Published: May 19, 2021 Reading time: 4 minutes
© Photo: Keun Chean

Keun Chien, 22, lives in Kampong Chhnang, Cambodia, and travels 30 kilometres to school each day. Despite this hardship, she has never considered giving up on her schooling, as she believes that education is the key to a better future. 

Unfortunately, Keun’s parents have not always supported her educational ambition. Keun comes from a family of five that struggles financially; her parents work as farmers and basket weavers and did not place much stake in education. In her community, parents often send their young children into the workforce. In fact, nine out of 10 girls are sent to work in the factories in capital city to help with their family’s finances.

Keun, however, was not to be deterred. “Although I am a girl, I know I have the power to achieve anything I set my heart on. I was told that I am incapable of doing great things because I am a girl, but I tell myself something different and inspiring.” Despite the challenges she faced, Keun was determined to continue going to school in the Rolear B’ier District, two hours away on the outskirts of Kampong Chhnang Province. She was able to make the trip with help from a friend who took her there by motorbike.

Working towards an associate degree

Keun was almost forced to give up on her education after middle school due to her family’s financial situation. Nevertheless, she learned that the Kampong Chhnang Provincial Training Center (PTC) was offering a free programme granting associate degrees in IT, mechanics, air conditioning installation and maintenance, and computer service. Keun enrolled in the two-year IT course.

It was thanks to the Fostering Transition to Employment for Youth (FTE4Youth) project, a two-year initiative implemented by People In Need (PIN) with funds from the Czech Development Agency and supported by the Cambodian Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, that Keun was able to continue her studies. FTE4Youth, which has been running since 2019 and will conclude this year, aims to strengthen the quality of technical education in Cambodia by providing new equipment, conducting capacity building for technical trainers, fostering public-private partnerships between institutions and private companies, and sharing market information with schools and students.

After Keun enrolled in the programme, she faced a new challenge: a lack of support, this time from her peers. “This skill does not suit you as a girl,” her friends told her. Only four of the 12 students enrolled were girls, and three rarely attended classes. Keun considered leaving the programme but she is glad she didn’t, as she ended up being at the top of her class.

Keun says, “I used their negative words as motivation to move forward toward my goal because my future is in my own hands. ‘It does not matter who you are, what matters is how much you can do.’ This is advice I received from my female IT teacher, who helped me continue believing in myself.”

Before joining the programme, Keun knew nothing about computers and thought using them must be very difficult. “I didn’t even know how to turn a computer on and off before,” she recalls. “Now I can type and install software programmes. I even have some graphic design and video editing skills. I am so grateful for the skills I have received from PTC. I can also Zoom now—before, I had no idea such a thing existed. I am proud that I can now use computers like many other people.”

Updated equipment and facilities

As part of the project, the PTC was provided with equipment and facility upgrades. This has been a great motivation for Keun and her classmates, because prior to the project’s support, there were not enough computers in the class and the facility was in poor condition. “After the classroom renovations, including the installation of proper air conditioning and up-to-date computers, our experience in class has risen to a new level,” she says. “It’s such great motivation for us students. Most importantly, we do not have to pay school fees. We just need to commit to attending class.”

A new chapter begins

Keun received her associate degree in 2020, and is now working as an accountant for a real estate company. “The work is completely new to me, but I am so happy that I have a decent job and can start a new chapter of my life. With this job, I can earn enough to feed myself and support my family,” she says.

In light of her achievements, Keun believes she can finally change her parents’ view of education and prove that her hard work has paid off. “Without this training programme supported by the FTE4Youth project, I would be working at the factory with other girls from my neighbourhood. Thankfully, I did not give up.” Keun adds: “In the future, I’d like to work in the development sector to empower young girls to pursue higher education. Girls of my generation can do better if they believe they can.”

Autor: Sophika Kun, PIN Cambodia Communication Officer