by Vannak Lach
Although he is one of five children, 22-year old Barang Tho considers himself to be the luckiest one. This is because, unlike the rest of his family members, he is not being forced to choose between a classroom in his hometown and a workplace in Thailand.
Three of his older sibling dropped out in grade 5, while another one dropped out in grade 9. As both of Barang’s parents are famers living in the Chanleas Dai commune, additional income is vital to the family’s wellbeing; therefore, all of Barang’s siblings ended their schooling early in order to migrate illegally to Thailand and look for jobs to support the family. Sadly, this shift in status from student to migrant worker is one that is all too common for children in this part of Cambodia.
Even though Barang has been spared the trip to Thailand, he still faces many challenges. Because he is now the only child staying at home with his parents, he is responsible for helping his parents with housework and other agricultural tasks. During the rainy season, Barang’s farming tasks prevent him from spending much time on his studies. Furthermore, his school is located about 10 kilometers (over 6 miles) from his house. This means that Barang has to wake up early every morning and bike along a dusty and rough road. Because his family cannot afford to let him take extra classes, Barang has had difficulty competing with his classmates, who have additional resources and can typically score better on tests.
Barang’s balancing act between study time and housework time hit a peak last year during his final year of high school. He missed a great deal of class due to his obligations at home, and as a result, he failed the high school exam in 2010. He felt very disappointed with himself, and a lack of motivation almost made him decide against repeating his 12th grade year. However, he wanted to work in the government or become a police officer so he knew he couldn’t simply give up. As Barang chose to repeat the class, he also heard about PEPY’s Dream Manager Program that helps place young adults into a vocational training program at Iron Workshop, one of PEPY’s partner organizations.
Hearing the announcement, Barang thought that it was a good opportunity for him to gain a new skill and to find a job that would allow him to live by himself. Through PEPY, he applied to the Iron Workshop and was accepted into their program. Among the three skills of iron furniture, wood furniture, and silk printing, Barang enrolled in the silk printing track. The course lasted six weeks, and Barang became such an outstanding student that he was recruited as an employee in September 2011. In addition to this good news, Barang has recently received his high school final exam results: he passed!
Barang feels so excited that he now has a job as well as a high school education. Barang’s next goal is to save money to attend a university and receive a college degree. It might take him long time to save, but he remains hopeful and thankful. “I feel more confident in life now,” he states. “I will try to look for the way to pursue my dream.”