Mealea: bright, beautiful, and born into poverty
The profile of 20 year-old Mealea is typical of the hundreds of girls we support through Lotus Pedals in Cambodia, and her inspiring story underscores the extent to which a bicycle can alter the course of a girl’s life.
Survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide, Mealea’s illiterate parents were forced by poverty and high-interest debt to migrate illegally to Thailand in search of work, leaving Mealea and her five siblings—all under the age of 13—alone to fend for themselves.
Though Mealea struggled to help feed and care for her siblings, she always placed a high value on her education. “When I was in the fourth grade, I started to work making rice wine and feeding pigs,” she shares. “I often got to school late because of those chores and the long distance from home to school. However, my school performance was not bad; I was always among the top 10 in my class.”
Recognizing both her aptitude and her precarious situation, Lotus Outreach began providing Mealea with a scholarship—including a Lotus Pedals bike—in junior high school to prevent her from dropping out. This scholarship not only covered Mealea’s school fees, supplies, healthcare, books, uniforms, bicycle, and lunch money, but provided her with a large bag of rice each month to ensure her young siblings wouldn’t go hungry if Mealea continued going to school instead of work.
We shared Mealea’s pride when she passed her rigorous exams to graduate high school in 2010, and was admitted on a full tuition scholarship to the Vanda Institute of Accounting in the capital. Mealea continues to receive support from Lotus Outreach for her living expenses, food, travel, and school supplies through our GATEways university program, and looks forward to graduating next year. In the meantime, she continues to excel in her studies and has expressed a deep and passionate commitment to helping other children in Cambodia. In addition to studying full-time, working part-time to help pay down her parents’ debt, and learning English on the weekends, Mealea volunteers at her school as well as with the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center.
“I feel very deep gratitude to the donors for supporting me,” shares Mealea. “When I was sick, you cared for me. When my bicycle broke and I couldn’t get to school, you helped me fix it. You educated me and offered me every opportunity you could. You have been like my parents, and I will not be satisfied until I have been able to repay your generosity by helping others!”
We thank you for clearing the path for hundreds of girls like Mealea to pursue education and contribute to the development of their families, their villages, and their country. To learn more about Lotus Pedals and pledge additional support, please visit http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/lotuspedals.
Mealea (left) on her Lotus Pedals bike
Mealea (right) at her university library