Fortune and Privilege
Higher education opportunities aren’t a reality for most females in Cambodia. Making it to university is a feat for the average male, let alone female. With limited household income, rural families have difficulties supporting their children through school, especially beyond a primary education. The odds for children to make it through secondary school will inevitably be dependent upon the school’s distance from the household: transportation to and from can be cost prohibitive. Take into account the large number of households that must pull their children out to support the family income, and the pool becomes even smaller. If a family is fortunate enough to have the funds and economic security to support a child through school, the luck of the draw ends here for the one or two of the lot who will be chosen and the male children will be prioritized for the privilege. Given this, I am always inspired to learn about the backgrounds of those who have made it against the odds and how much they relish their “fortune.’
Meet Chandeth Phon, Credit Officer at Maxima.
Q: How was she able to continue her studies to university, when so many others cannot?
A: She continued her studies until the 9th grade, at which point she returned home to support her family by weaving. Very driven in school, and never falling below the top 3 in her class, she was devastated when she had to quit. Watching her brothers continue their studies, although they lacked her focus and drive, made her all the more frustrated.
Three years later, upon finishing 12th grade, her friends were preparing to take the university entrance exam. As passionate as ever about continuing her education, Chandeth convinced her parents to let her take the test, and eventually talked them into letting her attend university.
She still remembers the day Mr. Kiry, Loan Manager at Maxima, crossed the river from Phnom Penh to visit her island. He was recruiting new staff members for Maxima. When asked if she would like to join the team, Chandeth jumped at the opportunity. One month after working at the MFI, she started attending university- resuming her education for the first time since 9th grade and holding her own in the classroom.
Q: How does she finance her education?
A: Now finishing her second year of university, she is able to pay for school on her own, thanks to the interest-free loans* Maxima offers its employees for education.
*60% of Maxima staff members are capitalizing upon the interest-free education loans to pursue continued studies. A typical day for most starts around 6 am with work ending around 5 pm. Then it’s off to school until 8:30 pm, followed by the commute home and a late dinner. While some credit officers attend classes on the weekends, those who don’t are back in the office on Saturday, working to promote microcredit offerings and recruit more KIVA clients.
The work of a credit officer never ends, but you won’t find one complaining. In fact, you hear the opposite. In the words of Chandeth, “I used to think I had no fortune in life. I was so unhappy I could not go to school and I did not want to weave. Now I think that I have great fortune… I am much more fortunate than others.”