Savong and the senior students. Removing risks and setting guidelines.

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2014 is shaping up as the year that Savong gets really systemised. I’ve worked with him since 2004 and since then we have progressed from a small ad-hoc classroom to gradually become an NGO that includes a student center, a school with 650 enrollments, two children’s homes and a provider of scholarships. By the end of last year Savong was run ragged, trying to keep everything running smoothly.

Two days ago I had a long Skype chat with Savong and he explained how he was, step by step, putting management systems and reporting structures in place throughout his organisation. As with any organisation that gets bigger, one loses some of the informality and one starts having to lay down rule and guidelines.

Yesterday Savong assembled the senior SOC students who are supported through funding from the Savong Foundation in the USA (Phil and the team do an amazing job) as well that those students I raise funds for: the Scholarship students of whom there are 16.  So that’s the photo above, this rather large family of sponsored senior students.

Savong has worked with them to establish some operating rules and as we discussed, these include some expectations (this is no place for laziness) but also a clear commitment to keep supporting the students even when there are challenges. I certainly feel that the money we provide in support is only half the story: the real thing we’re providing is the absence of fear.

I saw that when Savong and I first worked together.  When he realised that we were committed to assist him through thick and thin, then his dreams got bigger and more useful: his plans became longer term.  So it is with the students in the photo. They are a committed group of young people, but the difference between these students and many others is that we’ve moved them a few steps away from the risks and unforeseen disasters that plague life in Cambodia, given that there is no safety net.

For many young people the four-year trek towards a degree is almost certain to include bouts of sickness, or family tragedies, or perhaps an accident that wipes out one’s precious savings. One of the teachers once told me of a friend of his who was electrocuted, due to faulty wiring in the young man’s corrugated-iron shack: he touched the wall one morning and was killed tragically.

How can one dream big when you are worried by the risks of life?

I felt a pang of regret when Savong told me of the rules and guidelines he’s setting for the students. I guess I miss the laissez-faire days and, for sure, I would make a lousy manager of this burgeoning NGO. But one thing about guidelines: these also establish more certainty for the students as they embark on their journey through the sometimes rough seas of higher education.  A ship is safer when it has handrails and life-jackets.

Where does Cambodia rank in terms of higher education?

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Measurements of education are difficult because one nation’s standards may be different from those of other nations, and the population  structure may be quite different also. However one metric applied by the UN is “enrollment in tertiary education” and this takes the percentage of people of tertiary education age (18 – 24 say) who are actually enrolled in tertiary education.

By these standards Cambodia ranks 116th out of 148 nations measured by UNESCO (2011) and reported by the World Economic Forum – a few positions lower than neighbouring Laos.

Earlier UNESCO figures (2005) estimated that around 2.8% of tertiary aged Cambodians are enrolled in tertiary education. (In the USA the figure is 72%.)

This situation is changing, and I think quite rapidly since 2005, but Cambodia has some catching up to do. When asked to evaluate the problems hindering economic development, the World Economic Forum respondents rated the “inadequately educated workforce” as the third greatest problem after corruption and inefficient Government bureaucracy.

A deeper problem is the urban-rural split, with university being more accessible for comparatively rich urban families, and out of reach for the rural poor. This issue has the potential to create a harsh class division in Cambodia, on top of the nation’s other social challenges. It is a key reason why at Savong’s School we established a full scholarship for the top students – and this provides for university enrollment (over a 4 year degree) as well as transport, a laptop and a living allowance over the 4 years.

More about the university scholarship – click here.

Happy New Year Everybody

Happy New Year Everybody

This year I challenge everyone I meet to nudge up your giving-level by a notch or two! Discover the joy of supporting a young student in Cambodia and helping them achieve their potential. Contact me – I don’t bite, I don’t heap sob stories onto you. But I do need your help.

My job is simple: to connect you with a needy rural student. duncan@kudos-dynamics.com

Happy New Year!

The Social Network: Cambodia style.

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The quest: to get into university. It took a village for Kuon Soknang – a network of supporters from around Bakong village.

Soknang is 23 years old and that means, in Cambodian terms, that she grew up during years of extreme poverty – and by extreme I mean children eating bark off trees and catching insects to eat. I mean a time when Cambodia was utterly neglected, in fact more or less cut-off from the rest of the world. Then double that hardship, because as you can see she has been born without hands and with deformed feet so that movement is difficult. But don’t feel sorry for Soknang. She has the determination and intelligence to rise above her handicaps. Using her toes she can write in Khmer, or English – which she has patiently learned – and these days she operates a laptop, though for the life of me I cannot work out how she operates those functions that require one to hold down the ALT CTRL keys as well as type. She can do it, and her ambition is to hold down employment as a university qualified accountant.

But how do you attend university when your family cannot afford the fees? How do you manage transport into town each day – a half hour trip – when you cannot pilot a motorbike or bicycle? How do you reach your potential?

Kuon Soknang (Kuon is her family name) is perhaps lucky that she comes from a community as cohesive as Bakong, which is where we operate a small language school which provides free language education, and computer classes, to local students to top-up their State education at the Hun Sen Bakong High School. In fact Soknang has never attended Savong’s School, yet there is an increasing degree of co-operation between these institutions.

