College grads are faring well and paying it forward
[This article was written by Ban Kosal, a TSF university graduate, and Lee Steppacher, a TSF board member.]
College graduation is a rite of passage said to open doors of opportunity. In Cambodia, our graduates are not only bursting through those doors, but they are already paying it forward, contributing to their families and investing in education.
The first nine TSF-sponsored college students graduated in 2009. They were real pioneers, and brave too; they were the first in Roteang to leave their homes in the village and attend school in Phnom Penh. There was much to learn: about city life, dorm living, and of course, college classes. Now, six years later, 56 TSF-sponsored students have graduated. With the help of graduate Ban Kosal, the board recently conducted a survey which shows how well these former students are creating new futures for themselves and also for their families.
College students in Cambodia have to declare a major when they enter school and then, a course of study is prescribed for them. However, it is difficult for students to know what they are interested in when they lack exposure to professionals and mentors to guide them. In the first years of the TSF college program, many of the students focused on hotel and tourism because the government saw this as a growing industry. Now, with better counseling, our students’ majors are more diverse, with many focusing on banking, finance, information technology and accounting, and a few studying English, engineering, architecture and medicine.
Regardless of their majors, the survey shows that after graduation, TSF students are doing well. Of the 56 graduates, 52 of them have jobs, and good ones, in their fields of study! Those without jobs are looking for them as changing jobs is fairly common. The employers now are as varied as the students, according to the survey. They include consultants, restaurants, banks, real estate firms, tour companies, hotels, government ministries, schools and NGOs, including The Sharing Foundation.
The vast majority of the graduates continue to live in Phnom Penh where most of the jobs are located. Like recent grads in the States, they partner up with a few friends and rent a room or an apartment. A few of the older graduates have married and yes, there have even been some TSF student romances! In order to save money, a few of the graduates live with their families in Roteang, but the commute is long and tiring, particularly on Cambodian transportation.
Salaries are, of course, on a different scale than those in the U.S. In Cambodia, where the nationwide average wages are $3 per day, a starting salary out of college is approximately $150-$200 per month. The TSF graduates who are five or more years out of college have doubled that amount!
Now here is the amazing part that makes the story so powerful! Time after time, the students say they are making money so they can send it home to help support their families. That was the motivation that inspired them through college, and now they are happy to help the families who sacrificed so much. Each one of the graduates has an inspiring anecdote to share, and we wanted to share a few:
Kuch Seiha, who graduated in the first TSF class in 2009, is now working as sales account manager at Neeka Limited. She used her salary to support her sister’s college education, and now that her sister has graduated and is employed, Seiha can save and share more with her family. Recently, she made a family trip to Siem Reap possible, something they had never done before. The sisters continue to live together in Phnom Penh and Seiha hopes that once her sister is self-reliant, together they can contribute more money to improve her family’s living standard.
Ban Kosal graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics in 2012. He is now working as national economist at the Ministry of Economy and Finance. He lives in Roteang in order to save money so that he can help to send his younger siblings to school. He also uses part of his salary to continue his study of English at the Australian Center for Education. He commutes to work each day to Phnom Penh but the benefit, he says, is that his mother cooks for him! In the future he believes that, with education, his family will be prosperous and also help the community.
Sin Vuthy, whose story is on a video on our website, credits TSF with changing his family’s life. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English literature, he is now pursuing a master’s in business administration. A very busy man, he also works as credit manager at Angkor Capital Bank, is married, and has a young daughter.
Soun Sokret, the first in his generation to graduate, has a bachelor’s degree in business management. He is working as partnership executive officer at a non-profit organization called Smile for Children (PSE). With his salary, he contributes to his family and to his sister’s education in Phnom Penh. He is now finishing his master’s in business administration and in the future, he hopes to own a business.
Soy Sovannthida, who graduated in 2011, is working at the Australian Center for Education. She contributes to her brother’s college education and also to her family’s well-being. She is studying for her master’s in development management and wants to help her community, especially the poor.
All of the graduates express appreciation for what TSF has done to help them and, in return, they want to help support their families and the “next generation,” their younger siblings and school mates. On their own initiative, the young grads formed an Alumni Association and maintain close communication, including using Facebook. They share potential job opportunities among themselves and internship possibilities for college students. They also speak to high school students about education and act as inspiring role models. Some of the alumni have been trained to lead workshops to help college students find jobs. TSF now relies on the alumni and we expect that in the future, as their numbers grow, they will become more and more integral to the organization.
So again we say a heartfelt thank you, especially to all of the college student sponsors, and to every person that supports TSF programs. We could not relay such strong success stories without you!