As part of my work with United World Schools (UWS) I worked on a project with four local high school students from different rural villages in the local area.
All four had moved to the major town of Bunlung in order to attend secondary school having been identified as children having lots of potential, standing out as the strongest students academically from their original rural primary schools. There was though no formal scholarship system, nor does any established system exist in this region. Instead, having been identified as teenagers with the chance to study to a higher level they were each given an opportunity to move to the town. This mainly occurred through an ad-hoc arrangement, which now saw them either staying in the homes of their new teachers, or in other lodging that was found when the need arose; each teenager moving away from their families and their tiny villages in order to pursue these dreams of an education.
Speaking to this group it was clear that despite having to move away from their home villages this opportunity was one they were simply desperate to grasp.
What was also notable was that they all aspired to be teachers in the future; partly as they saw it as being a secure job in a society which often lacks this stability, but also that they felt this would provide them an opportunity to return to their villages to support the communities there. Speaking to them I was constantly aware of two thing; this motivation to support their indigenous heritage as well as how fortunate they felt to be given this opportunity.
During my time in Cambodia I learnt that government teachers earn around $110 a month. It’s not a high wage but with many people in the area making ends meet by working in shops, selling things at market or helping in farms, it at least offers the potential for a regular salary – although there were frequent comments throughout my time there that the government hadn’t paid many of its teachers in months. By all accounts though the best paid jobs, and those that are most highly sought by younger Cambodians, was to find work for an NGO or for a private business.
‘I am staying at a rest home [in order to attend High School in Bunlung]. Life is hard for indigenous people as we don’t have money. Our parents don’t work – just grow soy beans and cashew nuts. I want to be a teacher of maths. I am not sure why but I want to help people in my village. It’s not about the money. I want to help them. My friends back in the village don’t work. Sometimes they help their parents but village life is hard. My family has ten people; four brothers and three sisters; all my older brothers are married now.’ – Sokaon, 19.
‘I have four brothers, and two sisters. I cycle five kilometres each day by bicycle to go to school. I want to be an English teacher.’ – Pes, 18.
‘I just have two younger brothers. I now live in Bunlung and like it. I would like to study English at university and I want to run a fund to help poor students to study English. I want to help my community. Some don’t care about education they don’t think its important but they can’t earn their living easily. They just go to the well and cut down and sell a tree. I think education is important. They will not destroy the trees and destroy their hometown, but what about the future when the trees are gone? The village is very far, which is where my family is and the road is very difficult, especially in rainy season.’ – Pisey, 17.