Sreyhung Goes to School
By Amanda Moll, CARE USA
Surrounded by rubber tree plantations, KAO Sreyhung projects a quiet confidence as she spends the afternoon helping with household chores and studying for school. Surrounded by her four sisters and brother, her father single-handedly raises a growing family. Their mother died giving birth to Sreyhung's only brother, and at the young age of 12, she calls herself an aunt twice-over.
Meeting Sreyhung provides a glimpse into the promise and power that lies within an education, and the struggles that all too many girls around the world face just to attend school. According to a 2012 UNESCO report, there are 32 million girls out of school across the globe. In the remote northeast Cambodian village where Sreyhung lives, many girls lack the opportunity to attend school due to high domestic workloads.
Sreyhung is lucky because her father prioritizes her education. However, this has not always been the case. A few years ago, many girls in her indigenous village in Ratanakiri Province stayed at home to help with domestic chores and take care of younger siblings. This includes her older sister.
On a daily basis, girls like Sreyhung travel long distances to gather firewood and food, mostly local fruits and vegetables. Cleaning the house, cooking meals, collecting water, tending livestock, and caring for younger siblings make up some of the other many daily activities they complete to help their families. Waking up before daylight to begin these chores often means that girls remain engaged in activities when the school bell rings promptly at seven o'clock in the morning, and miss class. Afternoon chores often extend until sunset, and without any electricity to power any lights, they cannot complete school exercises or practice reading.
Villagers see this trend slowly changing, thanks to CARE's Bending Bamboo project. Through a series of village-level household bargaining discussions, the importance of girls' and boys' equal education brought about active and positive dialogues. Village members also discussed the disproportionately heavier workload burden that challenges many girls.
As a result, parents like Sreyhung's began to distribute workload across all family members and ensure that their school-aged children not only attend school, but take time to study, too. Her father now encourages his daughter to attend school so that she can have a bright future. To do this, he makes certain that Sreyhung not only attends school, but protects enough time after school to study, too.
Sreyhung's story is remarkable in itself, but what is even more remarkable is that she represents the changes that girls across Ratanakiri Province are exhibiting. Over the past three years, CARE's work is helping to bring about noticeable change as the distribution of workloads is starting to become increasingly shared amongst boys and girls.
Looking into the future, Sreyhung envisions a bright future for herself. No longer limited in her possibilities, she plans to complete school and become a teacher. Sreyhung's determination and commitment to staying in school means that other boys and girls not only see her as a role model, but she is positioned to be the first one in her family to complete her education. The exciting part: Sreyhung represents just one of the many girls and boys who are now realizing their right to education!
Amanda Moll is a Senior Project Coordinator for the Patsy Collins Trust Fund Initiative at CARE USA. Through its work to alleviate poverty and promote social justice, in 2012 CARE facilitated access to quality basic and secondary education or technical training for more than 2.3 million people in 48 countries across the world. For more stories like Srehung's, check out Girls Lead the Way, A Honduran Story of Rebirth and Second Chances: Releasing the Power of Girls.