As our university and tertiary education program continues to expand, we’ve become more closely acquainted with what the path looks like to access higher education. Quite frankly it is poorly lit, rarely trodden, and so often without clear direction.
On a broad scale, the students who have pushed through the many barriers are the exception among their peers, somehow having found the gumption to move forward but with few in their community to guide them. If you’re a Cambodian kid growing up in a rural village, you may have heard about the possibilities that education can bring, you may have heard about university.
But if you can’t see it, you can’t become it.
Your daily surroundings, the community you grow up in, the overwhelming majority, will always be more visible than the exception.
As the first PLF students made their way to university in 2017, our mentorship program started to take shape – shining a light on the way forward for others, fostering a culture of leadership and inclusion, building a community of positive role models, and opening eyes to just how many paths there are to choose from.
It’s always been a three-part program:
- inviting our university scholars to come back to their communities to share their stories – with hopeful students of course, but also with teachers, their families, and other community members
- hosting guest speaker events with successful change-makers in the community
- leading field trips to secondary schools, high schools, universities, workplaces, and career fairs.
Then with the extreme challenges of COVID, our mentorship program TOOK OFF. With schools closed pretty much permanently throughout 2020 and 2021, we had to urgently finalize and roll out our fledgling eLearning program. University student assistance was the only thing that made this initiative work, growing organically to meet the needs of students stuck at home and cut off from the classroom.
Our uni students quickly mobilized and fully exploited digital tools and social media during that period – setting up systems to assist Grade 12 students studying for the exam; organizing small study groups via zoom; answering advanced study questions in chat groups. As well as in-person study groups in their villages where possible.
As an active practice, mentorship absolutely grew legs during COVID and has become something stupendous. This growth was 100% organic, completely student-led, and 100% a COVID silver lining. The pandemic legacy is that some of our Siem Reap university students have become paid interns, leading what are now permanent eLearning programs in rural areas.
At the end of that pilot year of the mentorship program, one of our high school students explained it in a nutshell: “Now I know clearly. If they can do it, so can I.”
And in a classic win-win situation, that benefit goes both ways – our uni students find that “the best way to learn, is to teach“. They have fully embraced the concepts of community work, giving presentations to their groups both in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh on personal development and soft skills, including topics such as “The Value of Volunteering”.
From the very first PLF students who inspired the creation of our mentorship program, to our current cohort of university students who continue to give back to their communities and younger peers – we are so proud of your determination and generous spirits.
When knowledge is shared, connections fostered and imaginations ignited, the possibilities are endless!