sales clerk and received a U$30 raise after only 3 months!
In September this year, Mealea graduated from Vanda Insitute with a degree in Accounting together with nine other GATEways scholarship recipients. With assistance from Lotus Outreach, Mealea was offered an accountant position at Jeram Coconut Co. Ltd., where she is currently earning U$150 per month! Mealea, beaming with happiness, expressed, “I always believed that the effort would pay off someday. That’s why I’ve always worked so hard.” We at Lotus Outreach are extremely overjoyed for Mealea’s achievement. We echo her confidence that working hard and investing in these young women yields great results. By the end of next year, another 42 GATEways scholars will graduate! And we can’t wait to see the great things they will accomplish as empowered, educated women in a new Cambodia.
Mealea and friend bicycle through Banteay Meanchey