PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA – On June 26th, 30 smiling young boys and girls graduated from SISHA’s third Youth Legal Rights Class (YLR). For the last eight weeks, the youths had been learning about important topics such as human rights, domestic violence, trafficking, the Cambodian legal system and many other subjects. It ended with a final exam, diploma ceremony, distribution of prizes and even a small party.
The course is being offered at A New Day Cambodia an NGO who works with children from the slum area of Stung Manchey. SISHA’s YLR class represented a unique opportunity for these children to learn about their rights, since many children were never educated on the topic. “All I knew was what I had seen on TV, but now I know about the real law” said Cheun Samorn, a student in the class and aspiring English teacher. For some this new knowledge was especially beneficial: “I didn’t know anything about the law system in Cambodia, now I know a lot. I like to learn about the different functions. I want to become a lawyer and work for an NGO” explained Hem Davy, an ambitious young girl.
With the stress of the final exam far behind them, the children were eager to share their thoughts on the class and their esteemed teacher, SISHA’s legal assistant, Miss Kagna Keo. “I thought the course was very good, I learned a lot about human rights and human trafficking” said Cheun Pov “I share what I learn here with my friends at school, I tell them about the law. Nobody can hurt me now because I know about the law”.
Evidently, empowerment was one of the greatest advantages of the course. “I learned a lot about human trafficking. Now I can protect myself and my family” said Vom Thai “also Kagna is the best teacher, she is friendly and she explains really well!” His impressions were echoed by a fellow student “I didn’t know about trafficking, now I can protect my family and my neighbours, the lessons were good for me” expressed Vorn Lida.
When asked what she liked the most about the course, Hour Hoeun, a bright teenaged girl, said “I like the idea that everybody has rights, I tell my family, my friends, everybody. My friends say I am very lucky to be learning about this, they would like to have that chance too.”
Several children expressed their approval of universal rights. Chon Sreynov said: “all people around the world have rights, I didn’t know that, but now I do. We have the right to live and the right to be protected. I think this is great for people around the world.” Without the YLR class, none of these children would have been exposed to this knowledge.
The course also inspired many children to pursue their education in the legal field, and contribute to Cambodian society. Sokha Chen, a bright 12-year old girl, expressed her desire to become a law professor and work at the UN one day. “I want to improve my country with education, especially for people who live in the countryside and do not have access to legal education.” Her ambitious friend Touch Sreylin on the other hand expressed her desire to become a politician and to put an end to the rampant corruption in her country. You can discover more by reading our previous post Meet the Inspiring Hope Scholarship Recipients!
“It’s important for the children to be learning about their rights” said Annette Jensen, New Day’s director, “the regular school curriculum does not cover these subjects.” She was especially pleased with SISHA being able to offer the course on a revolving basis. “The teachings were very organized and in depth, Kagna is very popular amongst the students.”
Inspired by the students’ enthusiasm and academic performance, SISHA is ready to take on the next step. “We want to change the formula a little bit to one that focuses on sustainability and self-empowerment” said Erin LaCroix, SISHA’s Country Director, “we have done it before and we were amazed by the results. Once we find the funding, we will have a peer educator program where SISHA trains the top 8 students on how to become youth legal rights peer educators. The children are ready to play a bigger role in their communities and SISHA is eager to support them in doing so once we locate a sponsor.”