In 2008 we established a children’s education centre in the heart of a poor rural village in Siem Reap Province, the third poorest province in Cambodia. Our objective is to enable the very poorest children and young people, who would not otherwise have the opportunity, to gain an education and training. Some of the children board with us during the week and return home at weekends and holidays, and some of the children attend on a daily basis.
At our Education Centre they receive the essentials necessary to provide a firm foundation for learning –nutritious food, health care, clothing, emotional support and encouragement.
Due to the acute shortage of teachers in Cambodia children can only attend the government schools for half of the day. The children at our Centre attend the local schools both primary and secondary. We supplement school lessons with additional teaching in core subjects, and in English and computers, as well as a range of activities such as sport, art. Our objective is for the children not only to learn, but to have the opportunity to develop their interests and talents in physical, creative and cultural pursuits as well as just to have fun and enjoy life. We monitor the health, welfare and progress of each child.
We find that the children grasp the opportunity they are given and really run with it. It doesn’t take long for their health to improve, they develop more confidence and on the whole start achieving excellent results at school.
In 2015 we opened a facility in Siem Reap to enable our older students to progress to high school and vocational training in the city. The teaching in our rural area is poor and we felt our students would not be able to compete with city children for places at college/university/vocational training, if they do not go to high school in Siem Reap. We provide the students with accommodation, food, uniforms and clothing, extra teaching support, guidance and mentoring.
Opportunity Cambodia’s commitment to our students is to support them through their school education, followed by appropriate tertiary education and/or training to enable them to earn their own living.
Girls’ education is extensively documented as the investment that offers the greatest overall returns for economic development and stability.
The UN Population Fund’s 2011 Report presents a persuasive case for investing in women and children and particularly girls, as the best strategy to put global population growth on a more sustainable path.
Research shows that poor and uneducated women represent the majority of domestic violence victims, and in Cambodia, where female education standards are extremely low, it is an antidote to poverty, child labour and sexual exploitation. In Cambodia the majority of girls who complete primary school do not continue into secondary school. This is largely due to poverty and the fact that education of girls is not a priority for struggling families.
Recognising how absolutely critical it is to raise the standard of girls’ education we have introduced a school support program to enable girls to stay at school through secondary school.
Our program provides the girls with nutritious food, health care, uniforms, bicycles, all school materials and school tuition fees, and extra classes in English and computers at our Centre. Please consider sponsoring one of our girls for their secondary education – your support will transform a life.
Early Childhood and Maternal Education
There is little pre-school education available in rural communities. We have just completed building a pre-school and maternal education centre which was funded by a Malaysian Government volunteer program.
We now have a class of 20 little people in their smart blue uniforms and expect to have another intake later in 2017. We will also provide training in basic hygiene, nutrition, and baby care for the parents.
Community Education and Training
We think it is important to involve the local community in our new centre, and to work with them to address some of their other education and training related needs. Prostitution and sex trafficking are problems in Cambodia and uneducated young women from poor rural communities, who go to the towns to try to earn a living, are at risk. To help address the dire need for uneducated young women in the commune to gain some income producing skills we conducted a 10 month sewing and tailoring training course for 10 young women in the commune.
Our program was a first for the commune and was successful with all girls graduating from the course. Some of the girls went on to further training, and several set up their own little businesses, making an income for themselves.
Our prime objective is to enable very poor children to gain an education.
However about one third of our students come from a desperately poor community which has no clean drinking water, no sanitation, no electricity, inadequate shelter and chronic disease.
We have begun carrying out some development work in this community when we can raise specific purpose donations.
We have commenced a pilot project raising pigs, designed to assist some of our very impoverished families to earn some income. After intensive training the 10 families selected for the pilot are now fattening up their pigs. We are planning to extend the project to more families once successful results of the pilot program are confirmed. We also expect to introduce chicken raising.
Water and Sanitation
We established a Safe and Clean Drinking Water Project, in cooperation with Brian Hammond (a periodic volunteer at our Centre), to enable this community to have clean water. With our assistance, the community set up a Project Committee and undertook appropriate training in hygiene and water collection and use of filters.
Working with the community we dug a large reservoir to capture water in the wet season and provided each family with a water filter. We have now distributed over 100 water filters to families in the commune, and the health of the community has improved.
We have installed three toilets in this community and plan for more.
In writing about the Safe Drinking Water Project Brian said:
The project is aimed at delivering safe drinking water to the families of some of the kids at the Opportunity Cambodia Centre. I could not help but notice the striking difference in health between the children at the Centre and their families and peers in the village where most of them come from. It was obvious that the safe water and healthy food provided at the Centre were having a dramatic effect on the overall health and wellbeing of the children there.
Brian went on to describe this community as
An untidy collection of about 35 broken down shacks between a stinking river and a dusty track, later on in the wet season it becomes a flooded mosquito ridden open sewer where every stilt house is an island of neglect. The health of the families is pretty grim – malnutrition, vitamin deficiency, diarrhoea, poor eyesight, worms and respiratory infections are all very common, especially in the young. They have never not had a stomach ache, never been free from parasites in their gut or never not had one of the family members free from sickness of one kind or another.
One of the biggest logistical challenges for the village is clean water supply. Because of its situation wells are very difficult to sink and restrictively expensive. Its position on the edge of the Tonle Sap Lake means it is frequently flooded and almost impossible to access by road during the wet season. It is the place where the forgotten people live.