by Lori Carlson

Last year in August two girls finished grade 12 with outstanding scores in Science and Math. They desperately wanted to go to college, but (on the advice of others) were about to head off into a course of study that (a) wouldn’t benefit them financially in the long run and (b) did not capitalize on their science/math aptitude. We intervened to advocate in their behalf, and it was an interesting process trying to get these girls accepted into the course of study that their brains were built to do, not the course of study they were expected to do.

This is Huonh and Phour, flanking Field Director Farida Mot, who took a lead role in the advocacy mission. These young women are from a small village deep in rural Siem Reap Province and came to the city at grade 10 because in their district, school stops at grade 9.  They struggled hard to finish school, alone in Siem Reap without the support of their family and community. To say these girls are courageous and motivated is a major understatement.

After a considerable amount of back and forth, and with the financial assistance of Pactics in Siem Reap,  PLF enrolled them both at the National Polytechnic Institute in Phnom Penh where they study things like ‘mechatronics” and other things that sort of give me a headache thinking about them. They are the first two girls to attempt to enroll in this course of study, ever.

It took a lot of emails, trying to convey to the Director of the school the determination of the girls and us to get them enrolled. Finally Field Director Farida Mot had to get on the bus and GO to Phnom Penh to convince them that these two girls were definitely enrolling in this program.

One email from the Director stated that although they would definitely NOT disallow it, they wanted to make sure we knew that “...we rarely saw any lady study this field. …normally lady study mechanics is not good because when she go to practice field, she will have felt uncomfortable.  She will [get] dirty hand, and clothes.  Actually, Lady in Cambodia is so hard studying in this field. Could you ask her about her desire strongly study this field?” 

Haha, yes they strongly desired to study that field.

And now, finally,  they are.

Huohn and Pour are not ranked # 20 and 30 in class. They rank, after the first term, number ONE and number TWO in class. The school is ecstatic over them (as if it was all their idea)

These girls have changed some people’s minds about what the Lady in Cambodia can do.

Farida stopped in to see them on a recent trip to Phnom Penh and brought back these pics of them in class. When I saw the pics I said: “why are all the boys standing around the teacher listening so studiously and why is Huonh sitting over to the side taking notes? She’s not the class secretary is she?”

Farida smiled so big when she told me “That’s why they are #1 and 2 in class, they take a lot of notes. The boys don’t seem to take any notes.”

It’s often tiresome the way girls are held back, not just in Cambodia but everywhere. As often as I am weary from it, I am also proud of the way girls can lift their eyes up over that fence that often surrounds them. I am inspired when I see them focus on their target and command their legs to just jump as high and far as they can.

Sometimes, they jump right over everyone.