Education in literacy, numeracy and healthcare (alongside vocational training) is offered by the Stung Treng Women’s Development Centre in remote Stung Treng province in Northern Cambodia.
Following the National Policy to empower women, education is a prime area of need. Of the 37% of Cambodians who are illiterate. Around 49% of the total literate population in Cambodia has not completed primary level education, with only 29% completing primary and lower secondary levels. Students studying at diploma level (which includes pre-secondary technical diploma, secondary/baccalaureate level, and post Secondary technical diploma) constitute 1.62% of the literate population. Undergraduates and Graduates/Degree holders together form only 1.47% of the total population. Source: general Population Census of Cambodia 2008). The most common reasons many people leave school is because of lack of funds, the need to work to feed the family, and a lack of understanding of the benefits of education. Our Literacy Program taught by teachers from the Provincial Office of Education, educates in reading, writing and math up to grade 4 level using the Ministry of Education Curriculum.
This level gives many women the ability to perform more functions outside the home and to participate more fully in the community. Several of the women that have come through this course now work at SWDC keeping records, doing calculations and writing reports on mekong blue production. Many are now reading novels and share gossip magazines at lunch time. Some have taken up further education in English and math and share their knowledge with family members. Breaking this cycle of illiteracy improve lives, opportunities and has a long term beneficial effect.
From our experience with the ‘Center of Destination’ hospice SWDC found that health education is not a priority in Cambodia and that this lack of knowledge can have severe consequences. Some personal health issues, particularly for women, are generally not even discussed because of cultural factors. This lack of education creates further vulnerability even with the simplest of health issues. Health knowledge in rural areas can be even more dangerous, as information is transferred from generation to generation, occasionally with a lack of real knowledge. Some of the simplest problems can become worse because of wrong diagnosis, cultural beliefs or mismanagement of medication. As many families in Stung Treng are unable to afford lengthy expensive treatments or even get access to health care workers, some common health concerns can be better prevented or treated with a little knowledge.
SWDC’s Health Program, taught by the Chief of staff of the Stung Treng Health Center, teaches women about primary health. Subjects include nutrition, hygiene, birth control, HIV/AIDS prevention, prevention and treatment of common health problems (diarrhea, malaria, dengue fever etc) and the use of basic medicines.
This education teaches them how to take better care of themselves, their children and share the knowledge with their loved ones resulting in healthier and happier families. These lessons also give the women an opportunity to share experiences and issues, finding they have much in common with their fellow classmates, this creating more ease to communicate health concerns, empowering them to understand their own bodies and take care of their own well being.
Any health issues needing attention, for the women or children or family members at SWDC, are supported by SWDC through offering direct assistance or referral, whilst also using the experience to increase further health knowledge and solutions.
Many women participate in only these programs and those who successfully complete both are offered the opportunity to participate in Vocational Training in Traditional Weaving and Sewing.