Much of CARE’s work in the remote province of Ratanak Kiri in north-east Cambodia promotes access to education, especially among indigenous students who live in remote communities. In particular this focuses on young women and girls, who often experience greater challenges in continuing their education.
Created in 2012, the Girls Lead the Way project supports and motivates lower secondary school students to finish their basic education up to Grade 9 in line with Cambodia’s national education goals. This has included supporting extra-curricular activities to build girls’ confidence self-esteem, encouraging them to view themselves as equals with the boys in their class and within their communities.
Navy, 14, joined the girls’ club at her school in Sre Angkrong. Clubs have around 15 members who meet once per week; CARE trains the teachers and female students who are involved. Girls’ club activities aim to enable girls to be aware of personal hygiene, think about how to make plans for their future and help girls to be positive, active students both at school and in their communities.
When Navy started at lower secondary school she was very shy and found it difficult to make friends. Like the majority of Cambodians she is Khmer but her school has students from many other cultural backgrounds and ethnicities, which she says made it harder for her to interact with them. This also had an impact on her performance in class.
Teachers and the school support committee encouraged her to join the newly-formed club. Navy can pinpoint the exact moment that she realised the importance of what she was learning in the club. The teacher taught a lesson about Being Girls and Boys, asking students to break into groups with one responsible for presenting Being a Boy, while the other group, Navy’s group, had to present Being a Girl. “I was assigned by my group to present the answers,” says Navy. “I became very emotional when I realised the importance of what I was saying as it showed me that even though I was born a girl I should still be able to enjoy the same rights as boys and men. I have memorised those phrases and they have made me more confident in myself.”
The impact of this on Navy’s education is clear; at the end of the school year she was fourth in her class and received much praise for her achievements from her family, teachers and school representatives. Navy said: “I am very happy that CARE has formed this Girls’ Club as it helps me make friends and plan for the future. I am now more courageous to ask and respond to questions, communicate with others, share work and do work in groups.”
Sport is another activity organised by CARE as part of this project. Srey, 17, is the third of nine siblings and receives a scholarship from CARE to support her studies at Lumphat lower secondary school. “Though my family’s living condition is poor and there are many members, I want to strive to learn so that I will have a job like others,” says Srey.
She is one of 220 students to join a sport team organised by CARE. Project staff trained teachers to organise activities for ten different sports including sprinting, volleyball and relay races. Students attend two hours of training each week, where they learn everything from the history of the sport to how to play in competitions or be a referee.
Joining the sport team has changed how Srey views her place in society and what she thinks is possible in her future. “When CARE visited to select people to join the sports team, I thought it was not suitable for me as I am a girl and I could not play as well as boys. Moreover, I thought I am indigenous. However, I was encouraged by CARE to join the sport team, where I chose to play volleyball and run a race. At first, I felt a bit self-conscious and found it difficult because I was very shy. However, I soon found I was good at sport and my shyness disappeared.”
Srey showed a real aptitude for volleyball, which culminated in success at the provincial level volleyball competition organised by CARE. She came first among all competitors from the 11 schools which joined the event. Srey says is grateful for this opportunity to meet students from other schools and that her success greatly helped improve her have self-confidence.
Srey now recognises that being a girl should not stop her from participating in any activities within her community. “I don’t want students to think that sports are not suitable for girls and women or that girls cannot play as well as boys or men.” When asked about her future goals, she answers: “In the future, I want to be a volleyball coach so that all indigenous girls can play this.