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First Lady Michelle Obama is addressed by students in Room to Read's Girls' Education Program at a high school in Siem Reap, Cambodia - (Photo by Patricia Andrews Fearon, Room to Read)



BUSINESS - USA First Lady Michelle Obama Met with Students in Cambodia



During Trip to Asia in Support of New Global Initiative “Let Girls Learn,” Michelle Obama Heard from Female High School Students Supported by Room to Read in Cambodia



Sunday, April 19, 2015

On Saturday, March 21, 2015, First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama, joined by Mrs. Bun Rany, First Lady of Cambodia, visited with 10 girls in Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program at a high school in Siem Reap, Cambodia, as part of Mrs. Obama’s tour to Japan and Cambodia to promote the White House’s recently launched “Let Girls Learn” initiative. Mrs. Obama chose to visit Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program in Cambodia for its community-driven solutions that are changing girls' lives. The first ladies were addressed by several of the students who shared their personal stories of overcoming obstacles to education and posed questions on “Let Girls Learn”—a testament to the confidence and empowerment instilled in these girls through Room to Read’s program.

Starting with just 15 girls in 2001, Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program supports more than 32,400 girls across nine countries. In 2013, 94% of participants either remained in the program or graduated from secondary school and 72% of the girls graduating from the program continued on to tertiary education—a rate well above the national average in the countries where Room to Read operates. In Cambodia, over 6,159 girls have benefited from the program to date. In October, the start of the Cambodian school year, Room to Read will welcome 2,141 new girls to the program.

Mrs. Obama, the first sitting First Lady of the United States to ever visit Cambodia, and Mrs. Bun Rany met with Room to Read students to hear how girls seeking an education benefit from community-led programs like Room to Read. Room to Read’s approach aligns with a component of the “Let Girls Learn” initiative the First Lady is championing: community-based solutions to the education barriers girls face.

Mrs. Obama called the girls in Room to Read’s program “role models to the world.” She encouraged them during her remarks saying, “When you complete your education…and I know that you will…find another young girl in your community or in your family, and you help them. You mentor them. You hold their hand when it gets hard.”

Providing much more than academic support, Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program ensures that girls complete secondary school with the skills and confidence necessary to negotiate key life decisions and navigate their futures. Room to Read achieves this by engaging with families, schools and communities, and by providing mentorship, life skills education and material support. Key to the program are Social Mobilizers, local women who are hired as mentors and work with girls and their families to ensure that girls stay in school, participate in activities, and navigate the challenges of adolescence with the ability to make their own life choices, both personally and professionally.

Room to Read places great emphasis on collaborating with families and communities as well as governments at the local, regional and national levels. Community meetings are held for parents and guardians to discuss their challenges and the importance of sending all of their children—not just the boys—to school. Partnerships with governments promote girl-friendly learning environments and ensure that the program is complementary to national efforts, sustainable and scalable.

“We want to have a better life. We no longer want to see poverty, discrimination against girls. We want to see this country full of educated people,” said 12th grade student Sohang Vean to the first ladies. Sohang dreams of becoming a math teacher and shared she never lost hope in herself despite her many hardships. “I want all the girls to work hard in their studies. No matter what we face, we need to overcome them. Only education can change everything.” Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program is one of two programs Room to Read operates to impact children’s education. Room to Read’s Literacy Program transforms primary schools into comprehensive learning environments that enable children to develop a regular habit of reading. Room to Read will be reaching the milestone of impacting 10 million children through its quality programs later this year.

Room to Read is a global organization seeking to transform the lives of millions of children in the developing world by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education. Founded on the belief that World Change Starts with Educated Children, Room to Read works in collaboration with local communities, partner organizations and governments to develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children and to ensure girls have the skills and support needed to complete their secondary education. Since 2000, Room to Read has impacted the lives of more than nine million children in Asia and Africa and aims to reach 10 million children by 2015.

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