A Few of Our Alumnae – in Their Own Words
I am given chances, and I have changed
There are six people in my family: my father, my mother, my two brothers, my sister and me. I am the youngest.[The girls in my village] they are the same as me; they want to do a bachelor’s degree in Phnom Penh. However, some have stopped studying because of poverty, lack of opportunities, and discouragement from their families and society.
I think the biggest problems facing Cambodian women today are related to their gender, for example, domestic violence, sex abuse and human trafficking. To change the situation of Cambodian women today, what I can do is to try my best to study, and gain more knowledge, so that I can share that knowledge, to help women develop and to help change the situation.
I want to be an ambassador or work in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. I would like to continue my studies in the United States or China.
The most important thing I have gained from living in the Harpswell dormitory is learning about leadership, which includes teamwork skills, how to cooperate with other people, and understanding and appreciating other people.
University: 2011 degree in Law/International Relations from the Royal University of Law and Economics
Employment: Senior Program Officer, Transparency International Cambodia
My family includes my parents, who are farmers, and me. I am an only child. When I am home, I love to ask my mother questions and listen to her stories of her life. My mother always recalls the time of having to work hard, instead of continuing school, in order to assist my grandparents in doing farm work and taking care of her younger siblings. She advises me to keep studying because she does not want me to follow the path that she had to take when she was younger. Her health has deteriorated because of the hard labor she had to endure when she was younger to support her family. She regrets not having the opportunity to pursue her dreams when she was younger.
The other girls my age from my village now have more than one child and work on their farmland. If not that, then they are working in garment factories in various towns in Cambodia.
The biggest problem facing Cambodian women today is gender inequity because they do not get the same opportunity as men do. Women are hard workers who only have the chance to support their children because they have a low education. This issue stems from women in the countryside not receiving education.
I found a passion to communicate with people. One day I dream of producing education programs about women’s affairs. I hope to become a professional journalist in Cambodia. I want to be a journalist, so that I can learn more about the world and be constantly updated on current affairs.
University: 2014 degree in Media Management from the Royal University of Phnom Penh; 2020 master’s degree in Media and Communications from Syracuse University (Open Society Foundation Fellowship)
I grew up in a family with five siblings, and I am the youngest. My parents are farmers and survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide. My two oldest siblings grew up during the genocide. When I was young, my mother used to tell me stories of her family, the death of her mother when she was a young teenager, her life under the Khmer Rouge and her love of education.
“I don’t want you to follow my footprints,” my mum told me, while she was pealing a ripe mango. Her face had wrinkles from years of working in the farm under fierce sunlight. “I regret having to give up my studies. I wish I hadn’t dropped out of school.” My mother is the second oldest child, and the oldest daughter of her seven siblings. When her mother passed away from sickness, my mother was 13 years old and her youngest sister was an eight-month old baby. My mother took on the role of mother, taking care of her younger siblings, cleaning, going to the market, cooking, and helping my grandfather on the farm. She also attended a primary school in the village. But household responsibilities, farm work and school became too overwhelming. My mother stopped going to school when she was in fifth grade to focus on the household responsibilities that had fallen to her, and helping out on the farm. Many years later, when she saw her classmates riding their bicycles to Koh Thom high school, the school that I eventually graduated from, she realized how much she wanted to stay in school. Perhaps because of this, my mother has always been supportive of my education and my dreams. And it is her story, too, that inspires me to want to go to university and have a career outside of the farm.
My parents are courageous. They sent all of their children to school despite their financial hardship, while some families might send only their sons to school in a similar situation. I am so proud of their commitment.
Since I was in middle school, I have dreamt of becoming an educated woman who could support my family and myself and live my life differently from my mother’s generation. Education is the only vehicle I see that can help make this brighter future a reality.
I am studying computer science at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. I hope to use my knowledge to contribute to improving Cambodia.
Living here [at Harpswell] has helped me to gain leadership skills through weekly seminars provided by staff and distinguished guests. These cover topics such as what it means to be an independent and strong woman, and how to be a good leader.
I have developed greater social awareness and improved my critical thinking skills through participation in weekly discussions on national and international events. This has made me more aware of what is happening in society and how citizens and policymakers attempt to deal with problems.
University: 2011 degree in Computer Science from the Royal University of Phnom Penh; 2020 master’s degree in International Development from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy (Obama Foundation Fellow)
Harpswell Foundation scholarship is the turning point of my life trajectory.
10 years ago without Harspwell, I could have been one of most girls at my age in my village. They are farmers or sellers. They did not have the same opportunity as me to continue their studies at university, or sometimes even in secondary or high school. Some girls have migrated to work near the Thai border, in Malaysia, South Korea, and Phnom Penh city. They face many challenges including exploitation at their workplace or sex trafficking. For instance, their lives are easily at risk, the worse case scenario, they might even be sold to be sex workers. Why did they have to face these challenges? Ultimate response was because they had no other options or educational opportunity to overcome these struggles beside devoting their lives to support their family members. What are other root causes of the problems that deter young women in my village from enhancing their full potential?
