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Since her mother left, Leeda has been in charge of the household. Every day she cooks, cleans and takes care of her brothers. A phone number to contact her mother in case of emergency is carved on one of the house's wooden beams.

Leeda is now in the seventh grade at the Dey Thoy School with a scholarship from the OPTIONS Programme, which is run by World Education with support from UNICEF, the United States Department of Labor and The McKnight Foundation. Despite her family's acute poverty and her responsibilities as her brothers' caretaker, she dreams of attending university and becoming a health worker.

The OPTIONS Programme offers weekly life skills classes geared to girls living in poverty who, like Leeda, are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. The topics range from trafficking and sexual exploitation, to reproductive health and HIV/AIDS prevention to vocational awareness and rice agriculture.

"In these classes, the girls learn critical thinking, problem solving and teamwork skills and develop confidence and self-awareness," says Sok Kimsroeung, Programme Manager for OPTIONS in Prey Veng.

To ensure that Cambodian girls receive an education and are given the tools to protect themselves from exploitation the Cambodian government developed the National Education for All Plan 2003-2015.

As a result of the efforts such as OPTIONS and those of the national government enrolment rates for primary school topped 90 per cent in 2004-05 and the gender gap decreased from 7.4 per cent in 1999-2000 to less than 3 per cent in 2004-05. But more needs to be done to keep children, especially girls, in school. For Leeda, education is the only hope she has of making a better life for herself and staying safe.