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Lotus Pedals - Help Cambodian Girls Get to School!

by Lotus Outreach
Lotus Pedals - Help Cambodian Girls Get to School!
Lotus Pedals - Help Cambodian Girls Get to School!
Lotus Pedals - Help Cambodian Girls Get to School!
Lotus Pedals - Help Cambodian Girls Get to School!
Lotus Pedals - Help Cambodian Girls Get to School!
Lotus Pedals - Help Cambodian Girls Get to School!
Lotus Pedals - Help Cambodian Girls Get to School!
Lotus Pedals - Help Cambodian Girls Get to School!
Lotus Pedals - Help Cambodian Girls Get to School!
Lotus Pedals - Help Cambodian Girls Get to School!
Lotus Pedals - Help Cambodian Girls Get to School!
Lotus Pedals - Help Cambodian Girls Get to School!
Lotus Pedals - Help Cambodian Girls Get to School!
Lotus Pedals - Help Cambodian Girls Get to School!
Lotus Pedals - Help Cambodian Girls Get to School!
Lotus Pedals - Help Cambodian Girls Get to School!
Kreach Sopea
Kreach Sopea

Gate scholar and bicycle recipient Kreach Sopea wears her big sister’s shirt to school every day; it is stained and still bears the older girl’s name. Sopea’s mother, a widow with four children to raise, can barely afford to keep her in school; Sopea spends her days off foraging in the swamp next to her house for wild vegetables and crabs to sell at the local market. This earns the family about $0.75 a day.

“I know what it’s like to be poor and uneducated,” says Sopea’s mother.  “While we couldn’t do it without the scholarship, we are still sacrificing an income so that Sopea can be well educated, and have a better life than I did.”

With her new bike from Lotus Outreach, Sopea has one less hurdle between her and a whole new life. “I am now determined to finish grade 12, and get a job doing secretarial and office work,” she says. For a 14 year-old girl living in a swamp, achieving something so modest will be nothing short of a dream come true. 

Thank you - your donation has given an extra hand to a Cambodian girl with big dreams. Watch the video below to see Sopea at home with her mother.

At the bicycle giveaway
At the bicycle giveaway
Sopea, her mother and little brother
Sopea, her mother and little brother

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Thida chats with an NFE classmate at Goat Soup
Thida chats with an NFE classmate at Goat Soup

Although poverty presents the most pervasive challenge to the people we serve, the sad reality we often encounter is that many women must also overcome abuse at the hands of their own fathers and brothers. This is the case of Teuk Thida, an avid student who was forced into a karaoke bar after the sixth grade to pay for her brother’s wedding.

The middle child of five, Thida was often thrust into the role of an eldest sibling due to the negligence and mischief of her older brothers. The family’s small plot of land could not provide enough rice for subsistence, so her parents also worked on neighboring farms for $3 a day. To help, Thida scavenged for vegetables, river shells and snails to sell after school, bringing in an extra $0.50 on a good day. None of this distracted her from her studies: she left her house every day at 5am to walk six kilometers to school, usually finishing the year near the top of her class.

As Thida was finishing primary school her oldest brother was planning to marry. With no job and no family savings to rely on, he turned on Thida to come up with $150 to cover the expenses. Behind her parents’ back, who were often away working in the fields, he beat and harassed her to come up with money. In desperation, she turned to her neighbors for loans, but all she could manage was $112. So she fled, terrified, more than 50 kilometers to Phnom Penh in the hope of both escaping her brother’s wrath and finding a way to repay her loans. She found work as a servant for the proprietors of Goat Soup karaoke bar, where Lotus Outreach operates a Non-Formal Education (NFE) project.

At just 15 years old, Thida found herself suddenly working a slave wage. At 18 ½ hour days from 4:30am to 11:00pm for $30 a month, she had been better off selling snails and shells from the river. Instead she swept her bosses’ house and bar, cared for their two children, clerked in their grocery store, and washed dishes in the bar at night. She was, however, permitted to attend NFE classes with the karaoke bar’s female entertainers. This proved to be the sliver of luck that would reverse her fortune.

During a donor visit in mid-November, Thida was identified as being young enough to return to school, and Lotus Outreach’s director of operations made a note of her name. The NFE program manager returned shortly after to gauge her commitment to her formal education, and found that with a bicycle to cover the nine kilometers to the lower secondary school nearest her village, Thida would happily return to attending classes regularly.

The owner of Goat Soup didn’t take kindly to the idea, and threatened to withhold Thida’s wages if she tried to leave. NFE's program manager intervened with a few threats of her own – namely a lawsuit for child exploitation. By the end of the month, Thida was on her way home with scholarship materials and her Lotus Pedals bicycle.

“I am very happy with the bike – it’s the first ever that my family has owned!” says Thida. “And with more education I will be able to get a better job, that doesn’t have long hours like what I had been doing.”