I think the biggest problem facing Cambodian women today is to pursue a high education and to challenge the patriarchal society. The lack of education is making young women more likely to be victims of an abusive relationship. For example, most of the girls who live in my village did not have the opportunity to study. They got married at a very young age. They were not financially independent, so they were afraid to leave their abusive spouses. It was challenging for them to go against the status quo when patriarchal cultural context and social norm seem to be key factors to not allow young women to voice up. Young women have a difficult time to challenge the cultural norm like “Chrab Srie,” or the Khmer women code of conduct, and negative stereotypes toward them. For instance, women who are drinking or going out with their friends at night, most people are more likely to consider them as inappropriate women. Other stereotype is that the higher educated women are, the more likely for them to be single, which always discourages many women not to pursue their passion just to fit in this traditional perspective. These negative stereotypes toward disadvantage groups like women should be eliminated. All are deserved respect and treated equally. I imagined if all young women were educated, they would be well informed regarding their decision making about their future development.
I have to try my best to learn, to develop myself, and to pay it forward. My parents are teachers and farmers. Because of their hardship, love, and educational background, they managed to send their eight children including me to school. Yet my parents have to work so hard to support me. At the same time, I felt miserable for not being able to live with my family to support them. I also felt it was challenging to see my other siblings who did not receive what I have. It was a huge transition for me to keep moving away from the guilty feeling. One thing that kept me moving forward was I could be their only hope to support my younger siblings since I was the first child who attended university in Phnom Penh and abroad.
Born and raised in rural Cambodia, I was privileged to receive a full scholarship from Harpswell Foundation to obtain university in Phnom Penh. I was also fortunate to live in the Harpswell Dormitory and Leadership Center for women since I learned many critical life skills there. For instance, I developed positive experience living in a big and a happy community that I felt was like my real home and school. I also learned how to be a good leader, enhanced my critical analysis skills regarding public interests, social issues nationally and internally from the Cambodia Daily newspaper discussion groups, and so forth. This was my first excitement to fully feel empowered as a young woman from rural area. By having this opportunity to fulfill my dream, it changed my concepts to view the world. Leadership trainings at Harpswell enriched me to seek for a new journey. This is because I received the privileges and opportunities from many supporters such as my family, teachers, Harpswell’s family and my friends. It sounds unbelievable to see how these events change my life trajectory from a person who knew nothing about the world to a person who can explore the world.
In short, despite the family hardship that deterred me from finishing school in my hometown from time to time, I resisted the struggling and was fortunate and privileged to receive local and international scholarship for both degrees in law (BA) and social work (MSW). I am the first Harpswell graduate to serve on the Harspwell Board of Trustees. HF is one of the fundamental support systems that I have ever had in terms of empowering my leadership skills personally and professionally. It allows me to have a voice, to remember where I come from, and to have confidence in one self. I believe that my Harpswell family members and I, together we will become good future women leaders for Cambodia.
University: 2010 degree in Law from the Royal University of Law and Economics. She also earned a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Columbia University.
Employment: Director, Selection & Community Relations, Teach for Cambodia. Former Coordinator at Rainbow Community Campuchea.
Member: Harpswell Board of Trustees
In Cambodia, the biggest problem facing Cambodian women today is inequality. The male students can live in pagodas, but the women students cannot. Women cannot go anywhere at night, because they face danger.
Some parents think that daughters should not have more education than sons, because after being married, a woman will take care children and work at home. Some men do not want to marry women who have more education than them, because they think that it would be hard to control their wife and family. Right now, the most of girls in my village are garment factory workers, because working in a factory does not need high education at all.
I have liked mathematics since I came to high school. When I studied at primary school, I did not care about my studies, but when I came to high school, I started thinking about the advantages of study. Starting from that time, I have studied hard, and the subject that I like the most is mathematics
After I graduate from my university, I am going to study for my master’s degree in Vietnam.
Then I am going to return to my country to be a mathematics teacher in another university. I like teaching, and I think that a teacher is the best person to develop the human resources for my country.
University: 2012 degree in Mathematics from the Royal University of Phnom Penh. She also has a BA in Civil Engineering from the University of Georgia, where she graduated in May 2017 cum laude.
Employment: Civil Engineer at Inros Lackner Cambodia
There are five members in my family: my parents, one older sister, one younger sister, and myself. I am the second born.
My older sister showed me how interesting law is, connecting me to hot issues in society with social analysis. It caught my heart and I planned to study law since I was just a high school student. In addition, I love social subjects more than science one.
My life has changed a lot since I came to study in Phnom Penh. What I can now see about my village is that most of the villagers are illiterate. Most of the women, including women from both the old and young generations, are born to be servants. They serve rich people and only get enough money each day for daily food. To conclude, my situation is largely different from them. I get a lot of support from Harpswell Foundation. I am fortunate to be in the university.
Living in Harpswell Foundation, I have been deepened by warm relationships as the sisterhood. Since Harpswell’s mission is to empower young women to be the leaders in the future, I think I am on the right track of training myself to be a leader. I have enjoyed being a self-study team leader for the past two years and I think this responsibility helps me to be an independent person who can be a leading citizen in Cambodia.
I am hungry for education every second because I believe that nothing can change my society without education. I know that the education system in Cambodia is held at a very low standard compared to many countries that provide scholarships to Cambodian students. Pursuing a higher degree overseas will provide me with the new things.