One Former Student’s Dilemma

Vichet Mong, whose parents are Tampuan, is one of a handful of indigenous villagers in the area around Ratanakkiri’s provincial capital of Banlung who was able to attend the only high school in the province last year.

But Vichet withdrew from classes when family pressure to work outweighed the long-term benefit of studying.

“When I studied, my parents would say, ‘Enough. We are poor. You should stop studying and help your younger brother to study,’” said Vichet Mong, 19, the eldest of six siblings. “But when I stop, I have regret.”

Vichet Mong’s story is similar to those of a majority of indigenous youth in the area, where less than five percent finish primary school.

Now Vichet Mong treks along the mud paths under a dense jungle canopy to collect money in the parking lot at Yak Loem, the nearby volcanic lake and nature reserve. He arrives at work an hour early so he can sit on the dock overlooking the lake to study.

One reason for the low education rate among indigenous children like Vichet is that the usual September through July school calendar conflicts with the indigenous villagers’ agricultural calendar.

“When I come back from school to the farm, I see my father working hard and sweating in the field,” Vichet Mong said. “I don’t want to eat because I feel sorry that he’s working hard on the farm and I am not working hard with him.”

Many indigenous people also live too far from the high school to commute daily without a car or motorbike. And the old dormitory used during the State of Cambodia is now closed due to financial problems. Vichet is within walking distance from the school but the pressure he feels from the family to work is usually overwhelming.

“I can’t study when I see [my father] working because part of my mind goes to school and the other goes with him” said Vichet, who is looking for a way to live away from home and   closer to school.

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