Suan Sokhom dropped out of school at Grade 10 to get married. Without a complete education, she never imagined she’d have the opportunity to become a preschool teacher but, against the odds, she has become a leader in her community, committed to providing quality early childhood care and education to marginalised children in Cambodia.
“I dropped out of school at Grade 10. Coming from a poor family, and being a woman, I never expected to be able to go to university. I didn’t see the point in finishing school, I wanted to get married instead” says Sokhom, regretfully. In rural parts of Cambodia, many girls may face pressure to quit school early to marry and start families or to help their families with farming or domestic work.
Sokhom married at 18 years old and spent five years working as a housewife before she was offered an opportunity she felt she couldn’t refuse. “The village chief approached me and said he was looking for locals who were educated to Grade 8 level or over to train as preschool teachers for our village’s first ever preschool” she explains. “At that stage, I had no money and no job so I really wanted to get involved”.
A woman’s role
“Marriages in villages like mine demand that girls stay at home”, says Sokhom. “My husband wasn’t happy. He asked me to stop working but I wouldn’t stop and we fought and fought about it.” Just a month after starting her new job, Sokhom decided to divorce her husband. The decision wasn’t solely down to her decision to start working outside the home but down to a number of issues she believed couldn’t be resolved. Her divorce meant she was now left raising two small children on her own while launching a brand new career for herself.
“It was so hard to balance work with being a mother. My youngest child was just five months old when I started and I used to bring her to work with me”, she explains. She also faced a lot of criticism from others in the village: “The community didn’t believe in me, they said I was just a girl from the village with no qualifications or experience”.
With support from Aide et Action’s project, Sokhom attended many teacher training courses. Over the past eight years, she has given herself tirelessly to not only establishing one of the first community preschools in her area but to establishing an award-winning one, officially recognised and approved by the government.
With support from other women in the province such as Mrs. Phou Mom. Deputy of Pong Toek Commune and Mrs. Sok Kunthy of the Provincial Office of Education’s Early Childhood Education (ECCE) Vice Chief Office, Sokhom sought to ensure her teaching methods and her classroom met government standards. “I would call Mrs. Kunthy and beg her to come and assess my classroom” says Sokhom, laughing. “She would say I was the only person calling her – everybody else wanted to avoid government inspection, not invite it!”
“I’m not the same person anymore”
For Sokhom, offering the children in the village quality early childhood care and education is the most important work she can do. In the beginning she would teach children in other people’s homes. Since then, Aide et Action has supported the construction of a preschool, where Sokhom now teaches. “Before the project, parents here would just leave their children at home and didn’t value education. But now, it’s changed, since the preschool was built, attitudes are shifting”.
Sokhom also noticed a shift in herself, in her own attitudes and self-confidence. “I’m not the same person I was before the project – I’ve gained confidence and I’ve become a respected and valued member of my community” she explains. “I’m so happy I was able to achieve government recognition for my work. My dream now is to see my two daughters finish school.”
Aide et Action is honoured to work with women like Sokhom who are committed to using education to reach the most vulnerable populations. We strive to work as closely as possible with teachers, communities, local authorities and governments to create sustainable change.