I remember when these kids were knee high and now they are graduating from High School! Their graduation highlights the grace of God at work in their lives. For all of them, they will be the first high school graduates in their family; first in their village and some the first in their whole district. Still today, less than 20% of Cambodian graduate from High School. Honestly, apart from the grace of God this never would have happened for these kids as well.
They all come from remote jungle areas where they had no schools. None of their parents or siblings ever attended school. They came into the Imparting Smiles center long more than ten years ago and worked their way through school. Literally, kids who stay with us have little free time; they study from dawn until late in the night every day. They all started school late, so they are all technically “adults” ranging from age 20-24. However, unlike many organizations which “dump” the kids at 18 years old, we made them a promise we would see them through high school, regardless of age. A high school graduate in Cambodia does not have the maturity of a high school graduate in America or Europe. While an 18 year old senior in American usually drives a car, has a part-time job and makes most decisions on their own, a Cambodia senior has few responsibilities. Cambodian’s are still considered “youth” until they marry. It is at that point they may leave their home and take on “adult” responsibilities. None of our seniors knows how to drive a car, look for a job, or create a small business. Those are skills to learn in the years to come.
Thanks to a few giving friends in Chattanooga, TN and Katy, TX and the Cambodian government we are able to offer another level of assistance to the kids: university. In Banteay Meanchey, Cambodia we have been provided with the opportunity of full-scholarships to Meanchey University though the Cambodian government officials. We also hope this to be an opportunity for developing maturity of the students for life. They will work part-time and attend university if they so desire. It is a rare opportunity which I hope all of them take an advantage of.
What if we didn’t help these kids? What would their live have been like? We can see from their siblings who didn’t have a chance for education we can see what might have happened: Some girls were sold to marry elderly foreign men, others sent to Malaysia to work in factories or homes as live in maids where conditions are often abusive and only earn the family about $2000 per year. All of them have also had siblings die of malnutrition and disease, so they might not have even survived without our help. All would have spent planting and harvesting season working a day laborers in harvesting cassava or cutting lumber illegal for military officials in the jungles. The boys might have gone to Thailand to work on construction site and then being discarded near the completion of the project without pay, then arrested by Thai police for illegal work. Everyone cheats Cambodians with low education, everyone: Cambodian’s themselves and foreigners too. One of the boys is actually from a minority tribe (Stieng). . . and is the only one I know who has graduated from high school. Congratulations to you all!
I came to Cambodia to minister two decades ago and I learned early on that transformation of people, communities and nations is not instant, but requires time and effort. These graduates are a perfect example. More than a dozen staff and teachers have cared for these kids for the last decade, every day, and every night with no break. It really is a 24/7 job. Dozens of sponsors have helped to build buildings, teach skills, send encouraging notes or sponsor them. Literally, to see these six graduates make it through school has required assistance from as many as one-hundred people from all over the world, including Australia, Canada, Malaysia, Singapore, and the United States. Thank you everyone who has helped and prayed for these kids.
If they so desire, we will not quit with them now either, but given them an ever greater hand-up by helping them through university. We will also help them to find their first job as they learn to take responsibility for their own lives. Next year we will have nine more graduates, the year after that fifteen and the year after that twenty. . . the snow ball is rolling! Thanks for helping to bring transformation to these kids lives!