Cambodia’s brutal descent into chaos ushered in one of the bloodiest massacres of recent human history.
The countryside became a charnel house as the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, consolidated control over the cities and force-marched the populace to rural labour projects, leaving deserted ghost cities in their wake. Pol Pot’s desire was to birth a communist state modelled after the Maoist and Stalinist philosophies of full self-reliance and agrarian socialism, believing in a so-called “mythic time” of noble peasantry. To accomplish this, the group obliterated anything they considered intellectual or Western-influenced. Libraries were torched to ash. Hospitals were stormed and gutted, modern medicines cast to the wind. Temples of all faiths were desecrated or converted to warehouses, and over the course of four years of unimaginable horror, two million people lost their lives.
It’s difficult to imagine a country without an educated class. It’s difficult to imagine a time when doctors and engineers, diplomats and lawyers, were universally and unflinchingly captured and executed. Cambodia has not recovered since the 1970s. The country, though officially a democracy, is still firmly under one-party control. Human rights violations and corruption are commonplace. It is, too, difficult to imagine the effect this has on the day-to-day life of the average citizen, where social mobility, healthcare and education have become almost-unattainable for most.
Later on this month, First Lady Michelle Obama will visit the United Kingdom as part of her efforts to increase awareness and support for girl’s education worldwide. First Lady Obama has previously travelled to Cambodia, visiting a school in the city of Siem Reap. She was told stories of how the act of going to school is simply too dangerous for some, and was rightly impressed with the sheer bravery of the girls who had to fight tooth-and-nail for their educated future.
Less than one third of the children in school worldwide are girls. This state of affairs is one that OISE has started to track closely ever since partnering with French non-profit Toutes à l'école. The organisation was established by renowned journalist Tina Kieffer after a visit to Cambodia led her to adopt a child in need at an orphanage in Phnom Penh. Toutes à l'école established the Happy Chandara School for Girls, a safe environment of the kind desperately needed for the country’s next generation.
OISE will be hosting eight students from Happy Chandara for international English language study this summer. On the way, the girls will be stopping off in Paris; an enormous opportunity to see parts of the world they thought previously inaccessible. We will also be hosting the school’s Head of English in a comprehensive training programme.
OISE is honoured to have the girls visit, and will be paying attention to First Lady Obama’s visit. We will be updating our Facebook and Twitter feeds regularly with stories from the girl’s adventures and encourage you to follow along with us.
It is important to be aware of our privileges. Education isn’t just a basic human right, it is an unparalleled catalyst for change. By supporting further and deeper education for at-risk children like the girls of Cambodia do we help guarantee a richer, healthier, and more fulfilling life for the children of the future.
Written by Sam Kearns, Community Manager.