By Mom Chantara Soleil
“Here I am, because of education, I get to know myself better and I am walking the path toward what I want. My learning journey does not end there,” says 26 year old Sim Lida.
Born to farmer parents in a remote village of Srei Snam [literally mean royal concubine] district, almost 100 kilometers from the world known Angkor Wat temple of Siem Reap province, Lida is now a state teacher at the secondary school she graduated from, while managing to pursue her master degree in philosophy in Phnom Penh capital at the same time.
“These days, I have to catch night bus on Fridays to come to Phnom Penh for my master class during weekends, and return in the evening of Sundays to my teaching during working days at 28 Makara secondary school back at my home town,” she continues.
“I do no regret that I could not make any saving from current month wage of 1,000,000 riels [roughly US$ 250], as I have to continue investing on my education myself, and I am proud of what I am doing.”
From a girl who froze one-year schooling at the age of 8 – because no one from her village was going to the school located about two kilometers from her community, and the path to school was too quiet, heavily shaded by trees and bushes – she is not only a single girl, but also a sole person there who completed university study.
“I was asked and warned that, why I need high education? And I have to travel far away from home for that. I may end up having no one wants to get married with. The query doubted me why it is OK for other young girls to migrate to work in Thailand, and it is not OK for me to travel to the city for my study?”
“I told myself that I am not giving up. I am overcoming the pressures on me and trying to prove to my world that key value of a girl should not be defined by her ability to handle housework. Because of the preparation of a pot of soup and a pot of steamed rice, a girl should not be deprived from her schooling!”
In terms of livelihood, Lida is convinced that if one goes to school now when they are young, they can run an income-generating business later in life. But if one sacrifices their childhood for the business, it is not easy to go for schooling later on.
“I thank my parents for allowing me to pursue my dream despite the social pressures, and a field officer of Plan International Ms. Huon Sathea whom I respect most, for giving me the means and advice, especially when I was at secondary school.”
“I remember that day, I cried asking my parents to allow me to go to Phnom Penh [the capital city of Cambodia almost 500 kilometers away from my home] to apply for state university entrance example. Ms. Huon Sathea assured my parents that I can stay with her family in the capital. She helped me all the way through, I finally arrived Phnom Penh on the final day of the university to accept application form. I made it.”
Emerging from a leader of children’s council in a remote Cambodian community to supporter of various initiatives to promote girls and women’s role, Sim Lida has recently been selected among the three finalists for the Hear My Voice 2018 award initiated by a high profile Norwegian business leader Anita Krohn Traaseth together with Plan International Norway.
“All my engagement with development activities in my community inspires me to go further. I used to lead children’s council at my school doing a lot of activities not only for the school but the whole community. My friends and I ran an evening English class when we have free time in order to practice our teaching and sharpen our knowledge of the language.”
During her university life until now, Lida has been part of various women’s leadership networks. She and her friends initiated experience exchanges, community homestay, and beyond – engaging her students, children and youth in her community – the last stronghold of notorious Khmer Rouge wherein complete civil war can be achieved until 1997.
“I am always very passionate about encouraging girls to dream and to realize it. I hope to continue running session to equip practical skill among girls to, first and foremost, know themselves and their potential, know what they want in life, and know how to plan and work out the planning toward their dreams.”
For Lida, the biggest challenge most young girls in remote community are facing is that they do not know what they want.
With this a drive, she finds herself enthusiastic to work with children and youth in grades 11 and 12 at higher secondary school in order to inspire them because, as she says, “knowing ourselves and what we want is a step toward what we want!”
Lida is now mobilizing resources to organise exposure visit among the children and youth to universities, successful businesses and other institutions beyond her community – activities that she believes will help the children and youth to sharpen their dream.
“When I have time I invite resource persons to share knowledge on career planning, financial management, leadership, project management, and the like to the children and youth in my community. These are means contributing to realisation of their dreams,” she says.