Meet Rotha: Future Engineer
By Glenn Fawcett, Director of Field Operations
We met Rotha during an English class at her school after a dynamic meeting with the Local Education Working Group on the outskirts of the sprawling and chaotic Poipet, near the Thai – Cambodian border.
Life here is tough. Most of the poor live in makeshift shelters they built after moving from refugee camps they escaped to during the Khmer Rouge genocide. There is little or no sanitation. Often, families live near landfills and Rotha’s family is no exception.
We arrive at their rented home, a one-room tin shed with an earthen floor with a small raised wooden platform on which the entire family sleeps. Under the platform they sleep is a pond filled with black, brackish water littered with garbage. The threat of diseases such as typhoid and malaria is ever present. There is no furniture, just a tiny old black and white television, a pile of Rotha’s schoolbooks, and a white board Rotha uses to tutor her siblings and her sisters’ children.
Rotha is the fourth of six siblings. In 2010, her elder sister divorced and moved to Thailand for work, leaving her three small children in the care of Rotha and her parents. The family hasn’t had any news from her since she left. This is not an isolated incident; broken and single parent families are the norm amongst poor Cambodian families and a catalyst of poverty.
The three children now view Rotha as their mother. Being so young, having three children to care for obviously creates some difficulties. While the Mother sold groceries in the main market, Rotha at just age 12, was forced to neglect her studies while she looked after the children, effectively crumbling her hopes and dreams of a different future.
Shortly after Rotha had to stop studying, a scholarship from Lotus Outreach made it possible for her to return to school. Nevertheless, the difficulties of studying while being responsible for the children remained.
Rotha shared, “My middle school years were really tough. I was attending school and also looking after my sister’s children. Even so, I ranked 17th out of the 50 students in my class. Nowadays I have improved a great deal because I have more time. My mother is committed to my education. She now looks after the small children, and sells groceries from our home so that she can better support me in my studies. Because of the scholarship, I can now study from 7am to 6pm, and my stipend covers my meals at school. The breaks I have at school are precious times for me to study, free from having to look after the small children. Since this November I have now ranked 8th out of 50 students in my class – up from 17th! We’ve also been receiving 50kg of rice support from the scholarship program for a year now. This is incredibly helpful because it provides our entire family enough rice for three weeks out of the month.”
"My middle school years were really tough. I was attending school and also looking after my sister’s children. Even so, I ranked 17th out of the 50 students in my class. Nowadays I have improved a great deal because I have more time. My mother is committed to my education."
When I asked her why she wanted to be an engineer, she replied brightly, “I have long wanted to be an engineer. Ever since I was really young, whenever I saw bridges and tall buildings, it always made me want to build them.”
It’s very moving to see the importance education has for this family. They recognize it as the only way out of this grinding poverty. Rotha has a deep commitment to and a strong belief in education. With the white board at the back of their house, she tutors her siblings, which also takes away the expense of paying teachers to help them with their studies.
Rotha concluded, “What I most enjoy about going to school is being with my friends who have always helped me to catch up and to improve my studies. My favorite subjects are Khmer, Physics, Chemistry and Math.” We all laugh happily that Rotha most favors the very subjects she will need in her Engineering studies, and she is delighted when we tell her so.
Blossom Bus Now Ferries 300 Girls to School
Lotus Outreach’s Blossom Bus program is bigger than ever! We have just expanded our bus services to 50 new girls from 8 villages in the state of Rajasthan, India. The girls live four to eight kilometers from the nearest school, in rural areas where it is dangerous for a young girl to walk or ride alone and where there is no public transportation. Combined with the 250 girls already on the Blossom Bus program in the neighboring state of Haryana, the total number of Blossom Bus riders is now 300!
When we reached out to schoolteachers in Bharatpur’s high school, in the Kaman neighborhood, they pointed out that there are a number of students in need of transportation. Among the many students they suggested was young Pooja.
Schoolteachers shared that Pooja was an ideal, hardworking student. She had studied hard to reach eleventh grade but suddenly disappeared from class. It is all too common for girls in this area not to even make it to the eleventh grade because they are married away at ages as young as fourteen. Lotus Outreach, following the schoolteachers’ recommendation, approached Pooja’s family to find out how we could help.
Pooja’s mother shared with us what had happened. Pooja lives with her mother and younger siblings quite far from school – nearly eight kilometers away. She used to traverse the distance on a bike with her father, but he passed away in 2011. She continued riding alone to school, but after being harassed by some village boys last year, Pooja and her mother felt too fearful. Pooja’s mother was scared to send her unaccompanied on the ride to school, and they have no other male family member to turn for help; Pooja’s only brother is younger than herself.
