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Girl studying with the help of a Women’s Bank scholarship decided to share what she has learned with younger pupils

Somnang Pin, a final year high school student, has received support for her studies from Women’s Bank since eighth grade. Somnang thinks all children should have the chance to go to school.

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Sunday morning, 8.30am. In the yard of Lberk Prey elementary school in Cambodia, the day is already in full swing. Today is not a school day and yet the pupils and a few parents have come to the yard.

A group of active young people is in charge of the morning’s programme. After fun games and playing, the youngsters head for the school’s water faucets where older pupils show younger ones how to carefully wash their hands with soap.

After snack time everyone gathers around to listen as a few young scholarship recipients tell the younger ones about how important it is to study. The pupils have also prepared a play with the main character being the daughter of a poor family. She gets teased at school for being poor and comes close to quitting school. Although the story is fictional, it could just as well have been taken directly from the lives of many young locals. School life is harsh here, too.

Young scholarship recipients tell younger pupils about the importance of studying.

This event was 18-year-old Somnang Pin’s idea. She lives in a girls’ house that is supported by Women’s Bank. She is a final year student at high school and has been receiving support for her education since eighth grade. Somnang got excited about the idea of organising a charity event as she knows how it feels to grow up in a poor family.

–All children should have the chance to go to school. Children from poor families might stay at home because they are embarrassed about the fact that their families cannot afford to buy school supplies. It makes them feel bad, Somnang says.

She decided to collect a bunch of people with whom to arrange the event. At first her friends didn’t get excited about the idea but: “I am good at convincing people to come along”, Somnang says, grinning.

On top of convincing her friends, Somnang also needed to convince the local government and apply for permission to organise a fundraising event. It was not easy – just before the elections – but in the end everything worked out.

The determined young woman already has clear plans for the future: she wants to study hotel and tourism business in Thailand or elsewhere abroad.

Sounds like any young woman’s dreams. It is not, however, at all obvious that Somnang could even finish primary school. Before moving into the house of the scholarship holders she lived with her grandmother. Her parents, who worked in building sites in neighbouring provinces, could not afford to send all of the family’s children to school. Without the scholarship Somnang would have had to stay at home to look after her little brother.

–I like school a lot and the scholarship gives me motivation to study even harder, Somnang rejoices.

Somnang got excited about the idea of organizing a charity event as she knows how it feels to grow up in a poor family.

The highlight of the morning is approaching and the little school children take their places in incredibly straight lines. The young pupils are handed out rustling bags with notebooks and pens in them. Everyone swiftly raises their hand to chest height at their turn as a thank you sign. Some are baffled with happiness, others seek out their friends to carefully explore the contents of the bag.

–I am really glad that the event was such a success. Seeing the smiles on the faces of the young school children is the best thing, but so is noticing the wonderful team spirit that surrounds the group of volunteers, Somnang says happily.

When the busy morning at the elementary school has been brought to an end, the young people gather together to cook food in the yard of one of the families living in the village.

–It is wonderful seeing older pupils give support and inspiration to younger ones. There is a lot of need for the school supply event and it takes pressure away from the parents, says the secondary school headmaster Khmerin Mak who has backed the students in organizing the event. His face beams with pride as we talk about what the young people have done.

After the meal Somnang thanks everyone for a successful event. Everyone agrees that this will not be the last time such an event is arranged.

Seeing the smiles on the faces of the young school children is the best thing, but so is noticing the wonderful team spirit that surrounds the group of volunteers, Somnang says happily.

 

Text and pictures: Päivi Korpela