[8 minute read]
It’s dry season, so the corn harvest is almost over. Skinny wooden boats are weighed down with sacks of golden maize.
The river narrows the further it flows, running into smaller streams that curve around the rice fields. It connects to a stream where Oosamai, his wife and their sons live.
“Migration is the biggest barrier children in the area face when it comes to accessing education.”
To provide for his family, Oosamai spends his days tending to rice plants, harvesting crops and feeding pigs. This has been his livelihood for the past four years, but it hasn’t always been this way.
The Challenges of Migrant Work and Long-term Education
Oosamai is one of many workers who migrate frequently through the region, moving their home and families to pursue work.
“If it was a good year, we could produce enough rice to take us through the year. But if not, it would be a bad year, and we had to move to find work,” Oosamai says.
“The most difficult time in my life was when my wife gave birth to twins,” Oosamai says.
“At that time, I had no job and no money to even buy diapers. My wife gave birth to the boys in a cow stall that we were living in at the time. She didn’t have enough breast milk for both the twins. I had to ask people to help me find a job, and then when I got the job I had to leave my wife and children alone, taking care of each other, without my help.”
When they were young, Oosamai and his wife, Mowwayh, only attended school until they were nine years old. Mowwayh had to take care of her siblings at home and Oosamai had two twin brothers to watch over while his parents worked.
This was their normal.
Pook, who works at the local Compassion centre, sees this pattern in families to this day.
Migration is the biggest barrier children in their area face when it comes to accessing education. To her, migration and education are incompatible.
“Parents here can’t send their kids to school—they’re really, really poor. Their income is not enough to buy food or daily supplies. Children will have to drop out of school and help their parents work so that the family can buy essential supplies,” Pook says.
“Sometimes parents will leave a seven-year-old at home looking after a three-year-old.”
This combination of poverty and migration makes it nearly impossible for a child to be enrolled at the local Compassion centre.
“We make sure that the parents will stay for at least five years. We need this continuity for the children,” says Pook. “When the parents cannot answer, ‘How long will you be here?’ the church cannot register the children as it’s likely they will move.”
Even with primary education being government-funded, church staff still face challenges in helping parents to understand the value of education for their children.
“Parents can be satisfied with their lives in a way that is hard to change. They will have routines and expectations, so we have to help them understand that children attending school is good,” says Nedoh, Director of the local Compassion centre.
Breaking the Status Quo
It’s now been four years since the Compassion staff helped Oosamai’s family to find consistent work so they could stay in the community long-term. Because of this, their twin boys Gungamae-ou, Soi Go-Go and Soi Yee-Yee can all attend school and their local Compassion centre.
“I remember the day we enrolled at the [Compassion centre], we had a good feeling that something really good was happening,” share the twins.
“I think good education can definitely change children, because other countries are developed because they have very good education. I am proud that I can support my children to go to school,” says Oosamai.
It’s the first time the boys have been able to attend school consistently—and they are completely loving it.
“Sponsorship helps me to be more interested in learning,” says Gungmae-ou. “Going to school helps me to be able to study and have the opportunity to learn many things and be able to help each of my younger brothers.”
Changing Attitudes about Education
Today, the local Compassion centre is expanding the children’s education with English lessons, music class and extracurricular activities like hairdressing.
“When the children have been in school from Monday to Friday they sometimes don’t want to sit in class for another day, and they are tired. And not every child learns the same way. So, we provide life-skills training and fun activities for them to do,” says Pook.
The classes are part of their strategy to show the community the value of education.
“Every child in this community and in this country needs growth and development, but it’s just not a priority for people. If we don’t see education as a priority this cycle will continue for the next one hundred years,” says Nedoh.
In four short years, Oosamai can already see the difference education is making in her sons.
“My children receive all sorts of skills training and even have bilingual language classes at the centre,” she says. “I’m so very happy my children can go to school. I missed that opportunity.”
As for her boys, they’re grateful to change the course of their family’s history by receiving an education and making their parents proud.
“I think my life will be very different from my father. My father didn’t go to school,” Gungamae-Ou says.
“So, he has to work hard as a daily labourer to send me to school. I love and respect my father very much. When my father talks to me or teaches me something, I always listen. I will study and do my best.”
Today is International Day of Education—a day to celebrate how education empowers children, builds up communities and fosters flourishing. Will you help more families like the twins’ access life-changing education today?
Words by Jeremy Tan and Laura Phillips
Photos by Jeremy Tan