For the last six years, the Bayon Pastry and Baking School has offered a free skills training programme to young Cambodian women from underprivileged backgrounds. Each year, the school receives more than 100 applications for about 25 places, obliging us to make a selection, which is based on very strict criteria concerning income, motivation and competence. Favouring one candidate over another is a complicated and difficult choice. Let’s take a closer look at these criteria and the admissions process.
Promotional campaigns for the School
Between February and March (once in February and then August this year, due to COVID-19), 2 or 3 trips are organised to promote the Bayon School or, as they say in Khmer, « the school where we learn to bake cakes ». We need to bear in mind the fact that, in the districts situated 3 or 4 hours’ drive from Siem Reap, the local population has very often never heard of bread baking, never mind pastry. Either through the local high schools or with the help of local associations, who deal with young people (Enfant du Mékong, CWCC), we go to talk about cakes, recipes, a little maths, hygiene and English, but, more importantly, the promise of getting a concrete profession, which is in high demand. Every year, we distribute around 1000 promotional leaflets and application files, inviting the young girls to submit an application.
Meeting the families
Once we have the applications – May/June usually (September this year) – the social teams set off to meet the families, in order to get a better understanding of their situation. How is the family made up, how many dependents are there, what is the level of income per family member, do they own land with the capacity to produce food (namely rice), do they own anything (motorbike, bicycle, concrete house or not), do they have outstanding debts? These criteria allow our teams to award a mark which will serve to assess the poverty level of each family.
The exam and motivation interview
Finally, during the same trip, the future students are invited to sit an exam, which will enable us to assess their academic level, as the training programme is only open to students having graduated Grade 7 (equivalent of 5ème in France). The young girls also have an interview where we test essentially their ability to present themselves and ask questions as well as their motivation to follow the programme. This interview is essential as we can assess their self-confidence and desire to learn; some of the young girls we see stopped school a number of years ago, and it is important to check that they will be able to start learning again.
How do we choose ?
On the basis of this analysis and the individual interviews, a committee, composed of social workers, teachers and members of the management team, assesses the pertinence of choosing one student over another. With the same level of poverty, how do we choose between two motivated young girls, who both stopped school after Grade 9 (Brevet, 3ème)? In this particular case, priority would be given to the older of the two, encouraging the younger girl to go back to school and to re-apply a year or two later if she stills wishes to. It is true that, at 20 or 21 years of age, the parents (and the young girls) will try to marry their daughter off in order to ensure her financial security. Later on, the young girl will find it very difficult to follow a training programme or take up other studies.
“As far as I am concerned, priority needs to be given to a candidate’s motivation when we have to choose between two candidates. A young girl needs to show strong perseverance to be able to follow a training programme 8 hours a day with English lessons in the evening. A student, with little motivation or who has been pressurised to join by her parents, will struggle to keep up,” explains Sokhoeurn, Head of the Pastry School.
Even if the choice can be difficult, and the Bayon School cannot accept everybody, the association tries to advise the families, sometimes by re-directing them towards other associations, which offer training programmes, but mainly by encouraging the young girls to continue in their search to carry on with their studies.