Moving beyond the past

September 21, 2006, volume 37, no. 2

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Born in 1978, near the end of the Khmer Rouge rule, Rith Sam Ol missed the worst of the Khmer Rouge horrors. However, with most of the country's teachers dead, Rith's initial education was rudimentary at best. She learned only songs, not reading or writing. She stopped attending even this class when an outbreak of cholera struck her village in the province of Battambang. Shortly after that, a forest fire consumed the family home.

Yet, when the opportunity for schooling arose again, Rith proved a keen student, becoming the only pupil in her high school to pass government exams in 1994. Her greatest challenge, however, was convincing her parents to allow her to move onto post-secondary studies in Phnom Penh. "You are a girl," they argued, "you do not need more schooling to go to the rice paddies with your father."

Rith, however, persisted, and her parents bowed to her ambitions. Since then, Rith has achieved a master's degree from RUPP in tourism development, specializing in eco-tourism, one of the few growth sectors in Cambodia. It is also a key environmental sector. Cambodia's waterways and forests are home to some of the most diverse, but threatened, species and habitats on the planet.

Coming to SFU meant leaving her one-year-old son, Neth Barom Phaknit, at home under her parent's care. On her return to Cambodia, however, Rith, along with the other students in the Tier 1 project, will be among only a handful of instructors at RUPP with a PhD. Their scholarly achievement will put them in a fledgling vanguard of promise and hope in a country moving bravely beyond a ravaged past.

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