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In the ethnically Cham village where Sokma lives with her parents and two siblings, many children attend Arabic school, but girls are not encouraged to pursue a higher level of education especially if it meant attending one of the Cambodian public schools where boys and girls sit in mixed classes.

The story of one of Sokma’s school friends is typical; she got married at a young age and now has two children to care for, as well as having to try to earn an income by working at the local beef market. Hardly anyone in the village speaks English, and in the past it was not considered a very helpful language to know.

Five years ago, Sokma started university in Siem Reap and realized that she needed English if she was going to progress in her studies. She asked around and was encouraged to study at the excellent Australian Centre of Education (ACE). Her finances already stretched to the limit, Sokma knew she would never be able to afford the fees. At about the same time, a Malaysian family visited her village, but because of the language barrier, found it difficult to communicate with the people there. Sokma, who knew a smattering of English, was called to be the translator. The family were impressed by her enthusiasm, and asked how they could help her improve her English.

It was a coincidence made in heaven! Sokma spoke about ACE and very soon was enrolled as a student, sponsored by the kind Malaysian family. They offered to pay all her fees until she had completed all the courses on offer at ACE – as long as she passed her exams for each level! Sokma loved ACE! She made so many friends, and enjoyed meeting up with her classmates three times a week. The classes were fun, and the teachers were friendly and helpful. She completed the General English programme, passed the IELTS exams, and continued in the English for Academic purposes classes. Her outgoing and chatty personality, combined with hard work soon had Sokma speaking English. Her parents were so proud of her, as are others in the village. Attitudes towards education began to change. She was asked to start English classes in her village for other students, and she volunteers her time to do this. Other girls are now learning to speak English too.

Last year she was invited to Singapore for some extra pedagogical training and networking with other teachers. All this is because she learned to speak English at ACE. When Sokma applied for a job at the Royal Angkor International Hospital, the HR manager chose her from 25 other candidates because of her aptitude in English. Having studied, at ACE gave her an advantage in a highly competitive employment environment. She was asked to be at the reception desk purely because of her good English.