By Amelia Poxon, CARE Communications Coordinator, July 2010
Not understanding the national language in your own country - the language used in yourlocal school, courthouse and market – is a frightening thought. Sadly, this is the reality facingover half the population of Ratanakiri Province in Cambodia’s north-eastern highlands,where the majority of locals are from ethnic minorities and have their own distinct languages.
For children from this area, being able to speak and write in the national language of Khmeris a rarity. Yet, as the sole language of instruction for all secondary schools, it’s essential for anyone who wants to pass high school.
Just a decade ago, this would have been a distant dream for children in Ratanakiri, but today there are five girls who are determined to be the first in their families to graduate high school.
These young girls learnt Khmer through the bilingual education offered in their home village as part of CARE’s Highland Communities Program, and were awarded scholarships byCARE to study and stay in the boarding house at their district’s Secondary School.Swinging their feet under their new school desks, the girls are bright and confidentteenagers – fluent in their native tongue and the national language, which they see as theirgateway to future opportunities.
The eldest in the group is 17 year-old Seyda*, who explains ‘if I did not get a scholarship coming to school would depend on what my family could afford. I was so happy that I could come to this school and that I have the ability to stay here while I study.
’The Boarding Houses are essential if indigenous children are to access the secondary schools, especially given the distance between the high schools and the remote villages. Just like in Australia, parents worry about the well-being of their children and the prospect of having a child walk for hours to school or ride a motorbike is often too daunting –consequently, parents often decide to keep their girls at home, where they can help with household chores, care for their younger siblings and ultimately ensure their safety.
These Boarding Houses offer a unique opportunity for the girls to continue their education ina safe environment. For Varina*, who lives two hours away from the school, it was a dreamcome true to be awarded a scholarship.
Smiling, she describes her new second home –‘When I stay in the boarding house, it’s fun. After school we read and study. If I didn’t get the scholarship I would have to stay in the village and spend two hours to get to school on a moto or in a taxi,’ she said.
Lak Chheanglay, Director of the school, is proud to host these hard-working scholars and 16other scholarship students at his school’s boarding house. ‘I hope more students go on tostudy... and they can stay there if they live far away from the school,’ he says.
For Sophal*, Seyda’s* younger sister and fellow scholarship winner, the determination tostudy is to help her community, ‘When I finish school I would like to be a teacher in myvillage, because there are no subjects that I do not like!’ With girls like these leading the way,the future for these remote communities is in good hands