So Em And Her Dream
Throwing out fistfuls of rice for her hungry chickens, 15-year-old Phal SoEm carries out the seemingly ordinary chore behind her wooden house in Yeay Oort village, Banteay Meanchy province. But for SoEm, taking care of this small chickenfarm is a step to achieve her dream of having a higher education.
The grade-10 student is determined to pursue a university degree once she has graduated high school so that she can empower other women in her village. She said women in her community were still considered weak and were unable to participate in social activities as a result.
“I can see that woman have less involvement in economic activities and community issues,” she said.
“I want to see women take part in community activities equally to men.”
For So Em, changing the concept of men being superior to women is of utmost importance after witnessing her mother suffering domestic abuse at the hands of her father.
In July, she joined Saving for Change (SfC) in the hope that she can save enough money for her university tuition fee.
At first, SoEm thought SfC would not be a reliable source of income for villagers, with only some elderly villages initially joining the program. However as more money was saved, more villagers joined the program.
Now, there are 46 SfC groups across Banteay Meanchey province. SoEm created a savings group along with 15 other students in the village. The group meets on Sundays so it doesn’t interrupt their studies, with each member contributing 3,000-5,000 Reil (USD 0.4-1.20) a week.
“I told my friends about the saving group and they were interested in joining so I asked the Cambodia Human Resource Development (CHRD), an NGO partner of Oxfam, to help me form the saving group in my school,” So Em said.
She said she is especially interested in the various programs and courses that come with the program that teach her about gender and women’s leadership.
While before she was quiet and reserved, SoEm said now thanks to the experience of successfully managing a savings group, she has become more outspoken and able to express her ideas freely at home and at meetings.
“In the past, I didn’t talk much. Before joining the woman leadership training which was organized by CHRD in the SfC program, I didn’t know what woman leadership was,” she said.
“I am happy that I could manage this saving group with the support from CHRD regardless of being a young girl.
“Whenever I attend the commune meetings, I ask questions and I share my thoughts.”
SoEm said she has now worked up the courage to talk to her father about the negative consequences of his abuse and has convinced him to attend coaching on gender and domestic violence.
“After some time, I haven’t seen my father commit violence in the family lately,” SoEm said with a smile on her face.
Despite her leaps and bounds, SoEm said she still feels her participation is limited because of her age. She is not allowed to take part in some commune meetings, and some of the older people consider her ideas
However she understands that some issues take time to resolve and maintains she will be able to make more of an impact on her community once she finishes university.
Joining SfC not only contributed to SoEm having a better quality of life that will lead her to university, it has also given her the confidence and self-esteem to know once she has graduated university, she will be able
to empower other women to participate in as many community activities as possible.
“I want to work in the commune office after my graduation so that I can participate in activities that will affect my community, and I want everyone understand that woman can play a part in development,” she said.