Lotus Pedals - Help Cambodian Girls Get to School!

by Lotus Outreach

Many years ago, Lotus Outreach visited the remote villages of Kampot with the hope to serve the communities eventually. We met families living too far from schools and health services that needed assistance. While talking with one group of women in the intense heat next to a dried-up pond, some of their children arrived barefoot after walking home on the blistering hot sandy roads from school.

There and then Lotus Outreach decided that we had to come back to provide support for these children and their communities.  Over the years, we have drilled deep bore wells across three districts of the province Kampot. Many of the villagers have come from other areas of Kampot looking for cheap land, hoping to settle down with their families.  

Last year we visited a freshly drilled well at Prey Peay village in the district of Chukk. The community told us that the children were walking anywhere from 3 to 5 kilometers to their primary school. We agreed to provide bicycles to the girls that needed them through the Lotus Pedals program and gave away 12 bikes at that time.

Since then, we have provided a total of 26 bikes for the children of this small village. Parents of these children work as laborers on nearby farms and go deep into the forest to search for bamboo and medical plants to eke out for their livelihood. The adults work many hours each day which makes it hard for them to ensure their children attend school. These bikes will make it much easier for the kids to get to school and we are confident that all of the Lotus Pedals recipients will continue to pursue their educations with the help of these heavy-terrain bicycles.

Tae, the Lotus Pedals recipient.
Tae, the Lotus Pedals recipient.

Our Lotus Pedals program follows up with beneficiaries through home visits. Below is a story about young women named Tae. Tae, despite life obstacles, remains committed to her education and a brighter future.

Tae is 17 and currently the seventh grade. She started school when she was nine years old. Tae lives with he brother and her sister-in-law. During a recent visit, Tae’s sister-in-law, Narain, stated that “Tae was very tiny as a child so her parents didn’t enroll her till she became big enough.”

In 5th grade, Tae’s mother passed away. This was very difficult for her family and consequently she missed so much school that she had to repeat the 5th grade. Not much later she was orphaned. Her father re-married and left town her younger brother, leaving Tae on her own. Fortunately, Tae was able to live with her older brother and his wife where she has remained these past 8 years.  

Tae’s brother is a construction worker in Phnom Penh. He comes home every few weeks bringing some $50 or so to support them. They have no other means of support as Narain is taking care of a new child. During the visit, Narain reflected on her own experience of education, “My parents were very poor I was forced to leave school when in grade nine. That was a great disappointment to me then and I continue to feel very disappointed with my life. I don’t want that to happen to Tae so I don’t ask her to do any work that will interrupt her studies. I will do whatever I can to keep my own children in school as long as possible.”

Two years back Tae received a bike from Lotus Pedals which after much use is completely worn out and unusable by now. Further, she is now in lower secondary school about three kilometres from home and it takes her about thirty minutes to get there.

Tae would not be able to remain in school without external assistance so she has received a scholarship that has provided her with a school uniform, study materials, and a small monthly stipend. She cannot afford extra tuition. “Other children pay for tuition and are doing better than me. I have asked my older brother to support my tuition but we cannot afford it right now. I am able to keep myself around 14th of 50 in my class at the moment. My favorite subject is Khmer literature and I want to become a primary school teacher.

Narain is a fierce advocate for Tae’s continued study so in that sense Tae is very lucky. For now we have left her with a brand new bike to make it that much easier for her to get off to school every day.

Thank you for supporting students like Tae! 

Tae with her sister in law, Narain.
Tae with her sister in law, Narain.
Tae with her brother
Tae with her brother's family.
Tae with her bike!
Tae with her bike!
Meas working at her part time job.
Meas working at her part time job.

Lotus pedals continues to serve girl students of all ages and education levels. Because many of the Lotus Pedals recipients graduate middle school and high school, their hopes and dreams carry them on to pursue their studies at the collegiate level. The need for transportation is just as important for these college students as it is for the younger students. In concurrent with the Lotus Pedals Program, many of the recipients receive scholarships through our Girls Access to Education Program(GATE/GATEways). The story below, written by a Lotus Pedals beneficiary, describes the pursuit of her education and just how important the Lotus Pedals Program is to her journey.

