Holding a small cylindrical rice container in one hand and throwing fistfuls of rice with the other hand, Phal So Em, 15, is feeding her chicken just behind her wooden house in Yeay Ort village, in Banteay Meanchey province. This may be a common daily activity for other country girls, but for So Em, taking care of this small chicken farm is a step to achieve her dream of having a higher education. Your Red Nose Day donations are funding work with our partners at Oxfam America to make it possible.
This grade-ten student is determined to pursue a university degree upon her high school graduation so that she can empower other women in her community. In her community, she feels that women are still considered weak and have less opportunity to participate in social activities.
“I can see that women have less involvement in economic activity and community issues,” said So Em, adding that, “I want to see women take part in community activities equally to men.”
In July, she joined Saving for Change in hopes that she saves enough money for her university tuition fees. At first, as So Em described, Saving for Change did not look very reliable to the villagers – only some older villagers joined it. As the program showed its promising potential for growth, however, more villagers have been interested—and now there are 46 Saving for Change groups in Banteay Meanchey province.
What she finds very interesting about the program is that she learns a lot through various trainings, especially courses on gender and women’s leadership.
“In the past, I didn’t talk much. Before joining the women’s leadership training, which was organized by CHRD [Cambodia Human Resource Development, Oxfam’s partner] in the Saving for Change program, I didn’t know what women’s leadership is,” said So Em.
Believing that men and women should be treated fairly and given equal opportunities, So Em tries her best to participate in any activity in which she can share her ideas and take part in the decision-making. So Em, who used to be shy and silent, has changed into a more confident young girl. She now becomes an outspoken teenager who is capable of asking questions and expressing her ideas in group meetings as well as in her family.
“I am happy that I could manage this savings group with support from CHRD regardless of I am a young girl. Whenever I attend the commune meeting, I ask questions and I share my thoughts,” So Em said.
However, So Em said her participation is still limited. As she is underage, she sometimes was not allowed to take part in specific meetings such as the commune investment plan, and some elderly people would consider her ideas invalid. She understands that this is still an issue and she cannot change everything in a blink, but she is positive that she can do it better after she finishes her university degree.
Joining Saving for Change does not only contribute to improving her livelihood and leading her way to university, but has also enhanced her self-esteem. So Em is confident that after she finishes at university, she will be empowered and get ready to empower other community women to take part in as many community activities as possible.
“I want to work in the commune office after my graduation so that I can participate in most of the activities that will be implemented for my community, and I also want everyone to understand that women can also be part of development,” said So Em.