“Giving work is not enough to bring people out of poverty,” claims Digital Divide Data’s CEO and Co-Founder Jeremy Hockenstein in an article written for the Skoll World Economic Forum
last spring. The stories of DDD graduates show how work opportunities plus scholarships to pursue higher education are creating a sustainable bridge from disadvantage to independence for youth in Southeast Asia and East Africa.
DDD operator Ul Khley finished primary school with only two schoolmates seated beside him during the graduation ceremony. Ul remembers clearly how one by one, his peers started missing classes. They did not have enough money to attend class every day; and their houses were simply too far from school. When high school commenced, there were only three of them left.
Such is the picture of Cambodia’s education system. Student attendance, particularly in rural areas, is low because students prioritize helping their families till the land rather than traverse long rugged roads on foot or spend whatever little money on tuktuk
fares to reach the gates of their school. For many economically disadvantaged youth in the country, farming produces immediate income. For Ul, however, education is like planting seeds today and harvesting the crop a few seasons after. “Education is important for me and my family. With it, I know I can have a good job with a good salary in the future,” he shared.
Right after his classes in the morning, Ul Khley rides his motorcycle to get to work at DDD in the afternoon.
Ul is currently in his third year pursuing Management at Cambodian Mekong University (CMU) with a partial scholarship from DDD. Studying and working at the same time can be physically and mentally challenging but he finds that the two go hand in hand. “DDD trains me to use the computer and I use my computer skills to complete school assignments by researching on the Internet. Our teachers teach us good manners and I practice courtesy and diligence in dealing with managers and teammates at work,” Ul said.
DDD offers scholarships to Ul and other qualified operators in our work/study program three months after they start working. These youth are usually enthusiastic about pursuing college but lack direction and knowledge about their study and career options. Our career guidance team helps them decide which course to take based on personal interest and the job market.
Syna Haung grew up in a family of basket-makers. Her father ascends the mountains of Kampot Province three times a week to gather bamboo that her mother weaves into baskets. They sell these baskets to an intermediary that sells them in the local market. Syna remembers how she chose Marketing: “DDD showed a presentation on various college degrees and in-demand professions, and marketing was one of them. Because I have dreamed of running my own business since I was young, I knew that Marketing is the right course.” Now in her third year at CMU, Syna plans to apply to a distribution company and hopes to use her skills and experience to cut out the middle man – she plans to do the marketing and distribution herself for her family’s baskets.
CMU Vice Chancellor Ban Tharo joins DDD operator Sabun Ou.
DDD forges partnerships with top universities to secure affordable but high quality education for our students. We picked the five best universities in Cambodia where operators will study to ensure they acquire knowledge from high caliber educators and world-class curriculum. One of these universities is CMU. According to Vice Chancellor Mr. Ban Tharo, CMU welcomes the partnership with DDD. “Our program coincides with DDD’s mission so we are pleased to work with them and to educate the operators,” he confirmed.
Over 60 operators are currently enrolled at CMU. Leaphey Yeng and Sabun Ou are two of them; both of whom have mobility impairments. Leaphey walks with a prosthetic leg that is unnoticeable under her long school uniform. An infection in her leg when she was still a baby required amputation, otherwise she would not have survived. Knowing her movements are limited, she decided to pursue Banking and Finance, in the hopes of working in a bank after graduation. “It is hard to walk up and down the stairs to get to class but I am inspired by learning discipline and getting quality teaching from teachers, despite the challenges,” said Leaphey.
Sabun, on the other hand, walks with a limp caused by an accidental fall into a waterless pond when he was young. Growing up with a policeman grandfather, Sabun’s eyes were opened to the reality of corruption in his country. His dream to be part of the solution to this problem motivated him to study Law. “I gain friends and develop my communication skills at school. I engage in meaningful debates in class and know how to work in groups,” Sabun confirmed. He recognizes that these skills will support him in his dream. “When one is educated, it will be easy for him to get a job and help his country. I want to be a lawyer first then become a member of the parliament,” he added.
Once operators are enrolled in university, DDD requires them to maintain good grades while performing well at work. DDD Work/Study Program Manager Socheat Thin shares, “It is clear to the students that their education is top priority. They have to do well at school to maintain their scholarships.” DDD also provides career placement training after students graduate. We coach them on how to prepare professional and appealing CV’s and how to do well in a job interview.
DDD knows that work alone is insufficient to improve the standard of living of disadvantaged but promising youth like Ul, Syna, Leaphey, and Sabun. We see the need to provide a supportive environment in which they can gain skills training, personal growth, and intellectual development. “DDD wants to see our youth choose professions they want and through which they can earn good income so that they can support themselves and their families. We also want to see them help their siblings and other family members to go to university and create a cycle of improvement within their family,” Thin added. In this way, DDD goes beyond giving work, but rather as Hockenstein explained at the World Economic Forum, we create “a path for individual development –and real demonstrable outcomes.”