Who was the first person in your family to go to college? For Thouet, a 22 year old who was born in Chanleas Dai village and grew up in a family of seven, the answer is “I am.”
In the communities of Chanleas Dai, and throughout most of Cambodia, fewer and fewer students continue their education. The largest drop in enrollment comes during the junior high and high school years. Why? Besides the cost of travel and materials, some aren’t able to afford the extra lessons that are, according to many, one of the biggest needs for students hoping to succeed. Rather than spend, there is pressure on young people to provide for their families. Even those who graduate from high school face the challenge of affording college education. While tuition of $400 a year may sound like a dream to people in some parts of the world, this cost often becomes a barrier for Cambodian youth.
So what happens to those who drop out? In Chanleas Dai, almost all leave their community to find work in Thailand. You can read more about this social issue in the article from Maryann Bylander, published last year . While any amount of quality education holds its own rewards, and migration can bring financial benefits, PEPY hopes to offer options other than migration . Youth going to Thailand enter a situation that UNICEF reports often increases vulnerability. According to their analysis, compared with other types of migration, “Young people who migrate across borders are even more vulnerable to being cheated and losing their rights, becoming subject to arrest, or working in jobs that entail health risks with no consequent health care (i.e., spraying insecticide in Thailand). Some are exposed to drug use to induce long working hours, while some women are subject to sexual exploitation and forced prostitution.”
In September of 2011, Thouet was one of seven twelfth grade students from the Chanleas Dai commune. After graduation, none of them could get a scholarship from the competitive exams available. By applying for an internship with PEPY, Thouet was able to get support for continuing with higher education. According to Thouet, of the remaining students in his graduating class, three have gone to work long-term in Thailand, two have married into farming families and one has found other work.
The focus of Thouet’s internship has been to help PEPY develop scholarship opportunities for high school graduates from Chanleas Dai. Through this scholarship- which selects candidates based on need, academic ability, and volunteer experience -students receive funds to cover tuition and basic living expenses, as well as a computer and bicycle. It also involves a commitment to giving back to communities by having students teach, gradually repay fees to help fund future recipients, or to intern with PEPY and help prepare twelfth graders for the future, as Thouet does.
When he is not pursuing his bachelor’s degree in management, Thouet works with PEPY to cooperate with high school teachers and universities to ensure that every chance for a scholarship is explored. Additionally, he meets with the ten students from Chanleas Dai who are set to graduate in 2012 and they talk about goals, challenges, and career paths. Things are looking promising: three of the students are now in the final round of an outside scholarship selection process, while PEPY is ready to select two students to enter our own scholarship cycle later this year.
Thouet says he has a message to people around the world: “Learn more and get involved with education.”PEPY continues to try to create opportunities for Chanleas Dai commune students because we realize that if we are to promote education as a way to empower youth, there must be real options available for youth who are dedicated to their education.