The Harpswell Foundation is once again proving what many already know – that all underprivileged girls need is a chance to prove themselves. For young women in Cambodia, this chance comes in the form of a dormitory where they are allowed to live and get a post-secondary education.
As is often the case, women suffer in obscure ways that are difficult to identify and solve. For example, while women in Cambodia are allowed to attend university, they are restricted because there are very few dormitories that actually allow women tenants. In fact, there is only one small dormitory that houses women, and it is at the agricultural school.
However, this obstacle has not quelled the spirits of those young women wishing to attend university. In fact, a few female students have lived in the crawl space beneath a university building for a full four years just to learn and have a place to live. Luckily, the Harpswell Foundation has begun work to change all of this.
Since 2006, the Harpswell Foundation has opened two dormitories close to 15 surrounding universities in Cambodia that provide free room and board a total of 80 girls each. The Foundation also provides English classes and a place where girls can socialize, learn together, and help empower one another in a female setting, to which they previously did not have access.
The application process is rigorous. Harpswell travels all around Cambodia to recruit students who are at the top of their high school classes. Even then, only 10 percent of nominated students are accepted into the program, and with a 45 percent illiteracy rate for women in Cambodia, there are unfortunately so many more who are never able to apply. For those who are accepted, however, a vastly different fate awaits them.
These women also often find themselves back in Cambodia when they are finished with their education working to boost the national economy. They use their newfound skills and knowledge to build new infrastructure, provide medical assistance, and prove by their success that women have the same potential as men when provided the same opportunities.
The Foundation now has seven generations of alumnae and continues to recruit more students every year. Not only are they providing girls the chance they need to prove themselves, but they are also teaching these girls that they do have something to prove.
Male-dominated societies can make it hard for women to believe in their potential. But when surrounded by supportive minds who can share in their struggle, the outcomes are unmistakable.
The Foundation is a shining light for these girls and for those around the world helping to empower women. It is up to those who have a voice and the power to work towards change to help the women who will grow up to help the world.
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