Empowering a New Generation of Women Leaders in Cambodia

Empowering a New Generation of Women Leaders in Cambodia

Harpswell Foundation Enables Education for Women in Cambodia

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015 - 11:00am

CAMPAIGN: The New Global Citizen

CONTENT: Article

In 2004, I met a courageous young woman who changed my life. Her name was Veasna Chea. She was about thirty years old at the time and working with the UN Commission on Human Rights in Cambodia. Like many Cambodians of her generation, some of Veasna’s family members had been killed in the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s, and she had grown up poor. But her mother was determined that her daughter receive an education.

Overcoming great hardships and scarcity, Veasna managed to go to high school. Then she received a scholarship to the University of Law and Economics, in Phnom Penh. But the hardships weren’t over. Veasna and a handful of other female students had to live underneath the college building, in the six-foot crawl space between the bottom of the building and the mud, because there was no housing for female university students. Except for one small dormitory at the agricultural school, none of the universities in Cambodia provided housing for their students. That situation was not a serious problem for male students, who could live free in the Buddhist temples or rent cheap rooms in the city. But those options were not available to female students. The temples did not welcome female students, and many parents forbid their daughters from renting rooms in the city, fearing that they would be drawn into the thriving sex trade. Thus, because of the lack of housing, many young women in Cambodia, and especially the 90 percent living in the rural areas, were effectively excluded from higher education.

Veasna and her female classmates lived underneath the college building for four years. Despite that difficulty, Veasna graduated near the top of her class. After Veasna told me her story, she and I conceived of a dormitory for university women in Phnom Penh. I went back to the US and raised the money for the first such facility in Cambodia. That was the beginning of the Harpswell Foundation.

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CATEGORY: Education