Biking alone can be hazardous for Meo Muslim girls in this area, as groups of young men lay in wait and sexually assault them. Rather than risking a horrible attack, Pooja reluctantly withdrew from school.
We told Pooja and her mother about the availability of safe transportation through Blossom Bus, and they were absolutely ecstatic! Pooja’s dream had been to graduate from school and find skilled work so she can support her family in the absence of her father. With the consent of her mother, who was reassured by the presence of 49 other Rajasthani girls on the bus, Pooja’s dream was revived and now she is back in school. She said, “Now I am sure I can complete my studies. I am so happy!”
When women have so much to offer their communities, it is tragic to see their potential unrealized simply because they lack transportation to school. Still, hundreds of girls we have identified are waiting to get on the Blossom Bus. Donate today to support Lotus Outreach’s work, so we can help girls realize their dreams and fullest potential!
Sports Day and an Exciting Development for LEARN
By Suraj Kumar, Project Manager, India
An inter-school Sports Day competition took place this December 11th at Chandanki school in the Punhana neighborhood of Mewat. The other two participating schools were Bhuriyaki and Shah Chokha. White Lotus Trust, Lotus Outreach’s India affiliate, has been organizing sports events in schools of Mewat for four years and every subsequent year the events are increasingly better organized and innovative, making them even more fun for the participants.
We have always promoted the Sports Days as motivational events that instill healthy competition among the participants. Although there are third, second and third finishers, gifts are distributed to all participants, regardless of their placement. The Sports Day at Chandanki school was conducted in the most structured manner yet, with trained P.E. teachers properly marking games and recording and scoring competitions such as the long jump.
At the end of the Sports Day, the competitors, more than 100 kids, were awarded sweaters and the cheering spectators, the hundreds of students from the three schools, were given refreshments. It was great fun all around!
Developments in LEARN
Recently there has been another exciting development for the Lotus Education As a Right Network (LEARN) program. The Director General of Elementary Education of Haryana approved White Lotus Trust’s proposal to conduct a training on Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) for 500 teachers of 500 Mewat district schools beginning in January 2014.
CCE is a newly introduced education system that aims to reduce pressure on students through a new evaluation process. Implementing CCE properly is key to its success and White Lotus Trust is thrilled to be charged with ensuring that these 500 Mewat elementary teachers are fully prepared to implement it.
Shari Cartun’s Crowdfunding Success to Sponsor a Well
In March this year, Shari Cartun visited Mondulkiri province in the hill region of Northeastern Cambodia. Mondulkiri is where Lotus Outreach runs the Phnong Education Initiative, a program that helps the indigenous Phnong youth stay in school and supports training for young Phnong aspiring to become teachers.
Shari shares, “I met some wonderful schoolgirls who represent a minority in their province because most kids in their age range (13-16) have already dropped out of school due to poverty. While from a completely foreign world compared to ours, these girls were not so different from any of us. They had dreams like we do. Some wanted to be teachers. Some wanted to be doctors. One girl wanted to be a policewoman. None of them wanted the life of poverty that they have seen their families endure.”
Upon returning home, greatly inspired by the girls she met, Shari decided she wanted to help the 129 girls and boys at Orang Middle School in Mondulkiri to fulfill their dreams. Shari says, “For any of us to thrive, we must be healthy. To be healthy, we need clean drinking water.” Clean water ensures that the children and their families do not contract water borne illnesses that are expensive to treat and in some cases fatal.
Shari resolved to raise U$2,500 to sponsor a water well. She set up her own fundraiser, ‘Water for Children in Rural Cambodia,’ on CrowdRise, a popular crowd-funding platform that enables individuals to raise money for their favorite causes.
On December 17th Shari’s fundraiser reached its goal! Thirty-eight people who shared her passion for helping the children in Mondulkiri contributed to the cause. After the water well is finished in 2014, she and two friends plan to attend the dedication ceremony in Mondulkiri. How thrilling it will be for them to go back and see what an amazing difference in the lives of these 129 children they have made!
Watch Shari's creative video for the Orang Well Crowd Fundraiser!
End-of-the-Year Gift of Hope!
There are two days left to give the greatest gift of the season! We have given our friends and family so many wonderful presents over the holidays, and the spirit of generosity lingers in the air.
The Gift of Hope is a gift that you may not hold with your own hands, but it changes the lives of the women and children Lotus Outreach supports in India and Cambodia. For instance, U$15 can provide a lower-caste quarry laborer’s child with an entire year of supplementary education so he or she can transcend their background and break free from the poverty that has entrapped their family for so long.