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Ensuring the Rights of Indigenous Children

Thu 6 Aug 2015 | Ethnic Minorities | Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFP)


Theay Pet, 16 years old, is from one of the 20 ethnic groups that live in Cambodia. Her forest-based community called “Kavet” lives in isolated mountainous areas in northeastern Cambodia. Most of these indigenous families make a living as subsistence farmers and children are required to help with the work on farms.


“I could not read and write because I did not have the opportunity to go to school. We stayed at our Chamkar farm most of the time which is far from the village,” she explains. Without basic life skills, Pet found it difficult to sell agricultural products produced by her family. She was shy and she could not read numbers or do maths. It was too easy for dishonest clients to cheat her.


Responding to specific needs


“There are two main challenges in education for indigenous children. The first one is the lack of educational resources such as a shortage of qualified teachers, inadequate facilities and the distance between home and school,” underlines AEA Programme Officer Ekvisoth Kath. “Second, the Kavet have a mother tongue which differs from the Khmer speaking majority of Cambodia. The language of instruction is crucial.”


In accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), non-formal education classes that include the use of mother tongue literacy education are offered in Ratanakiri by Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFP) Organisation as part of the Cambodian Consortium for Out of School Children (CCOSC) led by Aide et Action International (AEAI) and co-funded by Educate A Child (EAC).


Bilingual classes offer children the opportunity to learn in their own community’s language, while at the same time, progressively mastering Khmer, an essential requirement if they are to fully exercise their citizenship in Cambodia. “We promote learning that is rooted in one’s own culture but that is, at the same time, open to knowledge of other cultures. By promoting respect for and understanding of other cultures, it is also a key element to eliminate discrimination,” adds Ekvisoth Kath.


Reaching out of school children


Awareness raising sessions in villages are conducted by outreach workers and School Committee Members. They also go door-to-door to persuade parents to send their children to school. Having heard about open multilingual literacy classes at Reaslorng, in Rok village, Pet decided to join.


Pet could attend basic literacy skills every evening from 7 to 9 pm with the teachers Mr Yeour Say and York Kouch. “Although there were some difficulties, Pet studied hard until she completed Kavet’s and Khmer book grade 3,” explains Khiev Sotha NTFP programme officer. “After 4 years of literacy classes, she can now read, write and calculate properly. She is now able to use a scale and weigh the products she sells, such as rice, cashew nuts, sesame seeds, chicken, pork and other non-timber products. Nobody can cheat her anymore.”


After having completed a non-formal education, Pet has been transferred to Varak Primary School in garage 6, which is located in Veunsai District. The village chief assistant Mrs. Kong Seaw says: “She is a gentle girl, she is quiet but she is clever. She had to struggle in life. Despite all her difficulties, she loves studying.”


Education for individuals and societies


Pet is an enthusiastic student. She can now realize her full intellectual potential: “I am so happy that I can read, write and calculate. It is the only way one can solve problems.” Having gained basic life skills, Pet is proud to use and manage resources toward improving her family’s economic well-being. If all Kavets can exercise their right to education, they can effectively participate in the development of a national society. Education will help them to effectively and equitably participate in decision making, allowing them to choose their own future.


As a result of the CCOSC programme, children who had been neglected in the school system are now receiving much needed support. “One of our main objectives is to contribute to an all inclusive education system that caters to every child in Cambodia, including children from ethnic minorities,” reminds Ekvisoth Kath. “Progress has been achieved but much more needs to be done to help move these children from the margins to the mainstream school system,” she concluded.