Born just 9 years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, 20 year-old Chenda was part of an entire generation of children that grew up under an education system in crisis.
Twenty year-old Chenda didn’t get very far in school. She dropped out in the 5th grade to migrate to Phnom Penh for karaoke bar work. Chenda was given a second chance at continuing her education in 2012, when she was identified by Lotus Outreach's Non-Formal Education (NFE) and Life Skills program as a prospective student.
Chenda excelled in her course, and maintained an attendance rate of 80% the entire year. Because of this, she was selected among approximately 100 other NFE students to participate in a new cosmetology apprenticeship program introduced last year.
The program trainer, Vida, describes the structure of the apprenticeship: “It will usually take around a year to finish the program, but there is no time limit. Training can continue until skills are sufficiently developed, so the trainees can work around their schedules. There is also an employment guarantee to work in my salon after finishing the course, either on salary or a commission basis.”
Chenda’s mother lives with her in a tiny 5x4 meter rented room with paper-thin walls, one of many rented out by karaoke workers in that building. Her tiny room is crowded with hairdressing equipment hanging on every wall, sure signs she's eager to establish an income that will free her from karaoke work.
"I can’t tell you how happy I am to have been selected. I really didn’t think a girl like me with a 5th grade education would have a chance to escape the lifestyle and work I was doing."