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Where Education Needed Most, Few Know of Obama’s Initiative

A Cambodian girl takes part to help her family as she sprays water at crop farm near Ang Tasoam town, south of Phnom Penh, file photo. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Many people in Siem Reap are exited about the visit of First Lady Michelle Obama. But outside the city, in the rural areas, few have access to information, and so few know of the visit, or who Obama is.

Phorn Sopheap, a muffin seller 5 kilometers outside Siem Reap, said she’s excited for the visit. “It is the province’s privilege,” she said. “I am so happy. It is really good that she comes here to make sure that girls are going to school. I want girls to learn, since I myself did not learn.”

Obama will meet with local leaders and school girls, as well as Bun Rany, the wife of Prime Minister Hun Sen. She will look for opportunities to improve girls’ education.

Outside of Siem Reap, though, few knew Obama was coming. Out here, life revolves around the rice farm. It is in places like this where her initiative may make a difference, but for now, it is not well known.

Sitting with her son, daughter and grand children, Pat Koeung, 64, said she had not heard of Michelle Obama; nor her husband, Barack Obama, the US president. “I don’t know Obama,” she said.

“I don’t know about this,” her daughter, Nuon Sarun, echoed. “I am home all the time.” She asked if it was possible to see the first lady. “How can I see her?”

Nearby, Suon Sopheak, a farmer with an 8-year-old girl and 1-year-old boy, said she was unaware of the visit, or the “Let Girls Learn” initiative. But she does know she wants her daughter to go to school, and to complete her education, all the way through the 12th grade.