A story written by a Lotus Pedals beneficiary, Meas:

My name is Meas. I was born on October 26, 1994 at Kampong Kdey II village, Kompong Kdey commune, Chikreng district and Siem Reap province. I have one younger brother. He quit school in 11th grade and is now working at a garage near my home. My father’s name is Norng, he is a farmer. My mother’s name is Soy, she sells Khmer noodle in the village. When I was young, my family faced a lot of struggles because my mother had a serious illness in her back bone. My family spent lots of money to cure her illness and never had enough money to support us all. Since my family spent a lot of money on medical treatments, they did not have enough money for my studies. I missed class very often because my family needed money and I had to help my mom sell Khmer noodle in the village. I was thinking about fully dropping out of school, but my parents encouraged me to keep studying because they wanted me to have a promising future. However, it was hard for me to concentrate on my study while thinking about my ailing mom and my family’s situation.

After I graduated high school with the Girls Access to Education Program(GATE) I was lucky enough to be able to continue on to college with the support of GATEways. I was overjoyed when I found out that I could continue on to college. I moved to Phnom Penh and attended the Royal University of Agriculture. When I started college I decided to rent a house which is around 3km from university. When I first came here, it was really hard for me to go to school because I didn’t have my own transportation. I had to walk to school and sometimes and I had to spend money for a motor taxi. One of my friends who lives near my renting house offered me a ride to school because she has her own motorbike, but not often because we had different school schedules. In 2015, Lotus Pedals program provided me with a bicycle in order to help me with my commute to school. Since then, I am able to go get to university on my own which reduces my expenses and saves time. I also ride my bicycle to the market which is around 2km away from my renting home. I don’t have to borrow my friends’ bicycle or wait for my friend to pick me up anymore. The bicycle is very helpful for my studies and allows me to travel to school whenever I need to study. 

I would like to show my deepest gratitude to the donors for supporting me with the bicycle. The bicycle is so important to me because I am required to go to university very often in order to meet with professor and discuss my final thesis as well as attend regular classes. The bicycle has helped me go to school as needed and meet with my professors on time. With the help of the bike I am committed to graduate with good grades. With good grades I will be able to find a job and be able to support my family.  Thank you. 

Meas receiving her bicycle.
Meas receiving her bicycle.
Lotus Pedals bicycles galore!
Lotus Pedals bicycles galore!
Daa
Daa

Daa, an 18-year-old in 12th grade is a recipient of our GATE, Lotus Pedals and Rice support programs.

We met 18-year-old Daa at her grandmother’s house, a three-walled wood and thatch hut on low stilts with the front totally open to the elements (and whoever would like to walk in at night) on the front side.

As with many Cambodians living with poverty, Daa was left with her grandma as a baby at two years of age in order to free her parents to migrate to Thailand as laborers. Daa said, “my parents home is very far from here, in the opposite direction of my school so I hardly ever see my parents even when they are at home”.

While her family issues may have had a profound impact on Daa’s self esteem, it is clear from her responses to our questions the infact she is doing so well in her class work. She is committed, resilient, and highly disciplined. Daa is now in her 3rd year under support from the Girls Access to Education Program and she tells us, “The GATE program provides me two sets of uniforms, shoes, books, hat, raincoat and a monthly stipend of $25. I spend almost all the stipend on extra tuition classes and occasionally, a snack at school.”

“The bicycle is provided by Lotus Pedals program and without which I couldn’t possibly cover distance of 15kms to school and back every day.  I’m at school from 7am till 6pm everyday and with tuition classes in between so I have to take a packed lunch.” Daa told us she that before getting the new bike she used her grandma’s wobbly and often broken old bike to get to school. Since the beginning of the 2015-16 academic year Daa has had a brand new heavy duty Lotus Pedals bicycle of her own!

During the 9-month school year, Daa also gets 50kgs of rice from the GATE program, as they are considered poorest of the poor. The Grandma’s children send some money from their income as labor in Thailand, otherwise there is no income for this household that includes 3 small children that are Daa’s cousins, children of another daughter, left with Grandma, for a total of 4 kids in her care.

