Saturday, November 25, 2017

Back to School—Hope for a Brilliant Next Generation

By Luka D’Amato

The new school year has begun. It might be intimidating for some students, but also exciting. School is an important part of our lives and futures. It makes us work hard, but it also opens our eyes the world around us, expanding our potential and opening us to new opportunities and perspectives.

©UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Anna Nordenrot

"When I grow up I want to become a doctor and help other people who are sick. With school now available for me, I believe my dream will come true. If I try to study hard and make it all the way to university, I will be able to transform my life. It will be a struggle but I will do everything I have to do; with the support I get from my teachers and family, it will be possible,” 13-year-old Long Sreynet says. Sreynet is from Kratie. Bunong is her first language, and difficulty with Khmer prevented her from going to school. After a multilanguage education programme began at her local school, she was able to begin learning to read and write in both Khmer and her native language. With this opportunity, she now goes to school and is pursuing her dreams.

We grow up being told how important school is, but sometimes it is difficult to remember why it is important to us. This is especially true when the year starts and students have to juggle school work with other pressures, such as having to help out the family to earn an income, helping with house chores and taking care of younger siblings.

As we celebrate the start of the 2017-2018 academic year, let’s remember how much school has to offer. It offers us so many opportunities, like knowledge, life-lessons, career options, friends, and so much more. Everyone has their own reasons and motivations for sticking through it, and everyone’s are different.

©UNICEF Cambodia/2017/Chansereypich Seng 

“I am catching up with lessons, and my friends are kind and helpful,” says Sovann*. “I got 10th place out of 70 in my class. I want to study harder,” said Savann. “I want to be a doctor,” she states. “Then I can protect my family as well as Cambodian people,” she says, thinking about her future. Sovann is 15 years-old, she is an outstanding, hardworking student. Due to serious financial issues, Sovann was forced to spend her days scavenging to help feed her family. Now, with government, NGO and UNICEF support, Sovann has been able to go back to school, and is excelling. Her drive to learn is strong, and she further motivates herself by her desire to improve the lives of all Cambodians. 

*Name changed to protect identity

So, what are your reasons for waking up early to make it to school and working hard to succeed?

©UNICEF Cambodia/2014/Sok Thol

“My parents want me to be more educated than them so they don’t want me to drop out. But some of my friends’ parents asked them to drop out of schools because they don’t believe in education and say: if you study, there’s nothing to eat so please go and work in the farm. In contrast, my parents have told me that I have to study hard so I can get a decent job when I grow up. Then, I will have enough money to help my parents,” said Ly Vanarasmey (15). Not everyone can afford to go to school, despite the fact that education is provided for free in Cambodia, and many must work with their parents to provide food for their family. Vanarasmey is fortunate enough to have the support from her parents, who know that education is the door to a better future. With proper awareness, more parents can understand the importance of education. 

Education makes our possibilities as individuals and as a society endless. It makes us more resilient, and helps us realize our dreams. When we have something that means the world to us, nothing can stop us. School gives us a place where we can begin learning about our opportunities, and begin working towards those. It allows us to make friends who can help and inspire us to reach our goals. 

©UNICEF Cambodia/2012/Reid

"When I first started school I was excited but a little worried, but nobody behaved differently towards me. They actually helped me in the classroom. If I had any problems with my reading, my classmate would help me,” recalls Srey Ma (left). “My teacher is very helpful, he teaches me nicely and he uses gentle words,” she continues. Srey Ma be treated at school because of having a disability, but with an inclusive education initiative implemented by the Ministry of Education, she has been able to get the attention and care she needs to get the education she deserves.

Education is a beautiful opportunity and a right enshrined by the Convention on the Rights of the Child that sadly not all children in Cambodia get to enjoy. On this special occasion, let’s remember the importance of education, and celebrate our dreams!

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