Mondulkiri is home to the Phnong, an indigenous minority who survive on subsistence agriculture. One of Cambodia's most inaccessible provinces with few educated locals, Mondulkiri's instructors often come from outside and do not speak the native language. This barrier in schools takes a drastic toll: literacy rates for highland minority tribes flounder at 5.3%, far behind the Khmer majority at 48.8%. Ethnic minority females fare worse, with a 2000 study placing their literacy at less than 1%.
The Phnong Education Initiative (PEI) takes aim at gender imbalances and the chronic shortfall of Phnong-speaking teachers. Scholarship assistance is provided at the middle school level as well as for older students who opt to attend a post-grade 9 Provincial Teacher Training College. Teacher trainees are contracted to return to their home communities after graduation to teach primary school, giving native Phnong children the opportunity to succeed in public school despite the language barrier.
Each year, PEI provides 31 children and 20 teacher trainees with basic scholarship packages - including food, housing, books, school supplies and transportation - to ensure they can excel in their studies. Investing in the education of these promising young women will not only improve their individual circumstances, but will ripple throughout their communities and future generations. PEI is further designed to "pay forward" the gift of education by investing in the educators of tomorrow.
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