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Xavier Jesuit School (XJS) in Cambodia shares the story of Kana (15), Chay (16), and Srey (17) all Grade 9 students and their outstanding traits and willpower.

9 June 2020. In Malai.

XJS Team : Hello, what’s your name?
Kana : “…” (Alternately glancing at Srey and Chay)
XJS Team : What’s your name? (Wondering why Kana did not answer.)
XJS Team : (Shifting to Srey and Chay)Can she understand me?
Srey : No. (Shaking her head.)She cannot speak English.
XJS Team : They don’t have English class in their school?
(Srey translated for Kana and replied.)
Srey : She said they have but they don’t have [any] teacher. No PE. No music. No arts.
(Kana somehow feeling what Srey has said, bowed her head for a while. And when she raised her head, she began looking elsewhere uneasily.)

Srey is in yellow. Kana is in pink, sitting on the hammock. Together with them are their parents. Also in this photo is Chay, their cousin, in red and white stripes.

Kana (15), Chay (16), and Srey (17) are all Grade 9 students. Kana and Srey are sisters and Chay is their cousin. The three of them are the only ones currently studying among the family.

Since 2017, Srey and Chay both have been receiving scholarship support from JSC to study at Xavier Jesuit School. Each time the school year resumes, both Srey and Chay would move to Sisophon to stay at the girl’s hostel. As scholarship grantees, they are provided with comfortable stay, nutritious meals, some school supplies, conducive learning environment, and quality education.

On the other hand, Kana, each school year, has to remain in her town. Kana is studying at one of the schools situated at about 10 kilometres from their home. Every day, she would ride her bicycle to get to her school. Every day, she has to survive those dark and empty muddy roads in between rice fields to reach her destination. Every day, she strives to go to her school without even knowing whether her teachers would be present or not. And almost every day, she has to reaffirm her determination to finish studying despite the perilous circumstances she faces.

When the XJS team visited, both Srey and Chay came near and promptly engaged in conversations. Behind them was Kana, quietly following them. Srey and Chay led the team to an open space at the back of their house where they do their online classes. Both of them were cheerfully talking (alternately shifting between Khmer and English) with some of the XJS staff. Behind them was Kana, quietly observing (and perhaps wishfully thinking).

Across where Srey and Chay were studying was the other group of XJS team and their
parents. Kana and Srey’s mother shared that one time they asked Kana to stop studying. However, Kana disagreed. Their mother reasoned that it is unsafe for her to commute each day and that they cannot afford to rent her a room near her school. Their mother also tearfully recalled how they were once conned by a big company that left them an enormous debt. To pay back their debt and support Srey’s and Kana’s studies, she and her husband started working as a cleaner and gardener in one of the casinos outside their town. But with the pandemic, the casinos were shut down leaving them unemployed. Now that they are back in town, she and her husband went back to farming in order to serve something at their dining table. Near the end of her conversation with the XJS team, she, in between tears and sniffing, plead for XJS to support Kana’s studies while repetitively citing Kana’s outstanding traits and willpower.

Just when the team was about to leave, Mr. Kim, the JSC staff, assuredly told them that they will find help to support Kana. Then, Kana burst into tears. She could not say anything and continuously cried until Srey began crying, too. Srey also cried because she was once just like her sister Kana.

Kana was may be silent the whole time but her entire presence speaks volumes. Her silence voices out a child’s strong desire to study. It speaks of one’s unwavering determination. It whispers a person’s deepest aspiration. It utters the soul’s innermost plea. Above all, it represents every human’s plight against the inequalities in this world.

But for Kana, will XJS remain just a dream?

At Xavier Jesuit School, we respect everyone within our community. So while the stories mentioned here are true, names and places have either been changed or intentionally omitted to protect their privacy. Thank your for understanding.

This story was originally shared in Newsletter#28 of Xavier Jesuit School Cambodia.