A taxi ride conversation on family struggles and a love for learning
My first experience with PEPY was in 2009/2010 when I did the PEPY Ride to raise money for PEPY’s education projects. I decided to come back to do a long-term volunteer position with the Communications Team to learn more about Cambodia and contribute back to the organization.
Being in the country for an extended period of time has allowed me to have in depth conversations with Cambodians of all ages and backgrounds. The past few weeks, I’ve been meeting more people who are studying and working at the same time and seeing how hard it is for them to do both. But they do it because they love learning and are highly motivated to get their university degree.
I took a taxi from Kralanh District, just under 60 km from Siem Reap city, and ended up having a long conversation with a 23-year-old boy who’s studying in university. I was amazed by how openly he told his family’s story after just meeting me and spoke about his struggles to put himself through school.
He is one of many people of this generation whose passion for learning fuels him to keep working hard to earn money to finish school. From what I have witnessed, in many rural areas around the country, it is the parents and grandparents who often don’t value education. As a result, kids can be pressured to drop out of school at an early age to find work to earn for the family. Right now, many people, including kids as young as 15 years old, go to Thailand to find work.
This young man I spoke with was taking the taxi from Poipet, a Cambodian town on the border withThailand, visiting his family. Here is his story:
Three years ago, my parents’ rice fields flooded in Pursat, a province in Cambodia. So they had to move to Poipet to get a job selling vegetables and push carts to earn money.
My parents encouraged me to go to university. My father wanted to study but my grandfather couldn’t find money to support his education and my mother was very poor. So my father decided to stop studying and found a job growing rice. He is smart, very smart. But he didn’t have the opportunity to go to school and that’s why he always encouraged me to study.
Now I work at a job in microfinance. When I’m done work, I have to study and there is no time to hang out. I earn $150 a month in Siem Reap. In 2010, I used to work 12-hour shifts, six days a week for $60 a month. My cousin works in a clothing factory in Phnom Penh and works eight hours, six days a week and gets $60 a month.
In my village, only five or six students went to university. The rest gave up studying and went to Thailand to find work. Their parents are ignorant they don’t know the advantage of studying. The parents play cards all day. Right now there are only 500 people in my village. Before, maybe there were 2,000 people.
I have three sisters and two brothers. In my first year, the university in Banteay Meanchey (West of Cambodia) is very far from my house. Now I live with my brother in Siem Reap.
I’m always late for studying because I work until 5:00 p.m., sometimes half past six, and my class is from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Then I study until I sleep at 12:00 a.m.
I want to study other languages but the best one is English. I want to quit my job to learn other languages. But if I do I won’t have salary to support my studies. I really like to study, but I don’t have time. My favorite subjects are corporate finance, money and banking.
When I have time, I volunteer with NGOs. I used to volunteer with an NGO where I educated children about bad drugs. I also volunteered for a climate change international organization. Two days a week, I would to tell the villagers about climate change and why it’s important. I asked them to grow a lot of trees to get better weather.
I always join a workshop to get experience and I can improve my knowledge too. I would also like to help my people. I always have a plan to help my villagers.
I was so struck by his constant motivation to finish school and even more impressed by his self-initiative to volunteer to gain experience when he had such little time to study and earned such a low salary.
One of my other Cambodian friends told me how competitive it can be at the universities and little support there is to help students. As a result, people easily give up hope and drop out of school.
I have no doubts this young man’s passion for learning will carry him to his life’s goals and do great things for the people in his community.