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Room to Read Cambodia Recognized as Laureate of 2022 UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education

October 11, 2022

Skill building Cambodia

Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program in Cambodia is one of two recipients of the coveted 2022 UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education. The prize honors outstanding and innovative contributions made to improve and promote educational prospects of girls and women and, in turn, the quality of their lives. Funded by the Government of the People’s Republic of China, the prize also consists of an award of US $50,000 to help further Room to Read’s work in the area of girls’ and women’s education. 

“It is truly an honor to receive this prestigious award for the work we are doing to make a quality education accessible to girls and women in Cambodia,” said Vantha Chea, the country director of Room to Read Cambodia. “We have always known that what we do truly matters, and this prize only emphasizes that fact.” 

More about our Girls’ Education Program in Cambodia

Since 2002, Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program, Cambodia has benefitted more than 17,000 girls with relevant life skills and mentorship to negotiate key life decisions, such as completing school and marrying later in life. 

For Cambodian girls, there are many barriers to pursuing an education. Families do not often see the value in educating their daughters. Instead, girls are expected to help in the home, contribute to the family income, or are forced to marry early. Trafficking and forced labor, which have increased in Cambodia during the past decade, pose major threats for adolescent girls as well. 

In 2014, while 88 percent of girls transitioned from primary to lower secondary school, only 1 in 5 of these girls graduated from upper secondary school.  

Therefore, Cambodia’s Girls’ Education Program focuses on girls in Grades 7–12. The program design is based on substantial research on adolescent social and emotional learning, focusing on
keeping girls engaged in school and helping them develop the life skills they need to gain control over their own lives. 

The four core pillars of the program consist of: 

  1. Transformative life skills curriculum, 
  2. Individual and group mentoring, 
  3. Parent and community engagement, and 
  4. Need-based material support.  

All four components work together to help girls develop the skills they need to respond to daily challenges, make informed decisions and advocate for themselves. The program hires women mentors, who we call social mobilizers, to lead individual and group mentoring sessions — topics of which include general wellbeing, encouragement to keep up with academic study and understanding pressures girls may be facing during this time.   

Through our life skills lessons, which are at the core of our Girls’ Education Program, we have benefited girls in many ways. They have learned about how to make healthy choices, how to make good friends, prepare a plan for their future and advocate for their rights.

Room to Read Cambodia also engages with parents as stakeholders in their daughter’s education. When a girl joins our program, our social mobilizers welcome her parents or caregivers and talk to them about their role as mentors, assess risks and encourage at-home academic support. 


UNESCO Award Ceremony 

UNESCO hosted an award ceremony in Paris, France, on Tuesday, October 11, to honor the two laureates of the prize: Room to Read Cambodia and Girls' Livelihood and Mentorship Initiative from Tanzania. Room to Read’s Senior Girls' Education Program Manager, Cambodia, Nead Bunna, Cambodia Country Director, Vantha Chea, and Chief Program Officer, Heather Simpson, attended the event. In addition to the award ceremony, a panel discussion titled, “Her Rights, Our Future: Transforming Girls’ and Women’s Education,” was held.