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For Girls, the Value of Education No Mystery

Female students attend a clean-up day event at Angkor High School, around two kilometers from Siem Reap city center on Saturday, March 21, 2015. (Phorn Bopha/VOA Khmer)
Female students attend a clean-up day event at Angkor High School, around two kilometers from Siem Reap city center on Saturday, March 21, 2015. (Phorn Bopha/VOA Khmer)

Schoolgirls at Angkor High School in Siem Reap say they recognize the value of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let Girls Learn” initiative—and many are ready to participate.

“I want to work in a bank,” said Seang Seila, a 10th grader, as she took a break from playing games of chase with her friends. “School is really important, since it gives people knowledge.”

She said she is ready to meet the challenges to her goals, whatever they may be. She knows too that she’ll have to struggle, though the path to success is not clear to her. “I am not sure, since I’m an orphan, and I stay with others,” she said. “I’ll have to try my best to study, like I’ve done since I was young. I’ll keep trying until I reach my goal.”

Obama’s “Let Girls Learn” program seeks help from local communities to remove obstacles to girls’ education. She is in Cambodia to help promote that effort, which is taking place in 11 countries around the world. Speaking at Hun Sen's Prasat Bakong High School on Saturday morning, Obama told a group of students her program aims to support them.

“I know that what you’re doing isn’t easy,” she said. “I know that sometimes you struggle in school. I know that it can’t be easy to work on your farm, to take care of your family, to drive an hour to school or ride your bike an hour to school and then study and get good grades. I know that’s not easy. But it’s so important for you all to know that the fact that you’re here proves how smart and how strong and how capable you all are.”

For the girls at Angkor High School, such words are encouraging. To them, the value of education is clear, even if knowing the means to achieving it isn’t.

“It is very important, since in the future we’ll be able to make money and support our families,” said Vuthy Kim Eang, an 8th grader.

Her friend, Keng Somary, said she was not sure yet whether she wants to be a doctor or a singer, but she is sure that whatever career she chooses, she’ll need to be in school to do it.

“I want to be a doctor and at the same time a star,” she said. “But if I didn’t come to school, I wouldn’t know the alphabet. How would I be able to write, and how could I become a star?”

Many other girls here agreed, one way or another, that school is important.

“If we do not have education, we’ll be illiterate and it is hard to get a job,” Tuon Sreineath, 13, said.

“Our studies can give us a brighter future, and if we are well educated, we can help the country,” Chea Srey Toch, 12, said.

The challenges are no small thing, however. Tradition in the family keeps many girls home, where boys go to school. Poverty and the need to work cause many to drop out. But Obama said Saturday that they must not give up.

“There are going to be people who aren’t going to be happy that you’re so smart and strong and capable,” she said. “It happened to me when I was your age. There were people who told me that I wasn’t smart enough to go to college and go to law school—but I ignored them. And I want you to ignore them, too.”