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People explore the newly opened Graduation House in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district
People explore the newly opened Graduation House in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district yesterday. The facility will provide support and accomodation for orphaned tertiary students. Vireak Mai

University dorm for orphans

Ol Sok Hour, a keen and promising student, had his life turned upside down two years ago when his parents died of AIDS.

With no family to support him and little money to survive, Sok Hour, then 20 years old, was forced to drop out of university and forget his dream of becoming an architect.

“I was desperate to continue studying at university, but it was hopeless,” he said.

Nineteen-year-old Chea Nita lost her parents during high school and struggled to get the grades for university.

“I am an orphan; I am so poor,” she said. “I passed my exams last year, but I could not afford to continue studying.”

In need of income, Nita was forced to return to Kampong Cham province and swap academia for farming.

Like Sok Hour and Nita, young people across Cambodia are unable to pursue university or vocational courses. But their aspirations were revived this year when Awareness Cambodia stepped in and offered vital support.

Yesterday, the NGO celebrated the launch of its Graduation House, a facility that will offer accommodation and support for orphaned tertiary students. The four-storey building, located in the capital’s Meanchey district, will eventually house 80 students, including Sok Hour and Nita.

“Freedom without a future is just another form of slavery,” Awareness Cambodia’s founder and CEO Dr Gary Hewitt was quoted as saying.

At the facility’s launch yesterday morning, Nim Thoth, secretary of state of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Labour, Vocational Training and Youth Rehabilitation, explained the importance of the project.

“Mostly in Cambodia we have orphanages for children, but not for older youths,” he said. “We are pleased to see that our orphaned youths are being given the chance to study.”

For Sok Hour and Nita – who are now attending university and being provided with money for their education, shelter and food – the intervention has been life-changing.

“I want to study hard . . . I’m very, very thankful,” Sok Hour said.

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