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Education for Children in CambodiaAround 30% of the population in Cambodia lives below the poverty line. Poverty affects children significantly. More than 10% of children in Cambodia do not have access to education and roughly 44.8% (1.52 million) of children aged 5-14 are economically active. Organizations are working to improve access to education for children in Cambodia, especially those living in poverty.

The Prevalence of Child Labor in Cambodia

The reason child labor is so prevalent is that many Cambodian families cannot afford to send their children to school and are in desperate financial circumstances. The costs involved in sending children to school include textbooks, uniforms and transport which families cannot afford. In the rural areas of Siem Reap Province, many people live below the poverty line on less than a dollar each day. As a result, they have to choose between food or education for their children. This forces children to work instead of going to school so they can help support their families.

Lack of education along with insufficient nutrition leaves children developmentally behind. Education is a lifeline for children to rise out of poverty but some children simply cannot afford the luxury of learning.

Rebuilding School’s in Cambodia

Part of the problem is the lack of schools in Cambodia. In the rural areas, there are few schools. One can trace this back to when the Khmer Rouge took control in Cambodia in 1975. Not only did schools close but the buildings either underwent destruction or the government took them over for use.

Many Cambodian teachers and students lost their lives at this time as well because intellectuals posed a threat to the society the Khmer Rouge was trying to create. Roughly 75-90% of teachers, 96% of university students and 67% of all primary and secondary school students died in the massacre that lasted from 1975 to 1979.

Rebuilding has been an essential part of improving Cambodian children’s education, a process that continues to this day. In 2020, the Cambodia International Charity Organization, a Chinese-run NGO, constructed a two-classroom school building for Treap Primary School in a remote village. The school headmaster said the existing school building has been deteriorating, making it difficult for children to learn when it rains.

The Cambodian Children’s Fund

This nonprofit organization emerged in 2004 with the mission of “transforming the lives of the most impoverished, marginalized and neglected children in Cambodia through high-quality education, leadership training and direct support programs.” The Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF) works on the ground directly with children who are the most affected by poverty most effects and its programs have positively impacted the education of many impoverished Cambodian children.

In 2019, 1,855 children enrolled in programs that the CCF offered. The pass rate for students taking their grade 12 exams who had involvement with the organization was 84% in comparison to the nation’s 67%. The program also saw 33 university graduates in 2019, marking a total of 84 CCF graduates who have moved on from the program as successful young adults.

Sophy’s Story

Sophy Ron is one of the many people the Cambodian Children’s Fund has helped. Sophy was 11 years old when the organization found her. She did not go to school and made a living selling items she could salvage from a landfill site. After the Cambodian Children’s Fund took her in and sponsored her, Sophy was able to pursue an education. In 2019, Sophy completed her first year of university after earning a scholarship to Trinity College at the University of Melbourne in Australia and gave the valedictorian speech for the graduating class of 2019.

While education is a key factor to help children like Sophy rise out of poverty, without the opportunities and resources available to impoverished families, education remains out of reach. Organizations like the Cambodian Children’s Fund and the Cambodia International Charity Organization make education for children in Cambodia a priority, ensuring that the cycle of poverty can break.

Celia Brocker
Photo: Flickr

Improving education in CambodiaCambodia has come a long way in eliminating poverty. From 2007 to 2014, Cambodia’s poverty rate decreased by about 30% and it is now a middle-income country. However, one pressing issue that continues to trouble the country is access to education, particularly for those living in extreme poverty and rural areas. The good news is that several organizations are improving education in Cambodia by increasing access and tackling obstacles head-on.

Cambodian Children’s Fund

The Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF) works in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s Stung Meanchey district. Though the organization’s focus is on improving education in Cambodia, CCF starts by providing basic needs to the families living in the highly impoverished area that was once a dumping ground. This meant building suitable shelters and homes for families living in makeshift tents.

Once CCF helped provide essentials, the focus turned toward providing stable education for children, while their parents scavenged the junkyard to earn whatever income they could. Children that started in extreme poverty were now attending primary school through high school due to CCF. In 15 years, CCF provided education for more than 3000 children, and of those that started early in the program, nearly 70% were attending college.

Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE)

French expatriates Christian and Marie-France des Pallières, created PSE when the couple traveled to Cambodia and noticed the number of children experiencing extreme poverty. The couple spent two decades advocating for children living in poverty in Cambodia, commuting between there and Europe.

Initially starting in Phnom Penh, PSE now has more than 6000 students benefitting from the organization’s projects throughout Cambodia, including more rural areas near Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. PSE provides everything from food to healthcare and enrolls children in state or corrective schools depending on their needs. Cambodia’s Ministry of Education has noticed success in PSE’s remedial schools. The PSE approach, now utilized by the government, will be improving education in Cambodia for 6000 children per annum.

Khmer NGO for Education (KHEN)

In 2014, KHEN changed direction from being a health education organization to highlight children’s rights. Now, KHEN is a large-scale NGO focused on improving education in Cambodia’s rural Battambang province for traditionally unprotected children, including those with disabilities, girls, minorities and children living in extreme poverty.

KHEN operates in more than 100 schools, most of which were built by the group, and serves more than 10,000 children. It has a long-term focus on education while also protecting children from human trafficking and poor health. Facing the COVID-19 pandemic, KHEN acted swiftly to modify its schools to be open-air and socially distanced, with sanitation stations. Teachers and volunteers received education on preventing the spread of COVID-19 and home-learning tactics changed as well.

Cambodian Community Dream Organization

The Cambodian Community Dream Organization (CCDO) was founded by U.S citizen, Jenni Lipa, who exclusively worked on building water wells in the rural areas around Siem Reap. Now, CCDO improves lives by providing sanitary services, health programs and extensive education systems. CCDO keeps costs low by using local and international volunteers and local paid staff.

There are three schools CCDO operates in, centered on English learning. CCDO offers a schooling experience like most developed countries, with physical education, libraries, playgrounds, arts and crafts and computer workshops. Children enrolled in the programs are particularly fond of the library. CCDO also provides early childhood education programs and gives students who excel in their classes opportunities for high school and university scholarships.

People Improvement Organization

Since 2002, the People Improvement Organization (PIO) has operated in poverty-stricken areas of Phnom Penh. Phymean Noun, a native Cambodian, believed the children scrounging through junk piles to make a living deserved a chance to achieve their dreams. The decision she made was to improve education in Cambodia in order to end child poverty.

PIO believes in providing high-quality education to all children in need. All students attend PIO schools voluntarily, but PIO provides clothes, food, clean water, full social care and health services. Many children who scavenged through junkyards to survive have been pulled out of poverty and are now attending PIO high schools and even university.

NGOs have helped reduce child poverty in Cambodia through better access and improvements in education. The low costs in Cambodia allow new organizations to form rapidly and successfully. Through similar philanthropic efforts toward improving education in Cambodia, child poverty can be successfully combated.

– Zachary Kunze
Photo: Flickr