More than 50 Cambodian Muslims since the early 1990s have been awarded scholarships by a Saudi Arabian bank, to help them study higher education.
The Islamic Development Bank has shareholders from Saudi Arabia, the Sudan, Kuwait, Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates.
Since 1993, it has offered small stipends to 54 Cambodian Muslim students, said Sos Mousine, president of the Cambodian Muslim Student Association, in an interview with VOA Khmer.
“The scholarships are small, just about $700 or $800 per student per year,” he said, and only pay for a small percentage of Muslim students in higher education.
Around 300 students in Phnom Penh are in universities, with around 100 of them staying in dormitories and the rest living with relatives or friends.
Osman Hassan, president of the Cambodian Muslim Development Foundation, a local partner of the IDB, said in addition to the scholarship the bank has also provided funding for construction of schools and facilities for Muslim communities in the country.
“However, the IDB does not offer assistance for mosque construction, because their policy is to help build schools, hospital or other vocational training centers,” he said.
The Bank does not respond to emailed questions about their fund to Cambodia, either.
Cambodia’s Muslims suffered heavily under the Khmer Rouge, which razed mosques, confiscated Korans and killed religious leaders as it rose to power in the 1970s.
Since the early 1990s, increasing funding and aid has been funneled to Cham communities, which are scattered among villages of neighboring Khmers.
Like many Cambodians, Chams have struggled to recover from the Khmer Rouge, and some observers worry that their poverty may make them susceptible to the influence of radical Islam.
Sos Mousine, a former recipient of IDB aid, said the scholarships are for students of engineering, medicine and other sciences. Those who win the scholarship may study in Cambodia or other countries where IDB has a presence, especially Indonesia.
Twenty-eight Cambodian Muslim students have won IDB scholarships to study abroad, he added.
Scholarship recipients are expected to contribute to Muslim communities when they finish their studies.
Wrapped in a traditional headscarf, El Sey Mas said in a recent interview she had only been able to complete her studies in medicine with the help of the IDB.
“Medical studies cost a lot of money, and I come from a province, so how could I pay for my studies,” said Sey Mas, who is from Kampong Thom province.
Now 24, she works in a private clinic and spends some of her free time helping Muslims in the capital.
“I distribute medicine to Muslim villagers and share my experiences among parents so that they may want to push their children for higher education,” she said.