Readers Who Care: Elizabeth Romney for Cambodia

Elizabeth Romney works with charity CARE to send girls to school in Cambodia.

By Dara Pettinelli
Elizabeth Romney shows children in a Cambodian commune their pictures on a digital camera.

Elizabeth Romney | 56 | Business owner | Seattle, Washington CARE site: Poipet, Cambodia Why did you choose CARE? I’m part of a group called the Northwest Women’s Initiative for Education. We were drawn to CARE because education for girls is one of their primary goals. I personally believe that you can change the world by educating girls. What does your group do? We set up a micro-lending bank that funds educational programs in Guatemala, Cambodia, and Kabul. Parents can send their kids to school with the money. There’s a direct connection between our actions here and what’s happening halfway around the world. Where did you go? In 2005, we traveled with CARE to Cambodia. It’s a poor country comprised of tiny villages where homes sit on stilts above water because it rains six months out the year. Some girls had to swim to school or take boats because the flooding was so bad. It’s much harder to get girls to school because they need to help at home while the boys are being educated. But CARE supports schools for both sexes. We watched as girls between the ages of 11 and 13 learned basic arithmetic, reading, and writing skills. How does an education help a girl? Knowing how to read and write makes them less vulnerable to rape, abuse, and slavery. They will be more likely to get jobs in their home village where they are safe and less likely to move to a big city like Phnom Penh for factory work, where they become sitting ducks. Some girls become qualified for CARE scholarships so that they can continue their studies beyond the primary level. For every year of education you give a girl, the infant mortality rate goes down, the number of children they have goes down, and the family income goes up. How have you been inspired? When you ask girls in Cambodia what they want to be when they grow up, they say a teacher or a nurse. They have no concept of the jobs we have in the U.S. They’re just thrilled to be going to school. I was inspired by how hopeful they were. They didn’t view their lives as squalid or terrible. What are your plans now? My group is continuing to raise money to fund the educational programs, like the Option Program, which gives girls social skills in critical decision making so that they’re not scammed into joining brothels or human trafficking rings. We recently hosted the CARE country director from Cambodia to visit Seattle so she could teach our community about what’s going on where she works. Next year, we plan on going back to visit more schools and factories. How can we help? CARE’s scholarships cost $12.60 a year. This covers books, pencils, and a school uniform. I sent my son to a private school for $25,000 a year. If you only make $1 a day, $12.60 is a huge sum. I sit awake at night thinking of the kids who won’t go to school for the lack of that money. Giving money can help people have a better life. What do you say to people who think you should only help women in the U.S.? The world is too small for that. What happens to people in the world affects us. What happened on September 11th is a good example of that. Poverty breeds desperation. The biggest bang you can get for your buck is educating girls. Where Your Money Goes in Cambodia Bumper backpack: $30 Includes chalk, pencils, crayons, paints, glues, scissors, and workbooks School furniture: $60 A table with two benches for four students Books: $90 Dictionaries translated into the native language, Khmer Books for an entire school: $360 Support a student: $200 Send a child to school for one year (includes support for teachers’ salaries and school infrastructure) Train a teacher: $1,900 Support training for one yearLearn more about CARE Join the CARE MORE Giving Circle Challenge Originally published on MORE.com, October 2007.

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