RATANAKKIRI PROVINCE —
For reasons of poverty, personal security and the long distances from home to school, a young indigenous girl like Ro Mamorn, has had to give up on school for a year before she could get back to class.
Mamorn, 14, got a chance to resume her study after a community school was built nearby her house, which means she now spends just few minutes to get school.
A grade three student at a community school called Yeun Jas Primary School, located in a remote northeastern area of Cambodia, Mamorn said without this community school she would not be able to resume her education as the state school is too far from her house.
She told VOA Khmer, “I’m afraid something bad could happen to me along the way while going to school.”
Unlike children living in cities and towns, the poor indigenous children in remote rural areas are more likely to give up on their education because of the long distances they must travel.
Mamorn, who comes from Yeun village, about 40 kilometers from the provincial capital of Ratanakiri, was just one among hundreds of Cambodia’s indigenous children who have dropped out from state school.
However, since the establishment of Yeun Jas, hundreds of indigenous kids in remote areas who had previously dropped out of school like Mamorn have turned their education around.
Initiated by Plan International Cambodia and local partnerships, Yeun Jas Primary School in Yeun village, Kak commune, was built in 2015 by local residents. Currently, there are approximately one hundred students studying at the school.
Kvay Phaet, 41, a Yeun village resident who currently has two children and three grandchildren studying at the school, said that her children and grand children had given up on their state school for the same reason as Mamorn.
She told VOA Khmer, “The state school is too far. It’s difficult for us. And we don’t have money to support travel fees.”
Although Kvay Phaet didn’t get a proper education when she was young, she wishes the younger generation could pursue higher education at least to grade nine.
“Education is very important. They could use their knowledge to work or run a business to support their living. Being poor isn’t happiness at all,” she said.
According to UNICEF analysis, a child who starts at grade one in school has only a 31 percent chance of reaching the end of lower secondary school. Key barriers to learning include family migration and the hidden costs of education.
Mann Bunchhoeun, 26, a teacher and board member of the school, claimed that having a nearby community school could reduce the number of illiterate villagers and help the indigenous children to return to the classroom.
“For those who are unable to afford sending their children to state school, they can place their kids at a nearby community school. They don’t need to spend on any travel costs, so children don’t need to abandon their study.”
Yeun Jas Primary School has two classrooms, one is a wooden classroom while the other is a temporary tent classroom, while educational slogans are painted in the courtyard.
Phen Bunthoeun, Plan International representative in Ratanakiri, said his organization and partnerships came up with the idea that the local commune could build a school on their own and helped collect school supplies such as desks, chairs and blackboards.
However, he added that the government paid for the teachers’ salaries.
“The villagers want their children to attend school. A single classroom couldn’t cover all students, so we needed to build another temporary tent classroom.”
Bunthoeun said that the active participation of the local villagers in building their own community school for their children was a good example for other communities in remote areas to follow.
Heang Sine, undersecretary of state for education, youth and sports, said he would propose the Education Ministry allocate a building budget for this community school. However, he said, the decision would be made by the ministry.
Mamorn dreams of becoming a doctor in the future to help treat patients in her village. Going back to school in her community is a stepping-stone to pursue her dream, she said. “For education, the higher I can study, the better.”