TSF Celebrates Our First College Graduates!
Eight years ago, Seiha, Sarem, Ratha, Darien, Makara, Sokret, Sowat, and Naveth would have said this day could never possibly happen, but on Thursday, August 13, we all celebrated their finishing four years at Universities in Phnom Penh on TSF scholarships, on top of their four previous years of sponsored high school!
We invited the oldest citizens of the village, the parents of the graduating class, and all the current college and high school students to the front apron of the TSF-built One World School in Roteang Village for the ceremony The graduation event began with the singing of the Cambodian National anthem and flag raising. Nancy commended the students and the parents for the incredible success of the graduates, who had worked so hard for four years in the city, removed from contributing to their families' farms in the countryside. Elephant congratulated the group with his usual gusto, then both the village chief, and the school principal spoke of the great pride of the village.
The parents and students were all standing in the very hot sun, and Nancy was really concerned, but they did not seem to be, as two representative seniors, Seiha and Sokret, recapped the remarkable history of this group, the first students from Roteang Village ever to achieve college degrees. On behalf of the TSF Board, Nancy also thanked Elephant and Sary, Head of the English program, who had shepherded this pioneering eight through, at times a frightening journey, as they moved from the countryside to city living. Each student then came forward individually with a parent or parents to receive an embossed portfolio from the TSF Board, and an impressive certificate, made by volunteer Bob Luoma in Massachusetts. As the crowd responded to each graduate’s appearance with applause and cheering joy was palpable.
TSF first met these students when they enrolled in our English school, along with about 450 other youngsters back in Junior High school, under Mam Sary's strict eye. They did well enough then to be selected for sponsorship to High School at Jayavarman VII, where financial support and encouraging and newsfilled letters from TSF sponsors kept them working hard for four years in special private classes.
The group again narrowed at the end of High School when the students had to pass the National High School graduation exam, and score medium level or higher in English when tested at the Australia Center for Education (ACE) in Phnom Penh.
In the fall of 2005, with the help of an educational consultant, we interviewed multiple Universities in Phnom Penh, to fit fields of interest to our students. Elephant found a three-story large house to rent as a dorm, and outfitted it with needed furniture, lights and kitchen supplies, and secured a bicycle for each student. In October four years ago, ten scared countryside kids, sons and daughters of farmers, not one of whom had a parent or relative who had graduated from high school, moved into the city.
First up was a one-week "city living skills course" taught at a local French N.G.O. It emphasized scam avoidance, sex education, relationships, and personal protection. TSF ground rules were posted in the dorm, where the first year, the boys and girls lived together. (With so many more college students, we now have two "dorms," one male, and one female.)
Our graduates have had full sponsorships for four years- Room, board, books, uniforms, three dorm computers with internet access, a bike each, field trips as required, and a small allowance of 5-10 dollars per month, according to need. We have insisted that all the students also continue their English language learning—the key to most good jobs—by going to the Australia Center for Education (ACE) where, despite some helpful scholarships, TSF committed a lot of funds. Thanks to their faithful sponsors back in the USA, who have nearly all helped massively support their students financially for eight years, and continued to write to them as well, most students survived. The average cost of each year's college education has been $1600 per student.
One very bright girl dropped out after year one, at the insistence of her mother that she get married and start a family. We instigated pre-enrollment parent meetings after that, discussing the program, and asking parents not to let their child go off to college at all unless they would allow them to go all the way through. A second student came close to death last year when she sought medical treatment without consultating Elephant or Sary and had a seriously botched and unnecessary surgery at the hands of a TV advertising, sorely untrained, Cambodian "doctor."
She spent 2 months in Center of Hope Hospital once we heard about it—we now have in our students' contracts that no medical care can be gotten at unapproved facilities! She will be a senior next fall, and owes her life to quick action by Elephant. So August 13 was truly a momentous occasion for TSF, as well as for the students. We have learned a lot about students and their needs, and are as thrilled as they are to see the successful completion by this first group. The students are a terrific example to all other Roteang village students, and the pride in the village on graduation day will echo down through succeeding classes for a very long time!
In October we will have, we expect, 39 University students, on TSF scholarships, thanks to a lot of help from interested donors.