“Educating girls doesn't just transform their life prospects -- it transforms the prospects of their families, communities, and nations as well.”
Studies by the World Bank and other major international organizations demonstrate that educating young women and girls is the most effective way to aid developing countries. As Lawrence Summers, former Director of the White House’s National Economic Council, put it: “Investment in girls’ education may well be the highest return investment available in the developing world.” Educating young women has numerous other advantages, including increased gender equality and an enhanced role for women in society, reduced child and maternal mortality, and lower birth rates.
Yet it is estimated that fewer than two cents of every international development dollar goes to young women and girls. That is why Education First Cambodia’s primary focus is its Women Scholars Program.
The Women Scholars Program empowers very smart, extremely impoverished female university students who come from remote rural areas. These young women, among the brightest in the country and also among the poorest, would be unable to get a degree from a top university without Education First Cambodia’s support.
The students in the Women Scholars Program are chosen through a rigorous selection process that is conducted in conjunction with the Royal University of Phnom Penh, the top university in Cambodia. The candidates are evaluated by Education First Cambodia on three primary criteria: academic ability, financial need, and ability to contribute to Cambodian society. Priority is also given to those pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, areas of study in which women are typically underrepresented. Only those having both great potential and great need are accepted into the program. It is difficult to describe the enthusiasm of these young women and their dedication to their education.
Because a large percentage of students at the Royal University of Phnom Penh are unable to handle the university’s academic challenges and do not complete the first year, Education First Cambodia selects its students from those who have completed their first year. Many are in dire financial straits – their families, which struggled so that their daughters could complete high school and begin university, unable to continue supporting an education far from home.
But both the students’ and their families’ commitment to education has been demonstrated. Also demonstrated is the students’ ability to handle the challenges of a top university, despite the many pressures and obstacles. It is these students – talented, committed, poor, and without local family – that Education First Cambodia provides with the skills and financial resources to complete their degree and go on to have a positive impact on Cambodian society.
Education First Cambodia supports its students’ education and living expenses in Phnom Penh, and provides the students with computers. Education First Cambodia also provides these young women with intensive instruction in English, native English-speaking tutors, and training in critical thinking and leadership. The combination of the young women’s intellect and drive, together with the support and skills they receive through the project, will allow the women to excel in Cambodia’s rapidly changing economy and beyond.
Education First Cambodia began supporting 12 students in 2015, and currently supports 30 exceptional young women, including a blind student, who are pursuing their Bachelor’s Degree at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.
Because the commitment and abilities of the students have already been demonstrated, little oversight of the students is needed. And because of Education First Cambodia’s partnership with the Royal University of Phnom Penh, staff and administrative expenses are exceedingly low. As a result, virtually all contributions directly benefit the students, whose education costs less than 2% of what it would cost to support a university student in the U.S.
In just its first three years, Education First Cambodia has already had great success. 100% of its first class of 12 Women Scholars graduated university with top grades, much-improved English and computer skills, and greatly improved self-confidence, critical thinking and presentation skills, and all are now pursuing their careers or graduate studies. A few of the Women Scholars have excelled even more. One won a full scholarship to study in the U.S. and is currently working at an environmental nonprofit; a second will receive a full scholarship to the U.S. if she scores high enough on the SATs and an English placement exam. A third was one of only four students in Cambodia awarded a Honda Motor Company scholarship for young scientists. A fourth is currently working at a major hospital with a medical physicist. Another received a four-year full scholarship to study Environmental Engineering in Thailand. Another was selected by the U.S. Embassy for a prestigious internship with the Center for Disease Control. Many have been selected for programs in Japan on topics such as biodiversity, biology and physics, and one student was chosen to participate in the Asian Youth Forum in Vietnam. Others worked as instructors at a private university or secured internships with a law firm, research institute or non-profit organizations.
In 2019, Education First Cambodia established a dormitory and leadership center where these talented young women can live, study, and bond into a network that will support each other throughout their careers. Education First Cambodia is also using the leadership center to expand the critical thinking and other training it provides, assist the students to find career-building internships, invite speakers who can both educate and inspire, and help the brightest of the students secure scholarships to pursue graduate studies overseas.
Education First Cambodia needs your support so that it can support its current Women Scholars, expand its reach to empower additional deserving young women, and establish its dormitory and leadership center. Please help Education First Cambodia make this vision a reality!
To sponsor a Woman Scholar, click here.