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Cambodian-Muslim Woman Earns Grant for US Studies

Ohio University graduate student So Farina is a Cambodian Muslim. She was awarded the Margaret McNamara Memorial Fund Grant on May 19 in Washington, one of ten award recipients worldwide. She is the first Cambodian to receive the award. So Farina impressed the selection committee with her research on Muslim women under the Khmer Rouge.

She hopes to found a center for gender studies under the Documentation Center of Cambodia. The $12,000 grant will help her focus on her studies, she said in an interview with VOA Khmer.

So Farina is a graduate student in Southeast Asian Studies at the Center for International Studies at Ohio University, where a professor encouraged her to apply.

He “warned me that the scholarship was very competitive,” she said. “He asked me to look at the criteria and whether it matched my qualifications. When I saw the criteria, I knew my qualifications fit the criteria.”

So Farina impressed the MMMF selection committee with her research, “Muslim Cambodian Women’s Experience in Khmer Rouge Regime,” and her future potential for creating an oral history project, which she has been working on for about five years.

“First, it not only helps me solve financial problems, but also gives me value, respect, and hope, because it enables me to focus on my study and work more to make my dream a reality,” So Farina said.

The MMMF awards grants to women from developing countries who are studying subjects that benefit lives of women and children. The applicants must be enroll at accredited institutions in the United States and Canada at the time they submit their applications. They must use the grant toward their studies.

Sarah Brau, a member of MMMF’s board of directors, said there are a lot of competent applicants applying for MMMF grants. Besides their impressive qualifications, successful candidates must go back either to their home countries or other developing countries.

“We have tremendous applicants of all ages, and they have to have had experience volunteering or working for women or children in their own countries, and they have to already be here studying in the US or Canada when we add our scholarship money to them,” she said.

Brau said So Farina was the first candidate from Cambodia selected for the scholarship and was chosen for the intellectual ability to tackle difficult issues and pursue an educational goal. She encouraged women from Cambodia to apply for the scholarship.

“She was an extraordinary candidate,” Brau said. “She had exerted a great deal of intellectual rigor…and she both had intellectual analysis, the heart of the problems, and had been able to take a small step to implement the solution.”

The Margaret McNamara Memorial Fund was founded in 1981 to honor the life of Margaret Craig McNamara, whose husband was World Bank President from 1968 to 1981. The MMMF has awarded 134 grants to women from 57 countries since 1983. MMMF scholarship is available at