At Bakong High, Soknang had one teacher in particular who championed her cause and sought some kind of sponsorship for Soknang who has – to date – attended just a few weeks at University after her family scraped together $30 for short-term tuition fees “until something might work out.”

Soknang learned from her few weeks at University that she is up to the challenge and so her ex-high-school teacher approached Savong because he’d heard about the Savong School Scholarships to university. Would Savong be able to assist?

Savong, the teacher and Soknang held a lengthy meeting to discuss the young woman’s situation and to work out a plan for the academic year ahead. It was agreed that she would be sponsored, with fees covered as well as transport to her University CUS in Siem Reap. Regarding her living arrangements which weren’t ideal given her physical situation, it was agreed that Soknang would be housed with other senior students who are in residence at Savong’s family home which is a guest house in town.

With arrangements confirmed there’s pressure on us to find a 4-year sponsor, but that should be the easy part – that’s where the global village can assist.

This story has unfolded during the last few days, yet for Soknang the resolution of her problem about how to get support through university is just the latest stepping stone along her life pathway. She faces challenges ahead, for sure. But one way and another her community has helped connect her with those who can help.  I look forward to reporting on her progress.

More about Savong School Scholarships and how to Sponsor these.

You are just a step away from this amazing young woman.

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This young Cambodian woman focuses on what she can achieve – and her goal is to earn a university degree.

In my country, New Zealand, the Government has just been handed a damning report on child poverty and the document makes disappointing reading for a nation that once, literally, led the world in child care and education standards. So hardship has been part of the public conversation recently – though notably, the topic is absent from the various Ministers responsible for child care. They walk a narrow road and appear happy to step over those in need.

But in the midst of this context, this public debate about poverty Savong emailed me with a photo of a young woman who resides not far from the school her runs in Bakong, Cambodia. “Brother,” he asked. “Can we support her with a university scholarship. She wants to study for a degree.”

At first when I looked at the photo my reaction was – wow, she already has a laptop – but it was only then that I noticed she was tapping the keypad with her feet, and that she lacks hands and arms: through a birth defect. What unimaginable hardship. Every sentence is a labour of love for her.

Savong’s request also came in the context of some recent discussions we’ve had about the goals and objectives of his school and scholarship programme. These remain: to help poor rural students to reach their potential and to help them achieve positive, fulfilling employment.

Yes, we are also trying to run the school and the scholarships to a tight budget (and we know we cannot serve every needy person in Cambodia,) but now you have met this young woman, and when you hear her desire to attend university and to complete a degree: when you hear that, and you examine your organisation’s objectives – how can you just walk away?

Tomorrow Savong is interviewing her in-depth to work out her needs and her details. She is from a poor family and somewhere along the line has found a supporter who gave her the laptop. But in principle the decision has already been made. There is just no way we can morally walk away from her.

This is the new paradigm of charitable work in the internet age. Years ago we used to be told of “the starving millions” and at school we felt remote from this sea of needy humanity. But today the needs, and the personalities of those who need help are a mouse-click away.

The other consequence of our highly connected world, where you are now just two degrees away from this young woman, is that she is now part of your life. I don’t in any way mean to objectify her, or to lay a guilt trip on you – far from it. But the road we travel individually is now the internet highway. We meet more people experiencing the extremes of life. Do we merely step over them?

I’m hoping you can stop a moment and consider helping her achieve her mighty goal.  Contact me and we can put you more closely in touch so that your can personally sponsor her progress.  duncan@kudos-dynamics.com

You can make an immediate PayPal donation if you like. CLICK HERE.

For moe about how out scholarship scheme works: CLICK HERE.

Here’s a direct way you can change a life in Cambodia.

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The young man photographed above comes from a poor rural community where family incomes of less than $US50 dollars per month are not uncommon. With this background no matter how bright the student is at high school, university is out of reach. In a real sense, poverty is passed on from generation to generation.

Well, for this student the cycle has been broken thanks to a simply managed realistic university scholarship run by a local school in Bakong, Cambodia and supported by sponsors overseas – practical people who commit what adds up to ‘coffee money’ to ensure bright students can reach their potential. Once these students win a good graduate job (in Cambodia less than 3% of adults have a degree – compared with 26% in the USA) then they will help their family. Your gift keeps on  giving.

If you would like to sponsor a University Scholarship student to cover enrolment, living allowance, transport this costs just $US80 a month, and we have set up a SPONSOR arrangement that will bill you automatically each month for this amount – with a limit of 24 months. (For your security.)

You have the right, of course, to cancel donations if your circumstances change – but this is a great way to set up a significant support system for a rural student in Cambodia.

Click on the Logo to take yourself through to PayPal and the $US80 per month, ongoing subscription.
Click on the Logo to take yourself through to PayPal and the $US80 per month, ongoing subscription.
  • For further information feel free to write to me: Duncan Stuart at duncan@kudos-dynamics.com
  • All donations are receipted – they are lodged into the registered New Zealand charity Cambodian Rural Schools Trust
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  • All funds, apart from a small transfer fee, go to the project. We do not incur marketing or admin expenses.

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