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Obama’s Visit Could Have Lasting Effects, Officials Say

US First Lady Michelle Obama arrived with Cambodian first lady Bun Rany at Hun Sen Prasat Bakong Hight School, around 40 Kilometer outside of Siem Reap town, Saturday, March 21, 2015, to promote her “Let Girls Learn” initiative. (Noeu Vannarin/VOA Khmer)

First Lady Michelle Obama completed her trip to Cambodia on Sunday, leaving behind many young girls encouraged to continue their educations and shining a light on a system in need of reform.

Cambodian officials said over the weekend they hope her visit will also shine a positive light on the country and encourage more visitors to come.

Young people can find work in burgeoning tourism sector, said Siem Reap Deputy Governor Bun Tharith, so Obama’s visit, if it promotes more tourism, will have an added effect. “Only the tourism sector can provide 50,000 jobs for young people to do,” he said.

Obama spent two days in Cambodia, where she was promoting her international “Let Girls Learn” initiative. That meant sending a message to the world of Cambodia’s safety, Bun Tharith said.

Obama Leaves With Words of Encouragement for Girls
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“For the US government, especially the US first lady, to have a working visit to Siem Reap province, it means they classify Siem Reap as a secure and safe place already,” Bun Tharith said.

And the US policy to push education for girls falls in line with the government’s position, he said. “We have made an effort to create equality in society, gender equality in the family, as well as promoting women to have more roles in Cambodian society,” he said.

Still, young Cambodian women face a daunting task completing school, in the face of economic pressures and the traditional roles of women, he said. But improved living standards are creating more opportunities for women. Parents, too, understand that poor education can lead to difficult lives. “That’s why they want to push their children, female and male, to study, so that they can have jobs.”