U.S. first lady Michelle Obama may have captured global attention during her visit to Siem Reap province over the weekend, but Prime Minister Hun Sen joked Wednesday that her impassioned message about an initiative to empower young women was somewhat overstated.
Ms. Obama on Saturday said that the U.S.-backed “Let Girls Learn” initiative would encourage adolescent girls—otherwise held back by social barriers—to continue their studies and equip them with the tools to fight injustice and challenge the status quo.
It was only after the first lady left Cambodia, Mr. Hun Sen said, that he realized exactly how those sentiments would translate in real terms, adding that he had misunderstood the purpose of Ms. Obama visiting a— high school alongside his wife, Bun Rany, to meet 10 schoolgirls.
“I assumed that the U.S. would provide scholarships for these students to study through university,” he said. “It does not.”
“But our education minister wrote a letter to me yesterday requesting state scholarships [for the students] to study at any state [university] because all these students want to be teachers,” he said.
Mr. Hun Sen said that he liked the idea behind the Let Girls Learn initiative, but that university scholarships should be part of the program.
“Her campaign is good, but I would like to give an opinion— that the U.S. please help them from the beginning to the end,” he said.
Jay Raman, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy, said scholarships were not part of the initiative, which will be “very local and led by the Peace Corps.”
“The purpose of the first lady meeting with the girls at the school wasn’t to offer them scholarships, it was because she wanted to hear from them and hear their stories,” Mr. Raman said.
“The initiative is about encouraging and helping girls to continue with their education and about working with communities to find solutions to the challenges that prevent girls from staying in school.”