Recently I met an inspiring student: 12-year-old Song Liza, who told me about her goal of becoming a doctor.
Her reasoning is simple: one, because the shortage of doctors in Cambodia means she would be able to get a good job; and two, because she wants to help people in her poor, remote community in this part of northeastern Cambodia.
Medical school is a long way off for Liza, but despite facing more challenges than many her age, she has laid out a series of goals that she knows she must achieve before she can put on that white coat.
It starts with access to education. For the first six years of Liza’s schooling that was easy enough – her primary school is in her community, so she was able to walk to classes. But that will change when she starts Grade 7 this year – lower secondary school – where children attend Grades 7-9 five kilometers away.
Getting to school, then, requires buying a bicycle, but given her family’s financial situation that is out of the question. Liza’s parents were unable to find work in Kratie province, where Liza lives with her grandmother, so they moved more than 600 kilometers south to Koh Kong province where they work for a fisherman.
Her parents don’t earn much – typically just enough to feed themselves and Liza’s two siblings, who live elsewhere while Liza lives with her grandmother, Lou Socheata. In a good month, her parents send money to them but it’s not much – and it’s certainly not enough for a bicycle.
But Liza knows there is always hope. Life for Lou Socheata and her husband improved when he was granted a tranche of agricultural and residential land under the Land Allocation for Social Development Project (LASED) in Sambok Chang Krang commune in Kratie province – a project that received financial support from the World Bank.
Socheata’s family was one of 4,640 families in five provinces – Kratie, Tbong Khmom, Kampong Speu, Kampong Chhnang and Kampong Thom – who received land and livelihood support under the project. Socheata’s husband received three hectares of agricultural land and a 40-meter by 30-meter plot of residential land. There is enough land to grow cassava and corn to feed them and their grandchildren.
But securing an education for Liza – as for many ambitious students from poor, rural areas – is a formidable challenge. Getting into university means passing the Grade 12 exam, and that means Liza will have to attend upper secondary school .
The upper secondary school is even further away from her village – 40 kilometers, which means a daily commute is impossible. Other parents in Liza’s village who send their children to upper secondary school need to pay $70 a month for their child to rent a room near the school. For Liza’s family, that would be out of the question.
Liza isn’t giving up hope: she dreams of getting a scholarship. At school, she gets advice from her teachers about the key subjects she must take.
“I’m going to focus on biology and chemistry when I start high school. I really want to be a doctor,” Liza says with a smile that radiates confidence and optimism.
Despite her family’s strained circumstances and their own lack of schooling, they’re well aware of how important education is, which is they why will do their best to make Liza’s dream come true. And if it can come true for Liza, then why not for millions more children? To Liza and her peers, good luck and we wish you every success.