Dormitory Allows Female Students From Provinces To Study

Khun Chan Te Vy excelled at her Kompong Thom province high school, but despaired of ever attending a good university be-cause she had no place to stay in Phnom Penh.

“Phnom Penh is very important to me because education is better than in the provinces,” the 19-year-old said last week.

But thanks to a US foundation, Khun Chan Te Vy and 31 other bright young Cambodian women from the provinces have been given the opportunity to pursue their studies at some of the country’s established universities.

The Harpswell Foundation Dormitory for University Women in Phnom Penh’s Chamkar Mon district opened its doors to the 32 scholars in August.

Foundation Director Alan Light-man, a physicist, author and ad-junct professor of humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Tech-nology, said the dormitory was built to deal with a major obstacle for many female students: Finding a place to live.

“Not having a place to live is a critical problem—it’s the weak link in the chain,” he said.

Cambodian women have in general been denied equal access to higher education.

Mak Nang, deputy director of the Ministry of Education’s Depart-ment of Higher Education, said that according to 2005 data just 31 percent of Cambodia’s 57,000 university students are women.

Vanna Peou, the manager of the new dormitory, said she traveled to 25 high schools in 11 provinces in January 2006 and asked to speak with the schools’ top female students.

Girls who were interested in the dormitory program were interviewed and asked to write an essay about what they wanted to do after university.

“We selected the girls that had a big vision for Cambodia, and didn’t just want to help out their family,” Lightman said.

The candidates were judged by three criteria: intelligence, ambition and leadership potential. “We are hoping that our girls will be leaders and we are hoping they will go out and address the problems of the country,” Lightman said.

The three-story dormitory is equipped with kitchens on each floor and two computer rooms. The girls live four to a room, but are each provided with their own desk. Security guards keep watch at the gate 24 hours a day.

The women study at six universities: the Royal University of Phnom Penh, the Royal University of Law and Economics, International University, the University of Cambodia, Build Bright University and the University of Health Science. In addition to their collegiate studies, the girls also receive classes in English, French and current affairs at the dormitory.

Now at the RUPP, Khun Chan Te Vy said she has settled into her new home.

“My house [in Kompong Thom] was all wooden…and I used to have to study by candle,” she said.

Many of the girls said their parents feared Phnom Penh was too dangerous for them to live in alone.

“We all here have the same problem, which is safety,” said Lam Bopha, 24, from Ratanakkiri pro-vince. “The second [problem] is economic. In the provinces the living standard is still low. Money is a problem” when it comes to living in the capital, she said.

Lightman said that many of the girls have received full or partial scholarships and the foundation—which is funded by around 60 private donors—provides them with a $16-per-month food allowance.

The girls said that university has been far more challenging than their provincial high schools, and that students who grew up in Phnom Penh have an advantage. But they remain confident about their chances.

“My friends from Phnom Penh know English and French already,” said So Dany, 20, of Battambang province. “But now I live in Phnom Penh too…so if they can get it, I can too.”

But for all the amenities of their new home, the girls said that the most valuable resource they have might be each other.

“We have a very good environment,” said Prom Savada, 18, from Siem Reap province. “Thirty-two smart girls live together so we can exchange knowledge.”

 

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