Documentary Underscores Importance of Educating Girls

The television documentary “Girl Rising” begins with a young Cambodian woman in a golden Khmer classical dance costume. As she dances slowly, her story unfolds.

“This is a simple story and it did not begin here,” the narrator says.

“For years, she was a child of the dump, a place where the smoke blackens the sun and moon, and eyes seldom rise from the world of things tossed aside,” the voice-over continues as scenes of girls working in the gray haze of Phnom Penh’s Stung Meanchey garbage dump appear on the screen.

This 101-minute, CNN film will be shown publicly for the first time in Phnom Penh on Friday night at Meta House to mark the U.N. In­ter­national Day of the Girl Child held on October 11 worldwide.

The event will include live mu­sic and photographs that will be auctioned to benefit A New Day Cambodia (ANDC), an organization which provides shelter, education and support to children of families who worked at the mu­nicipal dump and who still live off recycling. Taken by U.S. photographer Todd Black, the photos are portraits of young female recyclers who live near the dumpsite.

The woman in the film’s opening sequence, Chen Sokha, has been at ANDC since the organization was launched in 2007. The 8th child in a family of 12 who was orphaned by the time she was 7, she worked for several years at the dump. Only three of her siblings are still alive.

“Girl Rising,” which aired on CNN in June, tells of the difficult lives of nine girls in nine countries ranging from Peru and Haiti to Eth­i­­­opia and Afghanistan, putting the emphasis on the importance of educating girls. Written with a great deal of poetry, their stories are narrated by famous actors such as Meryl Streep, Liam Nee­son and Cate Blanchett.

Inbetween the stories, some stunning facts are introduced: Sixty six million girls of school age are not receiving an education worldwide; a child born to a literate mother is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of 5; and, for girls married in their teens, the leading cause of death for 15- to 19-year-olds is childbirth.

“Girls should study so they can have a good future,” said Ms. Sokha in an interview last week.

“In Cambodia, parents tend to take girls out of school so they can go to work…. In my opinion it’s not a good idea and I wish parents would understand that educating girls in very important for their future.”

Now 19, Ms. Sokha hopes to be a social worker one day; she is in high school and studies dance on weekends.

“Girl Rising” is the work of award-winning television director Richard Robbins. The screening event will start Friday at 6 pm.

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