Women: A Catalyst for Change in Cambodia

By Jennifer Russ

In Cambodia, life for women is especially difficult. Many young women fail to complete even a primary education, and the resulting lack of financial security leads them to marry young, work for their husbands or fathers, or travel abroad to do dangerous work in Thailand, where they are vulnerable to human traffickers.

In 2004, Buddhist Global Relief partner Lotus Outreach joined forces with the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center to help girls avoid this fate by keeping them in school. They formed the Girls’ Access to Education (GATE) program, and later, the Gate Women and Youth Scholarship (GATEways) fund for women who had graduated the GATE program. Finally, the Skills Training, Employment, and Education Matching (STREAM) program helped women find additional vocational training and job placements.

After more than a decade of successful partnership, Lotus Outreach was ready to take full control of these programs. In May 2016, BGR awarded a $25,000 grant to Lotus Outreach to help. BGR and Lotus Outreach agreed that the largest portion of the grant would go directly to the beneficiaries. A smaller portion of the grant was earmarked for materials, training, outreach, and salaries for the transition. GATEways and STREAM were combined to form a new, streamlined program called CATALYST. This streamlining reduced administrative costs and provided quicker communication and decision making for the beneficiaries.

Bright, ambitious San Samnang was one of the first to see the benefits. In 2016, at age 31, she was struggling to complete her bachelor’s degree in English. She had been supporting her siblings and paying her mother’s medical bills since she was 15, and, despite the most recent attempt to finish her education, was struggling to make ends meet and seriously considering moving back to her village to care for her mother full time. That’s when a Lotus Outreach representative came to her English class and gave a presentation on CATALYST. 

Buddhist Global Relief’s grant paid for Samnang’s education in full, including her fees for language and computer courses, school materials, housing, and a monthly allowance. Once she’s finished her education, Samnang hopes to open her village’s first school so she can teach English to the children of her village. “This way they can be more prepared,” she says, “and stand a better chance than girls like me who were not able to start learning English at a young age.”Samnang was one of 16 women that BGR supported with a grant in 2016-2017.

No longer at risk for financial ruin or dangerous employment, these women have the opportunity to use their degrees to pursue professional careers and attain a rare financial security for women in Cambodia. This financial security extends to their children, parents, and siblings, and many beneficiaries are already emerging as leaders. In their annual report, Lotus Outreach happily reports that, thanks to BGR’s grant, the CATALYST program is thriving. “The funding arrived at a crucial moment in the history of our organization,” they write, “precisely at the inception of a new, truly comprehensive program that we envisioned as a cornerstone of our work for years to come.” 

Jennifer Russ is a volunteer staff writer for Buddhist Global Relief. 


Nai Srey Sor at University 

Our Projects

BGR projects are designed to provide direct food aid to people afflicted by hunger and malnutrition, to promote ecologically sustainable agriculture, to support the education of girls and women, and to give women an opportunity to start right livelihood projects to support their families. This is a selection of nine of our current 29 projects. Please select "Current Projects" from the menu on the left to see them all.