Education is a Right
The current trend in the education world is quite unfair; you either have the money for a quality (or semi-quality) education, or you don’t. The sad reality is that education has become a business, and money talks. If you’re one of the lucky ones, your parents can afford to fund your education. Unfortunately, the number of families that can’t afford the cost of education for their children is climbing. And in some countries, it’s out of the question. To capitalize on a fundamental human need seems criminal, right? I think we can all agree that education is power, education is a right, and education is the foundation of a healthy and sustainable life. If education is valued, then why is lack of education one of the top global issues?
Let’s zero in on Cambodia, a country that has been through some of the worst times imaginable. From the Khmer Rouge and the mass genocide of nearly 2 million people in the 1970s, to lack of resources, government corruption, drought, and extreme poverty; this poor country is still suffering and trying to recover to this day. Lack of education is among the many issues this country is dealing with. Amongst starvation and poverty, education seems like an activity they can only dream of. Not to say that these families don’t value education, but when their survival is on the line, food and shelter become priorities. Education is for the privileged.
(Ta Kam Village Kindergarten School – March 2017 before it was rebuilt by Steps Together)
Siem Reap, home to the famous Angkor Wat Temple, has its moments of charm and chaos. The streets are bustling with tourists from all over the world and tuk tuk drivers trying to make a US dollar. We’ve seen firsthand how far the US dollar can be stretched here, it’s all part of the South East Asia experience. In the city center, tuk tuk drivers charge $1-$2 per ride, noodles will cost you $1 and beer is priced at a whopping .50 cents. Pub street is almost always busy; business is thriving, tourists are coming, vendors are selling anything and everything. Take a walk down pub street, at 9 pm, to witness the chaos and the loud music. There, in between the foreigners and locals, you’ll see tiny little humans running around in dirty clothes, without shoes, begging for anything they can get; money, food, water, milk, attention. Nothing tugs on your heart strings more than seeing a little boy, no more than the age of 6, pulling on your shirt, saying “please”. There’s something unsettling about seeing children working on the streets and your mind often teeters between two thoughts; “will my money help them?” Or “will my money support the vicious cycle of child labor?” Child labor is yet another tremendous concern in this country, and giving in to these children on the street is supporting it. As heart breaking as it is to say no, remember that it isn’t just Pub Street these children are working on. Go visit the largest religious monument in the world, Angkor Wat, just outside of the city center in Siem Reap. Outside of the gates there are hundreds of vendors selling souvenirs. Among these vendors are children, selling books, mini Angkor Wat statues, and other miscellaneous items. It’s a Wednesday afternoon and you can’t help but think, “shouldn’t these children be in school?”
(Chong Khneas Floating Village (October 2016)
Here are some facts to put this into perspective:
-40 percent of Cambodian people live below the poverty line
– Because of genocide in 1975, more than 50% of the population are 25 years old or younger. Most of these people complete primary school and drop out before secondary, which in turn, places a strain on economic development.
-Over 20,000 children live and work on the streets in the country’s capital, Phnom Penh
-40 percent of children, under the age of 5, are malnourished
-The human development report in 2015, states that the average life expectancy of Cambodians is 68.4 years
-90 percent of Cambodian people live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for survival. However, landmines from the Khmer Rouge regime, prevent agricultural development and are a problem for 8 out of 10 Cambodians. In addition, 12 percent of these Cambodians do not own any land.
-An estimated 256,800 people are living under conditions of modern slavery; sexual exploitation, forced labor, forced begging, forced marriage, and orphanage tourism.
(A girl selling food at a lotus farm in Siem Reap (October 2016)
Today, there are about 3,500 registered non-governmental organizations in Cambodia. Whether their main focus is on environmental related issues, human rights, poverty, or emergency relief, they all have Cambodia’s best interest. As of right now, about 20-30% of Cambodians benefit from NGOs. A lot of these organizations are working towards common goals and many of them have great ideas to combat the growing issues in this country. If we zoom out and take a look at the bigger picture, there’s one common denominator that offers a solution. Education.
With the number of students that continually drop out after primary school, the economic development of this country will never be successful. Poverty rates will continue to climb, and life expectancy will continue to fall. Keeping children in school and off of the streets could cut down on child labor, human trafficking, and other forms of modern slavery. It’s the children working on the streets that are at most risk for human trafficking and right now, the number one preventer is education. The reality is, this isn’t a quick fix. This isn’t a fast solution, this is something that needs to be nurtured with time and effort.
At this point, education must be valued and prioritized. Proper funding from the government and education organizations is essential. Verifying that government funding is being allocated correctly is also essential. With the nature of corruption in this country, it’s crucial that this is regulated. If education was prioritized more, there would be measurable improvement for the country as a whole.
Steps Together is a non-profit organization that believes every person has the right to receive an education. We are passionate in learning about different communities and how our services can impact their needs. Our mission is to provide underprivileged communities with the necessary materials in order for all people to receive an education they deserve. By doing this we hope to provide a stepping stone for these people to help them build confidence to live a self-sustaining life.