With her brother living in another province with his new wife and the door to secondary school propped open, life has been much brighter. Yet the road ahead is full of challenges for Thida. Although she packs a rice lunch from home, she sometimes must buy food at school. Two required courses (Math and Physics) are fee-based and exam papers must be purchased. Although this averages only $0.60 per day, the small sum is a strain on Thida’s family.

Thida remains focused on the opportunities now available to her, aware that ironically, without being run off to Phnom Penh she would never have come into contact with NFE, Lotus Pedals or the bike that has made secondary school a reality. “I hope at least I can hang on to school until grade 9, so that I can have a better understanding of how to live a better life in the future,” says Thida. “I love studying very much, but if my family cannot afford to keep me in school through high school I may come back to NFE to learn tailoring skill, especially to support my little sisters’ education.”

With the continued support of our generous donors, we will help Thida reach her goal of finishing high school so that when she does join the labor force, she will have the strongest bargaining position possible. Given the opportunity to prove herself academically, a strong student like Thida may even attract a scholarship for higher education. We thank you sincerely for standing beside us to touch the lives of hundreds of girls just like her.

The first bike in Thida
The first bike in Thida's family
Public transportation to Thida
Public transportation to Thida's house
Safe at home, with her family
Safe at home, with her family

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Srey Pov on her Lotus Pedals bike
Srey Pov on her Lotus Pedals bike

How Lotus Pedals is keeping girls out of the sex trade (and in school!)

As a result of your generous support, we were recently able to provide new bicycles to 13 bright young girls living in Phnom Penh’s red light districts so they can get to school!

Living in brothel-based communities, the daughters of illiterate sex workers are at a high-risk of following in the footsteps of their mothers—often by the age of 14 years old.  In partnership with the local Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Khemara, Lotus Outreach has been providing Non-Formal Education (NFE) and Skills Training to urban sex workers for nearly five years, helping hundreds of women and girls find better opportunities while escaping the lethal pitfalls of Cambodia’s notorious sex industry.

While adult sex workers learn basic literacy, mathematics and vocational skills, their children attend daily classes alongside them to prepare for enrollment in public school at an age-appropriate level.

The daughter of a former sex worker, 13 year-old Moeung Srey Pov is an example of how female empowerment reverberates through generations. She moved to Phnom Penh with her mother, Seng Ly, at the age of eight, where she helped raise three younger siblings and sold coffee to supplement her mother’s income. With Srey Pov’s help, her mother successfully completed the NFE program and is now a full-time staff member of Khemara.

When Seng Ly realized that NFE would provide caretakers for her youngest children, she opted to send Srey Pov to the NFE classes which were held a short, safe walk from their home. At that point, Srey Pov had only reached the second grade, and could hardly read or write. Yet over the course of the year, she proved to be a sharp student and was often at the head of her classes. In October of 2009, the program staff enrolled her in sixth grade at a local primary school.

Srey Pov was elated to go to public school like other children her age. “I felt very happy, and at the same time I was in awe of my teacher since she was so kind to me. She didn’t take a tuition fee from me and told the class not to be mean with me because I am an ‘NGO kid’ - which means I am poor.”

Despite her enthusiasm and progress, five months later Srey Pov lost her transportation to school. Her neighbors had been giving her a ride on their bike, and when they dropped out she was forced to do the same. For a little while she took a taxi, but at $1 a day it became too much for her family to sacrifice.

This October, NFE once again got Srey Pov back in school, a little closer to home.  Since a neighbor also attended Toul Kok Primary, for her first days Srey Pov shared a taxi with her for $0.37 each a day. Yet this left her vulnerable to the fate of her friend, and although reduced, the expense of transportation remained a burden on her family. To make sure little Srey Pov could complete the year, we recently provided her with a Lotus Pedals bicycle.

“I feel very happy because I won’t have to spend money on a motor taxi anymore,” boasts Srey Pov. “Even if my neighbors drop out again, I won’t because now I can ride my bike to school every day.” She plans to give her friend a ride on her bike, so the girl doesn’t have to pay for the taxi alone. When we ask if the two girls will take turns riding the bike, Srey Pov looks mischievously at her friend and jests, “she doesn’t know how to ride a bike, so I will ride her. But she has to pay for parking!”

Armed with her own means to get to any school within several kilometers, Srey Pov plans to at least graduate high school.  At that point, she’ll see if she can afford to continue to college. As far as her career plans, the specifics are still fuzzy, but Srey Pov is aiming high: “I want to do something that people value and admire.”

Srey Pov’s story serves as a stark reminder of how easy it is for vulnerable young girls to slip through the cracks in Cambodia.  With the right support, it can be almost as easy to keep them on track. Lotus Pedals provides one cheap, effective method for shoring up those cracks.

As a result of our generous donors on GlobalGiving, Lotus Outreach plans to distribute 158 new bicycles to at-risk girls as the school year gets underway in Cambodia.  We look forward to keeping you updated on the many successes of the Lotus Pedals project and thank you again for your support!

