The Future is in Her Hands

In impoverished communities around the world, girls are far more likely than boys to be deprived of an education. But when girls are educated, they have the unique capacity to create sweeping social and economic changes in their communities — for generations to come. In Cambodia, Holt recently took over an educational sponsorship program for 79 outstanding high school and college students. One of these scholars is a young woman named Jorani. When she graduates from college next year, Jorani has big changes in store for her small rural village. (Molly MacGraw, Holt and IE3 Global Intern in Cambodia, interviewed Jorani for this story.)

Holt provides educational support for at-risk girls — and boys — in countries around the world. Give your mother a truly meaningful gift this Mother’s Day. Honor her with the gift of education for a young girl in India, or an orphan in China! Click here to view Holt’s Gifts of Hope catalog online.

Jorani* is a shy, soft-spoken young woman in her third year of study at Royal University in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. A student of sociology, she loves to sit in the library for hours at a time – researching topics related to her major. The issue of community development is particularly compelling to Jorani, who grew up in an economically depressed region of Kampong Thom – a large, geographically diverse province located in the center of Cambodia. When she graduates, she plans to return to Kampong Thom and work either for a non-governmental organization or as a teacher. In either role, she hopes to help create a more prosperous and hopeful future for the people of her village.

Jorani is one of 79 students from impoverished communities in Cambodia whose education Holt helps to support. Like all students in the educational sponsorship program, Jorani was chosen for her extraordinary performance and motivation in school. Now 23, she is excelling in her classes and on track to graduate from college next year.

In a country where only one-third of students complete a ninth-grade education, Jorani is an exception. But in many ways, her background fits the norm.

Under the brutal Khmer Rouge rule of the mid-1970s, at least 1.5 million Cambodians died from execution, forced hardships or starvation. The Khmer Rouge also enforced a rapid and poorly planned return to agricultural society that completely destroyed the country’s infrastructure, including Cambodia’s schools. In recent years, Cambodia has invested considerable effort in rebuilding the country’s school system. But despite improvements, many challenges remain – from limited access to quality instruction and inadequate school facilities to high dropout rates, particularly in poor rural areas where many students leave school to help earn income for their family. Many students struggle to complete primary school and even fewer graduate from high school. At greater risk of trafficking and other forms of exploitation, girls growing up in rural Cambodia are particularly disadvantaged.

Jorani grew up in a big family, with three brothers and three sisters. Her parents were poor farmers who struggled to support their seven children. Like many young people in rural Cambodia, her family’s poverty created significant challenges for Jorani and her siblings to complete their education. Although one of the fortunate few in her community who was able to attend school, Jorani worked hard in her free time to help her family.

Once she completed grade school, Jorani had to travel a greater distance to reach the local high school. After a time, making this journey every day proved too difficult, and she dropped out. But with help from the educational sponsorship program now supported by Holt, Jorani gained the confidence to re-enroll in high school – repeating a year to get back on track, graduate and apply to college. Today, Jorani continues to receive the assistance she needs to live and study in Phnom Penh.

Children in Holt’s educational sponsorship program in India are primarily girls who would otherwise be engaged in domestic work.

As a young woman striving to complete her education so that she can work in the community service field, Jorani is a stellar example of the lasting impact one educated girl can have not just on their own lives – but on their entire family, community and country.

When girls are educated, they have the capacity to create unprecedented economic and social change. Girls who are educated are more likely to delay marriage until adulthood. They have fewer children. And the children they do have are healthier and stronger. An educated mother will have increased job opportunities and higher wages, giving her the resources to buy food and medicine for her children. She will likely know more about nutrition and hygiene, and will make better use of health clinics. When women are educated, the chance of their children dying before the age of 5 is cut in half.

Educated women are also five times more likely to send their own children to school – increasing literacy rates in their communities, and breaking the cycle of poverty. They have the potential to reduce violence against women, increase both family and national income, and even temper political extremism.

And yet, today more than 75 million primary school-age children are not in school – more than half of them girls. The reasons vary for why more boys than girls attend school around the world. But one factor is constant: when girls come from poor communities, they are far more likely than boys to be deprived of an education.

A high school graduate in the independent living skills program in the Philippines.

In impoverished communities around the world, Holt supports education for vulnerable girls – and boys – at all grade levels. In India, a country with one of the largest populations of out-of-school children in the world, Holt partners with local organizations to provide educational sponsorship for children at risk of dropping out of school. Children in the program are primarily girls who would otherwise be engaged in domestic work.

In Vietnam, Holt partners with the local government to provide day care services for children in low-income communities. With help from Holt sponsors, the day care program provides a preschool education for children who would otherwise miss out on this critical early learning opportunity. In the Philippines, Holt-supported educational programs range from day care services to a unique independent living program for high school and college students who grew up in institutions. And in Cambodia, Holt has long worked with local organization Pathways to Development to help meet the educational needs of families and children in several rural provinces.

In the provinces, Holt’s Cambodia partner works with struggling families to help them provide stability for their children. Services range from nutritional, health and medical aid to small grants that help families start small businesses. Once a year, Pathways staff makes a special visit to the provinces to distribute school supplies to children in the program – many of whom also attend remedial and English language classes held by local outreach workers.

While the Pathways program benefits many school-age children, it is not the same sponsorship program that supports Jorani’s education.


Every year, Holt’s partner in Cambodia delivers backpacks full of school supplies to children in rural provinces.

Whenever possible, Holt works to increase our impact in the countries and communities we serve. Until recently, Holt relied on our partnership with Pathways to achieve our child welfare goals in Cambodia. In September 2012, we re-opened a Holt office in Phnom Penh – a move that allows us to both expand and deepen our work in the region.

Supporting Jorani’s education is one way in which Holt Cambodia has expanded in recent months. Holt’s new office has assumed responsibility for the program that assists Jorani and 78 other accomplished high school and college students. Students receive school fees and materials, as well as financial support for meals, transportation and accommodation as they work to achieve their educational goals. The students’ families give what they can, which in most cases is limited to a supply of rice or a couple of dollars per month to pay for transportation. Once they graduate, Holt will provide support in finding employment, and watch as they go on to accomplish their goals and help create meaningful social change in Cambodia.

For Jorani, the move from a small village to a big city was difficult, and she often suffers bouts of homesickness. But she is proud of what she has accomplished. And once she graduates, she is excited to return home to Kampong Thom – older, wiser and equipped with the knowledge and skills she needs to raise the standard of living in her community, and send the next generation of young women and men to study in the big city of Phnom Penh.

Click here to sponsor a child in Cambodia or another country where Holt works.

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