INTERVIEW-First Indigenous Female in Tech Education

Despite many hurdles, indigenous Jarai Rochom Munny refused to wed at 14 and is instead pursuing a career in technology, with the aim of inspiring female members of her community to follow in her footsteps.
Rochom Munny
Rochom Munny

Rochom Munny was 14 when her parents asked her to marry a village boy instead of going to school. Munny, an indigenous Jarai, defied her parents’ wishes and went on to study because she wanted to make a change.

Now 18, Munny is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Data Science and Artificial Intelligence Engineering at CamTech University in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changva district. The first year student is the first girl from an indigenous background in technology education.

Her able pursuit of education came at the cost of her sister, who is one year older, who had to marry early to take the economic burden off the family.

Rochom Munny
Rochom Munny

“My parents kept saying repeatedly that I should get married soon and they only wanted a son to study further,” Munny recalled in an interview with Kiripost. Her older brother is now studying in a university in Vietnam majoring in electricity. “They are happier that my older brother studies than me going to school.”

In 2018, Munny’s parents wanted her to get married. However, she wanted to leave her home in O’Yadaw district to continue to study in the provincial town of Banlung, about 50 kilometers away.

“After I finished Grade 9, my parents forced me to get married. They said that I don’t need to study more, they said marry a husband and if I don't take a husband, find work or work on the farm,” she recalled.

“But I wanted to study more, I wanted to go to Banlung to study computers and English,” she said. “I rejected their wish and raised the reasoning about going to study. I want the future, knowledge is important,” she said, adding she spent about a month explaining every day to her parents.

Munny’s parents are in their 50s and 40s and own about seven hectares of rubber, cashew nut and rice farms.

She did come to Banlung in 2018 and stayed with her aunt who worked at an orphanage. Munny worked four hours at night as a waitress, earning $50 per month. She studied one hour per day and paid $20 per month to a local teacher.

Rochom Munny poses for picture with her family
Rochom Munny poses for picture with her family

Her time in Balung engaged Munny with the wider world. She attended workshops and events organized by Transparency International, Cambodian Youth Network and the United Nations in the following years. This connected her with other networks of youths and enabled her to practice English.

After graduating from highschool in 2021, Munny came to Phnom Penh and won a scholarship at Cam Tech University. The school offered Munny 75 percent of the fees after passing an examination and another 25 percent fee in exchange for working at the school for 12 hours a week.

In Phnom Penh, Munny stays at an indigenous student center in Tuol Kork. It is funded by donors in the United States to thank the Jarais for their help during the Vietnam War.

Munny said her community faces many problems, including poverty, drugs and lack of education. With her education, she hopes to change things.

Munny attended the annual Cambodia ICT Camp 2022 in Siem Reap last month and is hoping to attend more events to expand her network and knowledge.

“I will try to find projects that help people in my community to let them know the importance of education in technology. That people need to go outside, they don’t need to be like a frog inside a well,” Munny said.
Rochom Munny poses for picture with other indigenous girls in Ratanakiri province
Rochom Munny poses for picture with other indigenous girls in Ratanakiri province

Her cousin was arrested for a drug-related crime in front of her and drugs have reached her remote village, something people dare not speak about.

“Drugs are in the indigenous community, we don’t feel safe. I feel more scared being there than in Phnom Penh,” she added.

Now at Cam Tech, Munny wants to become a programmer or website developer. But, she said, being the only indigenous girl in the school felt lonely.

“I came alone, I am lonely,” she said. “There is no warmth.” She added that as she is still continuing her studies, the risk of being told by her parents at some point to stop school remains.

“I think if we still continue to be like our ancestors, we can’t change anything, there will still be poverty. I want to start from my generation to be better. From my children’s generation, it will be even better,” Munny added.

Munny’s older sister wed in 2018 to another Jarai who plays piano in churches in the village and they have one child. The older sister was unable to continue the studies but married for the family so Munny was able to.

“She wants me to go to school, so I am a model for her child in the future. She wants her child to have business or a salary,” Munny said.