Below is an interview with a GATE student, Sok Luen, and her mother, Koy Cheng. This is Sok Luen’s 2nd year in the GATE program.
How is scholarship support important to you (all)?
Luen’s mum tells us, “it helps us a lot, especially the rice support which gives us something to give the family to eat so I can assist in keeping the children in school. Two school uniforms are fine for the entire year and we don’t have to buy school-books and when the school bag wears out or gets too small, I can hand it down to the next child. The scholarship support is essential and makes a tremendous difference to us.”
In the academic setting, Luen is thriving. She is between and 5th and 6th of 30 children in the class. “Luen proudly and happily tells us, I am very brave and when the teacher asks for a student to come and show what they know on the white board I am first to put up my hand. My dream is to become a primary school teacher!”
Her family of 7 includes 4 girls and the youngest, a boy, 5 children between ages of 11 and 18 and all are in school. Of the girls, 18 years in year 9, Sok Luen, 15 years – grade 8, 13 years grade 5 and 11 year old boy, also in grade 5.
The family lives in a tiny tin shack with earthen floors on rented land that is almost under water in the several months of wet season every year. Leun’s father was at work on a construction site that keeps him employed half the time. The other time he catches fish in the area that he sells to make ends meet. The unfortunate fact is that ends don’t meet for this family, and even with the rice support, both the children and parents experience hunger.
During the interview we talk about the impact of rice support and Sok Luen tells us, “I am almost always hungry and hardly ever eat enough to fill my stomach". This heart breaking reality is exacerbated by the daily opportunity costs of keeping 5 children in school, but such is their parent’s commitment to education of their children as a way out of poverty.
Luen says, “I won’t miss a day of school even when we have no rice to eat at all!”
Luen’s mother, Koy Cheng is 53 years old and works where ever there is work available. She often harvests rice, peels mangoes, and washes clothing on the weekends. They also grow vegetables for sale and home consumption, weather permitting. Both parents can earn around $5 per day but work is spasmodic so cash flow is always uncertain and never enough to pay for their most basic daily needs.
When we asked Luen's mother Cheng how they manage the daily cost of sending so many children to school, Cheng and Leun both broke into tears. Luen expressed the difficulty of their livelihood. Cheng was one of nine siblings and had to leave in early grades of primary school to care for her younger siblings. In fact, part of her breaking down was that she felt she had sacrificed her education to give her children a chance. Now that they’ve done well, she knows that it was worth it.
Cheng said, “I devoted my life to ensuring all of my children get an education so they don’t have to suffer a hard life as I have had to. Education is essential to get white collar/office work and without an education, one must labor at whatever job is available. I want my children to understand how important it is to struggle so they can be free of the hardships of poverty that we have been living with.”
Cheng, like many other mothers, are a vital asset to ensuring education, health, and economic empowerment to the women of India and Cambodia. Cheng promotes education empowerment in her household, and Luen is becoming an educated new leader of her community.
Happy Mother's Day to mothers like Cheng who are cultivating a more just and peaceful world.