Room to Read is in the midst of conducting a post-secondary transition study of our Girls’ Education Program. Researcher and guest blogger, Kirsten Anderson, traveled to India, Nepal, Vietnam and Cambodia to interview girls who are currently enrolled in our Girls' Education program as well as those program alumnae and parents. Findings from this study will be released later this year. In celebration of Father’s Day, Kirsten shares her conversation with a grandfather and father in Cambodia. This is the third in the series of blog posts from her travels. (Read her previous posts here and here.)
There is a Khmer proverb ស្រីបង្វិលចង្រ្កានមិនជុំ (srey bang vil chang kran min chum) that literally translates to: “Women are unable to walk around the stove.” The meaning being that woman can never be far from the kitchen. Yet the participants in our Girls' Education program have strayed from the kitchen into the classroom—the most fortunate of which have the support of their family, including fathers and grandfathers. Meet, for example, Mr. Huon, the proud grandfather of a girl scholar in rural Cambodia. Sitting on retired school benches in the shade of a teacher’s home, he stayed behind after our official research meeting ended to discuss girls’ education.
Mr. Huon explained that he has been blessed with many grandchildren and today, in fact, was the wedding day of one of his granddaughter’s. However, instead of celebrating with his family, Mr. Huon had other priorities. He had decided to miss some of the festivities to discuss the future education of another one of his granddaughters who was being supported by Room to Read and about to graduate from high school.
Mr. Houn explained, “Poverty is the biggest challenge facing young women and education today.” In rural Cambodia, if a family is struggling financially, girls often drop out to help in the fields or to work at a garment factory. He admitted that he needed some convincing at first, but after talking with Room to Read’s Social Mobilizer and with the help of Room to Read’s Girls' Education program, he realized work and marriage could wait, but knowledge could not. One of Mr. Huon’s granddaughters is working in a garment factory. He is convinced his other granddaughter who is gaining an education will have different opportunities and more choices. His hope is that she will go to university and he is educating himself about her options.
The proud father of Champey (highlighted in our 2009 Girls' Education Yearbook) thinks similarly. I met him, along with other parents of girls supported by our program, in a rural village near the Thai-Cambodia border. Champey’s father described the employment opportunities for uneducated young women in his community—illegal migrant agriculture labor or factory work across the border in Thailand. Because of the limited employment opportunities for uneducated young women these parents spoke about the honor their daughter has brought to their family. Neighbors often comment and admire their families because they have a daughter that is studying. They feel lucky because their daughters have access to knowledge, reading and writing.
“I’m so proud of my daughter. She has the chance to continue her studies. She wants to be a teacher or a doctor. I will support her decision either way, it is her choice,” her father said.
These two men demonstrate the encouragement male figures can provide to enable girls to walk around the stove, out of the kitchen, into the classroom, onto university, and beyond. The girls on our Girls' Education program agree: “Disregard this proverb because it no longer applies to us, we are capable of doing anything we want.” These young women now have choices and dreams of giving back to their communities, their country and their family. This grandfather and father are proud and in awe of their accomplishments—happy to offer support and encouragement every step of the way.
Photo caption: above, Champey (2nd from the left) and her friends celebrating their soon-to-be accomplishment: graduating from high school!