Bordered by Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and the Gulf of Thailand, Cambodia struggled through decades of civil war and occupation. At least 1.5 million Cambodians died from execution, starvation and other hardships during the Khmer Rouge regime under dictator Pol Pot in the 1970s, followed by Vietnamese occupation and 13 years of civil war. Since 2003, Cambodia’s political processes have been peaceful, but the country still faces significant challenges, including poor access to education, lack of safe water and sanitation, and high rates of infectious disease.
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Ages 0 – 5: Healthy and Secure
Almost two-thirds of people living in rural communities in Cambodia don’t have access to a toilet or a place to bathe. This causes much greater risk of disease, including diarrhea and hepatitis, and children under the age of five are particularly vulnerable. ChildFund is working to construct safe and private toilets in communities that lack them. In Svay Rieng, a rural community, we’ve funded the building of more than 4,000 toilets. Also, we helped more than 1,000 children get their birth registrations through Cambodia’s government, which will help them enroll in school and get other benefits like proper healthcare later in their lives. Nearly 17,000 community members have attended education sessions on birth registration, safe migration and domestic violence. These measures will help the youngest community members be safer and able to get the education, water and food they need and deserve.
Ages 6 – 14: Educated and Confident
ChildFund Cambodia is working to make sure children and youth have full access to good, student-focused education. Many of our initiatives promote training of teachers, principals and other educators in new teaching methods, child protection and livelihood preparation for teens about to enter the workforce. We’ve also provided school uniforms, bicycles and helmets, and learning materials to students, and built and equipped libraries in communities without good access to books. Youth and children have been trained in children’s rights and given many opportunities to speak to adults about their needs and hopes. In 2015 alone, we distributed 10,700 educational packets about children’s rights at schools and community centers.
Ages 15 – 24: Skilled and Involved
More than 1,000 youth received livelihood and life skills training to make them better prepared for life after school ends, and 289 youth got livestock and equipment in 2015. In the past year, ChildFund Cambodia established 13 new youth groups with 457 members. We support teens’ involvement in community planning, and we have trained more than 450 teens who give talks in public about child protection and rights. Right now, we are working on Commune Investment Plans centered on issues of unsafe migration, gender-based violence and climate change.
Education in Cambodia
Primary school enrollment in Cambodia is at an all-time high of 96 percent, and the Cambodian government is an active partner with USAID, ChildFund and other organizations to make sure that children are able to get to school safely and regularly. Nonetheless, as in many countries, rural regions in Cambodia lag behind in education, especially in higher grade levels.
In rural areas, only 34 percent of children are enrolled in secondary schools’ lower grades, and that number becomes just 21 percent for the higher grade levels. The reasons vary by community, but lack of facilities and teachers, as well as poor infrastructure, play significant roles in low enrollment. ChildFund Cambodia has placed a great focus on educational access, and we work with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, as well as other nonprofit organizations, to train teachers and principals, construct schools and libraries, and provide children with uniforms, educational materials and bicycles to get them to and from school.
As a result, schools are much more child friendly, with new water and sanitation facilities, safe playgrounds and well-equipped and supervised classrooms. Our focus today is on community involvement, technological interventions and increasing reading competence. In 2015, nearly 5,000 children attended Children’s Day events at school, and nearly 9,000 community members took part in awareness-raising activities to enroll more children in school. These are important steps, and we’re seeing improvement.