In 2019 we are launching an exciting new development for our education project.
We are passionate about enabling impoverished young people in rural Cambodia to gain a tertiary education . We have therefore introduced a tertiary education scholarship program.
Over the years OpCam has been working in Cambodia we have become very aware of the chronic lack of an educated professional workforce to provide the teachers, trained nurses, and accountants, the engineers, doctors and administrators needed to build an economically and socially healthier and stronger Cambodia.
In fact the Asian Development Bank has noted that one of the biggest risks to economic growth in Cambodia is the fact that most of the country’s labour force is young and not equipped with the level of education and skills to meet needs of the economy – to provide the professionals and technicians that are critical to the future of the country.
The ambition and determination of our older students to gain a tertiary education is impressive. As is their desire to contribute actively to their communities, and to become future leaders and role models for their country which sorely needs them.
At the end of 2018 our first group of high school students passed the National Exam and became eligible to apply to university. They are now enrolled in degree courses such as teaching, accounting, law etc. This is an impressive achievement for young people who come from the poorest families, where parents are illiterate and have little hope for the future.
We plan to provide scholarships to a wider rural catchment area than our commune. To that end we have developed a selection process based on financial need, academic results in the National Exam, and the advice of high school principals regarding the student’s commitment, focus and ability to work hard. We will interview a short list of applicants.
Early Childhood and Maternal Education
There is very little pre-school education available in rural communities. In 2016 we built a pre-school and maternal education centre which was funded by a Malaysian Government volunteer program.
We conduct classes for pre-schoolers and prepare them (and their families) for enrolment in kindergarten and primary school.
On the land around the pre-school we have planted vegetables and fruit trees to provide at least one nutritious meal per day for the children. Parents and children really enjoy working in the vegetable garden and harvesting their produce.
We provide training in basic hygiene, nutrition, and baby care for parents.
Primary and Secondary School Education
Since beginning work in Cambodia our Rural Education Centre has enabled rural children from extremely poor and disadvantaged circumstances to go to school, to stay at school, and to pass grade 9.
Our approach to enabling the education of children growing up in dire poverty is a holistic one. It requires providing physical, nutritional, emotional and educational support to our students. This approach has proved to be successful in retaining children at school, so much so that the majority of our students who pass Grade 9 want to go on to high school.
Over 100 disadvantaged students from our community come to our Centre every day to take advantage of the free lessons we provide in English and Computer. After school they can do art and sport, neither of which are provided by the local school. We also provide a free, nutritious lunch.
Girls’ education is extensively documented as the investment that offers the greatest overall returns for economic development and stability.
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 critical it is to raise the standard of girls’ education we have particularly invested in the education of girls, providing scholarships to enable girls to complete secondary school (very high drop-out rate of girls at the end of primary school in rural Cambodia), and to progress to high school or vocational training.
High School Education
As there is no high school in our commune we opened a Centre in Siem Reap to provide a safe home and holistic support for our students to attend high school in the city.
This program has been very successful with some of our students being regularly placed in the top 10 students in their class.
In August 2018 the great majority of our students passed the National Exam and became eligible to enroll at university.
Tertiary Education and Vocational Training
We now provide university scholarships for our students. The scholarship covers fees, books, living allowance and bicycles. They attend our Siem Reap Centre daily so that they can have at least one healthy meal per day, and a quiet place to work and study. We provide supplementary classes in areas such as English, life skills, basic financial skills, and leadership. We are also able to provide emotional support and mentoring,
In 2019 we will provide more scholarships, not only to our students but to a wider rural catchment area. To that end we have developed a selection process based on financial need, academic results in the National Exam, and the advice of high school principals regarding the student’s commitment, focus and ability to work hard.
For students who do not wish to go to University we provide a range of Vocational Training options.
There is a desperately poor community on the outskirts of our rural commune. As many of our students over the years call this community home, we commenced a community development program there. The community had no clean drinking water, no sanitation, no electricity, inadequate shelter, chronic disease and unemployment.
We have introduced an animal raising project to assist impoverished families to earn some income. Families undertake intensive training in pig and chicken raising and most of them go on to achieve a steady income flow.
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.