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18 April 2023 - Story

A dropped-out girl returns to school through cash for education

A 13-year-old girl, Prak Vanny, who had previously dropped out of school, is joyfully paddling a boat with other children in the middle of the Tonle Sap Lake to get to her floating school.

Vanny is currently studying in grade 5 at Toul Neangsav primary school in Phat Saday commune, Kampong Thom province. Vanny lives with her parents and 6 siblings. Her mother and father are fishermen, which means they barely make enough money to cover the basic needs of the entire family.

Because of their financial issue, Vanny's father, Prak Sarath, often struggled to send children to school. He said, "We are poor. We have only one fishing boat. When my wife and I went fishing at the lake, I frequently took Vanny with me or allowed her to stay home to take care of her younger siblings," adding that their youngest daughter perished in a drowning incident in 2019.

Life was hard for Vanny, "I was told to quit classes in grade 3. I was distraught then but could not refuse because I had to help my parents afford our daily expenses," Vanny said.

Every day Vanny helps her parents with daily chores, including washing clothes and dishes and cooking before her parents return home. Vanny spends most of her free time to self-learn at home by reading books that she has.

In early 2022, Vanny's life changed when Save the Children Cambodia closely collaborated with the Provincial Department of Education, Youth, and Sport to conduct the Safe Back to School campaign. Vanny's school was among the target schools under the "Generating Resilient Environments and Promoting Socio-economic Development of the East Tonle Sap Lake (GREEN)" project, co-funded by the European Union and the Norton Rose Fulbright.

Vanny's teacher, Mr. Khy Tongheng, visited parents and caregivers of children who dropped out of school during the campaign. He said, "I explained to Vanny's parents the importance of education and encouraged them to support Vanny's return to school."

Vanny's father was at that time hesitated to admit that he could not afford the children's learning materials because his seasonal work earned very little income. Soon later, Vanny was offered cash for education, US$ 60 for purchasing school uniforms and learning materials and her parents decided to send her back to school.

Days turned into weeks, and Vanny slowly turned brighter after returning to school and becoming a children's council member. She said, "I am committed to studying hard and being actively involved in various learning activities to enhance my learning outcome."

One day, Tongheng was invited to attend training regarding environmental lessons, allowing him to better understand the harms caused by waste and pollution. He then shared what he learned about environmental issues with his students, especially children's council members.

After acknowledging the impact, Vanny and other children's council members often advise and educate other students about waste management and plastic usage. "I always tell young children to stop throwing garbage into the water and divide types of plastic. It can pollute water and affects the lives of animals, mainly fish, which are the primary sources of our parents’ income, Vanny said.

Becoming a teacher has always been her dream because she has never experienced life outside of Tonle Sap Lake. In her spare time, she also teaches young children living nearby her house to limit plastic consumption.