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Bangladesh's all female success story: AUW's First Graduates take on the World

Louise Allain, 30th January 2014

AUW is an independent, international university for women located in Chittagong, Bangladesh. The University focuses on providing a high-quality liberal arts and sciences education to future women leaders, regardless of their background.

Among the pages of Cherie's website you will no doubt have come across one of the recent triumphs for the female population of the developing world, Asian University for Women (AUW). AUW opened it's doors to students in 2012, but the concept started back in 2000 with the World Bank and the UN Task Force on Education and Society publishing findings that criticized institutions of Higher Education and proposed an overhaul of syllabuses and governance. In the light of this, the government of Bangladesh granted more than 100 acres of land for a permanent campus: AUW.

What is so inspiring about AUW is the selection criteria. Students are admitted solely on merit of their talent, not the family's income, and most students are given full scholarships. There is also the brilliant scheme of Access Academy Program which is an intensive, year-long, pre-undergraduate program that prepares talented students for a rigorous, american-style, liberal arts university education.

"Why single-sex?" is naturally a question raised, to which the simple answer is that given the undisputed fact of no real parity of the sexes in learning institutions, a single sex university ensures each cohort of undergraduates is maximizing her talents before going back out into what will be a male dominated, working arena in some province like Cambodia.

So leaping forward from the fundraising and planning that started to come together in 2005, with grants from Bill and Melinda Gates and Goldman Sachs, we come to 18 May 2013, and a batch of 132 graduates, beaming happy, successful smiles, these amazing women are AUW's very first graduates.

As Chancellor of AUW, Cherie has received updates about some of the Cambodian Graduates. Some months on from leaving AUW, it's lovely to share their stories of the remarkable, new careers they are pursuing.

Duth Kimsru majored in Philosophy and Economics, she now is Project Coordinator at PEPY (Promoting Education Empowering Youth). Duth enthuses about how AUW has made her want to share her experiences and inspire other youngsters, like those she is meeting through her work, and how having been given hands on teaching experience as an undergraduate has helped fulfill her potential in her new job.

Van Endear also majored in Philosophy, Economics and Politics and is now Assistant to the Project Manager at Yanmar Green System Company, which sees Van liaising with Japanese colleagues and foreign investors. Yanmar work with the Cambodian government installing rice-milling machines, so Van's work is to promote Cambodia's exports, which brings into play the economic and socialist sides to her degree.

Van is indebted to the promotion of self-determination that she feels AUW gave her: “AUW forces students to get out of their comfort zone and learn to challenge themselves. We must always question why things are the way they are and seek solutions to problems in society.”

There are others like Pol Sreymom who was raised by a single mother and never dreamt she would end up working for the Cambodia-Oxford Medical Research Unit, a leading public health organization. Res Phasy is another Cambodian graduate who's majored in Philosophy and Economics, and now works at the Institute of Research for Development in Phnom Penh. Res admits that she found it hard to begin with as an undergraduate to think creatively and self-analyse but that in the end it has helped her in the bureaucracy she now faces in her job dealing with government departments.

Glancing through the list of these Cambodian ladies, Hour Samouy is another profile that leaps out when it describes that she is a 'Consultant, Ford Motor Company'. Hour arrived at AUW determined to improve her english skills. Again, rather shy, timid, the university's life and expectations drew out the strengths of this independent, creative young woman. Hour's job at Ford involves very much a one to one interaction,for which she is now well adapted. One day she would like to work in politics, which was part of her degree, as she is 'passionate about politics' and wants to show up the problems of corruption within the Cambodian government.

Graduate Seang Sorya comes from a family who had lived under the Pol Pot regime, so studying and education was a radical step for Seang; but having had friends who'd studied abroad, she was determined to find a scholarship to do the same. Now a Public Health Officer at the company Swiss TPH, which monitors health programs in Cambodia, Seang is enjoying every minute of her prestigious, new career and credits her success to the confidence imbued in her by AUW.

Lastly Ney Someta is another graduate who's personality and achievements are another inspiring story. Ney is quite well listed on google because of her involvement during university with the BBC's World Service 'Your Story' project. Ney was drawn to write about the effects of drug abuse and addiction which is rife in young people in Bangladesh. For the project Ney visited a drug rehabilitation centre in Chittagong. Now working as Deputy Editor for Sabay Magazine, Ney too, says her dreams have been realised thanks to AUW's Access Academy which discovered her talent for writing.

Glancing briefly at AUW-Cambodian Facebook Page, there is a fabulous picture of a chocolate cake iced with the caption, 'Cool Cambodians!' Below, there are lots of interesting status updates that range from films the students are recommending to reminders about the up and coming book and food fairs. A written picture of a thriving intellectual and social community.

We wish all students past and present at AUW every success with their careers, and the future paths of female leadership that they are mapping out.