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SIEM REAP – Trying to study and get higher education is part of the struggles in life, especially when one is born into a poor family.
Some students seem to have that little spark inside them, encouraging them to study hard, even though their families do not have enough money. In Siem Reap province, young people who receive scholarships from a local organization are gradually finding a glimmer of hope despite not being given the best chances at the start.
Seab Sineang was one of those unprivileged youth. Native from Kampong Cham, the 27 years old is now pursuing her master degree in International Human Right Law in Phnom Penh while working as monitoring and evaluations officer at Pour Un Sourire D'Enfant (PSE) an education NGO.
But there used to be clouds in her skies. When she was a young child, she moved to live in Siem Reap with her mother and one sister. Due to poor living conditions, she had to leave home when she was only 9 years old, to live with another sibling in Phnom Penh.
One day, while she couldn’t completely quest her thirst for knowledge in Cambodia’s public education system, she heard that a Siem Reap-based organization, Cambodian Rural Students Trusts (CRTS), was providing scholarships to support young underprivileged students in their studies. In 2013, she luckily received it, which allowed her to finance her education in a private school. From her 11th grade onwards, CRTS covered her school fees, study materials, and daily food.
Since its inception in 2011, the organization, which is led by an Australian couple, has helped 105 underprivileged students to pursue higher education, through scholarships that cover education expenses.
“[The organization] helped me a lot,” confesses Sineang. “When I left home, I had only one dream: to finish 12th grade.” But once that dream was completed, she understood that education is key to building a brighter future and decided to pursue her studies in college.
In addition to supporting youth education, the organization also instills the spirit of solidarity among the youth, spreading the idea that living in society is not only about receiving what one has been given but also to give back. “I tell myself that I have got enough now, so I do more for supporting society, women or communities.”
Another unprivileged, Neang Sreyna also got the chance to come to Phnom Penh after receiving a scholarship for grade 12 from the same organization. Sreyna recalled that she saw organizations distributing information leaflets in remote areas. Later on, she filled out an application form for the entrance exam, which can open the door to receiving the scholarship. The exam has three stages: a general knowledge test, a face-to-face interview, and a home visit.
Like other students who received the scholarship, Sreyna, who lives in Angkor Thom district’s Peak Seng commune, receives a lot of support such as food, clothes, and accommodation.
“When I first came to the city, I felt strange and very scared. Everything was new to me. But if you look at me now, I think there has been a lot of improvement. When I was at home, I was not very energetic, but when I started with the organization, I became energetic. In terms of knowledge, I also gained a lot,” she pointed out. Sreyna is currently studying for a Bachelor of Business degree at a university in Siem Reap.
The 22-year-old student also began to turn to social activities, spending every weekend or study break visiting communities to fix bicycles for students in remote areas and to share information related to women's health, education and plastic issues.
Being the fourth child of five siblings, Sreyna got the chance to have a proper education, while her other siblings had to drop out to help with family tasks. Despite being born into a poor family, Sreyna always received advice from her parents to study hard. “Mother told me to never give up,” she said. “She was used to saying ‘I gave you birth but nothing else: only education will give you a bright future’.”
“I will study hard and when I graduate, I will find a good job and help my family to become more prosperous,” she said, “I want the girls in my community to get a good education because in the countryside, when they reach secondary or high school, they tend to drop out of school and very few go to university.”
As advice to young students who might feel blocked in their education, Syneang encourages them to follow their dream, no matter the obstacles they find along the way. “Pursuing my studies and following my dream has not always been easy. People used to say that I am dark and unattractive, to talk about me behind my back. But I kept following my dreams and became who I am now. In the future, I want to be a big project manager and help young men and women follow their dreams.”
Originally written in Khmer for ThmeyThmey, this story was translated by Torn Chanritheara for Cambodianess.