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Keeping a Child in School and a Family Together

Earlier this year, Holt’s senior executive for S.E. Asia traveled to Cambodia to visit families and children in programs Holt supports in the region. Here, she shares the story of one young woman named Soriya. Despite economic hardship, Soriya’s mother held strong that her daughter should stay in school. With Holt’s help, she did.

by Thoa Bui, Senior Executive, S.E. Asia

Soriya* is a shy and very quiet 14-year-old schoolgirl who lives a very simple life with her mother in Takheo, a province in southwest Cambodia that lies along the Vietnam border. Their home is made of leaves and bamboo, and is bare inside save for a few belongings. Soriya also has an older brother and an older sister who live away from home. Her father died a year ago.

Soriya at home in Thakeo province, Cambodia.

Soriya’s family is one of hundreds of families Holt International serves each year through local partner organization, Pathways to Development. Since 2006, Holt has supported family preservation projects in Cambodia with the goal to strengthen family units and prevent displacement of children from their families. Through the years, Holt and Pathways have helped hundreds of children and families grow stronger and more self-reliant.

In the rural farming village where Soriya and her mother reside, a family is considered very lucky to have farmland. However, growing up, Soriya’s family did not have any land. Instead, her parents worked as daily laborers for local landowners, earning barely enough to get by. During the dry season, the father climbed palm trees to collect palm juice to sell. Soriya’s mother earned additional income by sewing together palm tree leaves. Together, the parents made about $2.50 each day.

When Soriya’s father died last year, the family fell into more severe economic hardship. During my visit, Soriya and her mother were still very saddened by his death, and Soriya’s mother often broke into tears when sharing about her family’s life.

After Soriya’s father died, their neighbors pressed Soriya to quit school and help support her family by finding work in Phnom Penh. But Soriya’s mother did not want that for her daughter, and tried hard to keep Soriya in school. Through a community referral service, Soriya and her mother received help from Holt and Pathways to Development. Pathways provided the family with emergency food as well as loans from the rice bank that Pathways operates in Takheo. As the roof on her house is made of palm leaves and is frequently damaged in heavy rain, Pathways also provided home repairs to protect Soriya and her mother from the elements.

Most important to Soriya’s mother, Pathways has equipped Soriya with the resources she needs to attend school – including uniforms, books and school supplies. She also receives counseling on health and education to keep her in school. During our visit, she said, “My daughter can go to school regularly thanks to all the support given by the program to my daughter and family.”

A little bit of support has gone a long way to keep Soriya in school and keep her family together… As I left their house, I kept admiring the strength of this widow and her daughter, despite all the challenges they face in life.

Pathways’ local outreach worker with Thoa Bui, Soriya and Mom, and Pathways director, Mr. Born.

* name changed

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