Daa very proudly tells us, “I enjoy study and get 2nd highest marks in my class of 39 students on a monthly basis. My Grandmother gives me all the time I need to study. My only household chore is to gather wood for cooking and I sometimes look after the small children here and there.” We ask what she will do after year 12 and while she is not sure, she feels teaching will be a good option for her. We are all very impressed by Daa’s strength and resolve as she tells us, “Even if I get no further support for my studies, there is no doubt in my mind I will continue to University after I finish year 12 this year!

Daa is a precious, highly capable human resource living in extreme poverty as a lotus lives in the mud. Daa’s story is one of many that convince us our investment in providing these women and children access to education is absolutely and unreservedly worthwhile!!

Daa and her grandmother.
Daa and her grandmother.
Daa and her family
Daa and her family
Daa and her bicycle
Daa and her bicycle
Daa with her grandmother and sibling.
Daa with her grandmother and sibling.
Daa in front of her home.
Daa in front of her home.

In the last 18 months, 211 bikes were provided to Lotus Pedals students. These Lotus Pedal students were provided a pump, lock and repair kit to ensure their bicycles take them to school every day. The following is an account of a home visit conducted by Lotus Outreach's Director of Field Operations, Glenn Fawcett, which explains the personal story of a Lotus Pedals scholars, Srey:

We travelled along the raised banks of rice fields in the car until we could drive no more, then we walked the last few hundred metres to a modest, stilted wooden, traditional style Cambodian village home.

We sat in the coolest place, which in most Khmer homes is under the house and as far as the hot summer sun as possible. Srey sat with her grandma, on a low, traditional wooden platform. On her face a wizened smile beyond her years.

We asked her why she was given the bicycle and when.  “I received the bike as I am an orphan and didn’t have a bike. It was presented at a big ceremony not so far from here on 5th November last year. Before getting my new bike I used to walk to school or catch a lift with a friend". Her grandmother told us the very sad story about how Srey became an orphan.  “Even though her parents had five children, they decided to get divorced. There were 4 boys and Srey, the only girl. They called the community to a meeting and told them they would each take two of the boys and you (all) can do what you want with the girl as we are leaving her here.

This was of course extremely painful for all of us to hear this, especially in front of Srey who must find revisiting such details deeply disturbing. We quickly recovered from the shock and deflected our questions to her 53 years old grandmother and a mother of NINE! I could only think what a saintly person she is to take on another child when she has so many mouths to feed and care for and already living deep enough in poverty.

We then asked Srey to tell us what the Lotus Pedals program conditions required of them and after thinking a little (she is only 12) she told us, “We should not sell the bike and have to maintain it". Kin, her grandmother, further volunteered, “We will keep her in school as long as she likes.” Again we were humbled by her grandma’s generosity and began to ask Srey about her studies. She excitedly and with bursting pride tells us, “I am 10th of 41 in my class but I want to be third!” We asked why only 3rd, why not first? To which she replied, “impossible!” We weren’t sure why she could not hope for first, (but you can imagine) but the point remains she is an intelligent young girl abandoned by her parents and doing well in her studies against all odds. We asked what is her dream for the future and she told us, “I want to do something connected to medicine. Maybe I cannot become a Doctor as that is very hard and expensive, but I can do something medical.”

Srey's school is currently a little less than 2 kms from her home but when she graduates primary, the lower secondary school is far off. When asked about upkeep we were told the dog had chewed up the pump and her bike had a flat tire!!! Being concerned about such things we asked how long it’s been flat and to our surprise she told us it was punctured as she was riding home to meet us!

We asked what would she do? Srey told us she has the patches and glue and will take it to a nearby neighbour’s house where a man will fix the puncture. She also told us about her bravery while learning to ride. “You can see the basket has come off and that happened while I was teaching myself to ride. I fell off 5 or 6 times and also broke my uncle’s number plate on his motto and for which I got beaten.

We left with a prayer in our hearts for this courageous girl and her adoptive family and that Srey will continue studying and realise her dream of working in the field of medicine.

Thank you for all the supporters who contribute so generuosuly to the lives of these students.

Srey
Srey
Srey, her family, and their home
Srey, her family, and their home
 

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Lotus Outreach

Location: Ojai, California - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.lotusoutreach.org
Project Leader:
Elise De Grande
Executive Director
Sacramento, CA United States

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