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Breaking free

Srey Kumneth / Khmer Times Share:

It’s sad but true: many young girls are somehow discouraged from going to school and finishing a degree. Most of them end up in garment factories or in their homes, doing household chores and serving their husbands and children. That’s not bad, of course. But pursuing a degree and getting a job after it is a far better option for most – if only they were given the option.

But for Chantha Mengchou, if the option to get a good education is not freely given, one should find a way to get it. Just like what she did.

Mengchou, now 24, graduated at the Royal University of Law and Economics with a degree in Law.

Originally from Tboung Khmum, Mengchou endured a lot to be able to fight for her education, study in Phnom Penh and finally get her diploma.

“If I had not met Plan International’s staff that time, I might be working in garment factory now or work at some people’s house for money. Because when I took the Grade 12 exam, I passed but my scores weren’t enough for scholarships. I couldn’t apply for scholarships to continue studying at any university,” Mengchou shared, a hint of sadness evident on her face as she recalled her struggles. She added that her elder brother couldn’t support her as well.

“My father left us when I was young; he never came back nor did he try to contact us. My mother, who worked as a farmer, supported my brother and I until she died when I was in Grade 11. Then unfortunately, my brother had an accident. We were so poor and I had no money to continue my education,” she said.

Mengchou said that while she volunteered at RAC in 2013, she met a staff at Plan International and asked about the possibility of helping her go to a university in Phnom Penh. The organisation collaborated with Cambodia Legal Education for Women (CLEW) to support Mengchou’s college education. In late 2014, she travelled to Phnom Penh and started her journey towards her goal.

She shared that Phnom Penh was a scary city when she first stepped foot into its soil. It was all new and all different in her senses. She had her apprehensions and fears, but her determination to get a degree prevailed.

“To university, I rode bicycle everyday with my friends and the first time I went to school I really didn’t know where to park my bicycle because I saw only motors and cars in the parking area,” Mengchou said, laughing loudly.

Having succeeded in breaking free from “tradition” in her community, Mengchou felt a sense of pride. In Svay Porpas village, only two women – Mengchou included – had the chance to study in Phnom Penh as most girls who finished Grade 9 or 11 were already sent to factories. Mengchou shared that some parents in her village didn’t encourage their daughters to study because “girls should not learn much”.

With her success, Mengchou aims to inspire both parents and girls in her community to change their misconceptions about education for young girls. Education, she added, will help anybody to prosper.

“Girls may not really be as powerful as men in terms of physical strength. But we can work with our brain and skills, these don’t change even when we get old.

“All students, especially girls, should at least finish Grade 12, because only education can change our future. Moreover, if we are poor and did not have enough mw oney to study, we can apply for the scholarships because every university offers scholarship for outstanding students. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor because scholarships are for the best students. If they can’t find scholarships, they can work and save money to finance their studies. There are a lot of ways. They should not feel hopeless.”

Mengchou currently studies English at RULE while also serving as an administration staff of the prestigious universities.

And when the time is right, she will work to become a prosecutor.

“But before that, I have to improve my English speaking and writing skills. So, I dream of studying abroad, too.”

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