Last week, the Ministry of Education released the results of 83,325 students who took the high school exit exam. Among the 56 per cent who passed, there were half a dozen garment factory workers. Vandy Muong spoke to two of those workers, Vong Kosamak (34) and Sorn Samnang (25), about how they managed to study while working six-day weeks, and what the women plan to do next
Could you tell us briefly about your background?
Vong Kosamak: I started working in a garment factory in 2000. I didn’t want to quit school at that time, but my family was in a financial crisis so I went to work to support them.
Now my family is doing a bit better, so I could save money to go to school for the exams.
Since I was young, I have always wanted to [access] higher education, and I promised myself I would continue no matter how old I was.
Sorn Samang: I started working as a garment worker in 2005 when I was in grade nine because my family was poor and we owed a lot of money to people.
My parents were farmers, but they didn’t have land to farm at all.
Is your family supportive?
VK: Honestly speaking, my parents did not support my studying – they said that studying could waste money and time, but I got support from friends who I worked with.
SS: Only my father encouraged and supported me to take this exam. The day I took the exam, I was reminded of my father’s advice.
He said that even if I failed he would encourage me, because he knew that I was not like other students who had more time to learn.
How did you manage to review for your exams while working full time?
VK: It was so hard to prepare for the exams. I work eight to 10 hours from Monday to Saturday, so I’d read a book or review lessons during lunchtime and at night time after I’d finished cooking dinner.
On Sundays, I went to class, where I studied with 50 to 60 other people.
SS: I was always reading books and listening to news on the radio, because I knew that if I knew a lot of information it would be helpful to use in the exam. I borrowed books from people and sometimes I revised by myself. Each month, I studied for four Sundays.
There were not many garment workers who were registered to study, and I needed to try twice as hard as normal students.
What are you planning next? Will you have the money to go to university?
VK: Now I’ve succeeded with my first goal, but I am unhappy because I don’t have money to continue to university. That is my second goal.
I want to become a public servant who works in a government institution. If I could get a scholarship, it would be brilliant for me.
And I want to find a school where I can work and study at the same time, because I need money to support myself and family.
SS: ASEAN integration will mean that Cambodia needs educated people to work, and I want to have a university certificate.
I want to be a teacher for children who live far from the city, because I want to encourage them to continue their studies.
I plan to apply for teaching school, but it is hard to ask permission from my workplace. They don’t need workers to have a high level of education and they are afraid that we would lead demonstrations [if we do].
I hope that students or garment workers try hard to pass the exam and don’t lose the confidence to take it. They should try to read and listen to news. I believe that trying leads to success.