Riding to school in Trolok Baik
Riding to school in Trolok Baik
Srey Pov lives in a notorious red light district
Srey Pov lives in a notorious red light district
Happy to go to school!
Happy to go to school!
Srey Pov with her mom and brother at their home
Srey Pov with her mom and brother at their home
Riding to school in Phnom Kravanh!
Riding to school in Phnom Kravanh!

Phnom Kravanh (meaning “Cardamom Mountain” in Khmer) is one of six districts in Cambodia’s Pursat province. This rural, mountainous region is sparsely populated and some parts remain heavily mined, as the district is a former fighting zone between the Cambodian government and Khmer Rouge insurgents. The Cardamom mountain range is considered one of the main biodiversity hotspots on the planet, with 16 distinct ecosystems and 14 globally endangered and threatened species. It is one of the last seven remaining elephant corridors in Southeast Asia and is the hunting range for the Pileated Gibbon, Asiatic Black Bear, Malaysian Sun Bear, Marbled Cat, Southern Serow, and half of Cambodia's bird species. Due to a lack of alternative livelihoods, indigenous people often resort to illegal logging, wildlife poaching, foraging, and slash-and-burn agriculture to ensure their survival. While many conservation efforts in this area are underway, few organizations are working with local populations to provide them with alternative economic opportunities.

Expanding education, economic opportunities and settled agriculture are recognized as the most effective strategies for combating both the human and environmental effects of poverty in this extraordinary region of the world. In partnership with the Cambodian Organization for Children and Development (COCD), Lotus Outreach has launched an integrated social development program which aims to improve the livelihoods of local people through the provision of microloans, farming toolkits and of course, educational scholarships!

As a part of the scholarship program in Phnom Kravanh, Lotus Outreach (empowered by YOU!) recently provided 19 impoverished minority girls with bicycles so they can get to school. Research shows that each extra year of schooling boosts a girl’s eventual wages by as much as 25%. Improving a girl’s life options will not only help her and her future children, but will decrease her dependence on activities that are harmful to the local environment.

Breaking News!!

Because Lotus Pedals has been such a tremendous success, we have decided to expand! Our local partners have indicated that the demand for bicycles greatly exceeds the supply, and there are countless children all over the country who are just a bicycle away from dropping out of school—or re-enrolling. You can help us help them by telling your friends and family about the Lotus Pedals project and encouraging their support: http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/lotuspedals/.

Rina and her siblings at their house
Rina and her siblings at their house

Poverty places a great demand on a child’s time. Between keeping the house while parents work and working themselves, children in rural Cambodia struggle to attend school. Unfortunately, a scarcity of schools means that a commute of several kilometers to neighboring villages is commonplace, compounding the challenges to obtaining an education.

While scholarships provided by Lotus Outreach’s Girls’ Access To Education (GATE) program can nudge talented and ambitious girls into education, without a means of transportation many young women and girls forfeit their chance to attend school. Modeled on a UNICEF initiative in Ghana, Lotus Outreach (LO) began providing bicycles to promising girls in three districts of Cambodia who live more than 1.5 km from school. Today, more than 160 girls attend school thanks to this support.

Eighteen year-old Long Rina is an example of the type of ambitious young female Lotus Outreach seeks to support. Before qualifying for a GATE scholarship, Rina shared an old bicycle with a younger sister to reach the nearest secondary school - two kilometers away. The tedious daily journey (two girls on one bicycle!) was a testament to the drive of both girls to pursue their studies as far as possible. For Rina, in ninth grade, this was already far beyond the typical female in her community – but not nearly as high as she intended to reach. After losing her father because her family was unable to pay for a doctor, Rina was determined to become a doctor herself and devote her practice to the poor.

After receiving her scholarship, which included a new bike, Rina quickly established herself as a bright and remarkable young woman. Her vibrant spirit took in Program Director Raksmey Var, who hopes to help Rina achieve her dream of working as a healer for the destitute. She is so inspired by Rina’s passion and aptitude that she has offered her a place to stay with her family in Phnom Penh should she be accepted into a medical program at the university.

One of the lone pieces of furniture in Rina’s humble, one-room home is a small bookshelf lined with tattered textbooks, bearing witness to her mother’s dream of a proper education for her daughters. Now with GATE support and a safe, reliable means to reach the classroom, Rina and her four sisters can take great pride in bringing their mother’s greatest wish to fruition.

Rina shedding tears of gratitude
Rina shedding tears of gratitude
Rina on her Lotus Pedals bicycle
Rina on her Lotus Pedals bicycle
Rina
Rina's bike
Rina with her mom (saying thanks) and GATE staff
Rina with her mom (saying thanks) and GATE staff
 

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Organization Information

Lotus Outreach

Location: Ojai, California - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @lotusoutreach
Project Leader:
Alexandra Land
Ojai, CA United States

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