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Educating children in Cambodia: Two wonderful Singapore-based charities

By: Katie Roberts

Two Singapore-based charities are changing the lives of Cambodian children in need. Caring for Cambodia, established 11 years ago, is now educating 6,400 children in Siem Reap. Kuma Cambodia, in operation for two years, has 40 children attending school near Phnom Penh. Behind these organisations are generous, big-hearted people dedicated to improving the lives and future prospects of these needy children.

Cambodia Today

Cambodia struggles not only with a developing country’s usual challenges of providing healthcare, safety, services and access to opportunity, but with the legacy of decades of war, genocide, famine and flooding. Recent US Government statistics shed harsh light what has been achieved so far:

  • Life expectancy is 63 years on average.
  • 31 percent of the population lives in poverty.
  • Children go to school for an average of 10 years, much less for girls.
  • Literacy hovers between 60 and 70 percent.
See the wonderful photos from both of the Cambodian charities in the gallery above…

Kuma Cambodia


– Established 2012: “Changing tomorrows today”

Where? Takhmao, Kandal province, 20 minutes from Phnom Penh.
How many kids? 40, with plans to enroll 30 more in June 2014.
What is offered? Transport, full-day education, three meals a day, quarterly health and dental checks, vaccinations.
Progress so far? Each child attends school full-time for three years (Grades One to Three). At the end of Grade Three, they transition into half-days at a local school for Grades Four and Five. They complete the day at Kuma. By Grade Six, the children will be full-time in the local system. Kuma hopes in the future to employ a social worker to liaise between the children, local schools and village communities.

Affiliations? NAPIC runs a free maternity clinic, a mobile health team and a free education centre for older children and women.
Fundraising? Supported enthusiastically by United World College East (UWC) Singapore and corporate sponsors including DFS Singapore, RS Platou Singapore and Agility Logistics.
Keen to get involved? There’s a range of ways to make a contribution; see the website for details.

Andrea Naylor, a full-time teacher at UWC East Campus in Singapore, is the Singapore Project Coordinator for Kuma Cambodia, and was one of the key people involved in setting up the school just 20 minutes out of Phnom Penh. She became interested after visiting the health projects run by the Norwegian Association for Private Initiate in Cambodia (NAPIC) at the suggestion of founders Irene and Dag Rommen, whose daughter Andrea was teaching at UWC East.

Andrea, a New Zealander, recalls her first visit to Cambodia; it had a powerful impact on her. “I had not seen such poverty, and I questioned why the children were not at school. Many children in these marginalised communities work in fields, beg, or pick up rubbish to help support their families,” she says.

“When I returned, I spoke with colleagues and Irene about helping NAPIC to set up a school in the same area as the health centres. Through the support of UWC East, sponsors and the local staff, we opened the school in June 2012,” she says.

There are now 40 children enrolled, with 30 more due to commence in June. Before the children start school they are taught basic life skills and have their first health and dental checks. “Washing hands, brushing teeth, taking a shower and learning the daily routines of school – it’s important that they master the basics before they start their academic learning.”

“The dedicated local Kuma staff love the children like their own; they are amazing people who have a vision not only for the kids but also for the future of Cambodia. This year we are providing professional development for all of the staff. This includes the ongoing professional development taught by the Head of the Teachers College in Phnom Penh, advanced cooking for our cooks, and English for some staff who wish to learn it. In the future we would like to have an exchange opportunity for Kuma teachers to visit Singapore and spend time at UWC East.”

Every month, the guardians of the Kuma children attend a meeting about their progress, and how to support the children’s learning at home. Life skills such as hygiene, basic first aid, and education about reducing domestic violence and gambling are covered too. It’s also a chance to build a sense of community.

Visits from supporting communities are important. “In May last year, we took 20 five- and six-year-old students and their parents from UWC East to visit Kuma Cambodia,” says Andrea. “On one of the days of the trip, all the UWC East visitors and Kuma staff and children visited the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. Afterwards, as we sat eating lunch, with the children interacting happily, I noticed a group of street children begging nearby. It was a powerful moment to realise that just 12 months back, these could have been the Kuma children doing the same thing,” says Andrea.

What’s next? “In the longer term, we hope that with their children in school, parents will have time to get work, and we can set up a vocational training programme for them. By the end of a child’s primary schooling years we are optimistic that the parents will be better equipped to take on full responsibility for their child’s education.” 

Caring for Cambodia


– Established 2003: “Building a brighter future one child at a time”

Where? Siem Reap province
How many kids? 6,400 taught at 21 government schools open to any child, free of charge. The goal is to school children from preschool to Grade 12 who will graduate to become productive members of society.
What is offered? Full-day education, two meals a day, transport, hygiene instruction, health, vision and dental checks, clean water and free toothbrushes. A life skills programme fosters future prospects and includes mentoring, English and IT.
Progress so far? Over 8,500 students educated, and 200 teachers trained. More than 30 percent of students go on to higher education, compared to 10 percent nationally. Gender equity is 50-50 male and female, higher than the national average. Eighty CFC teachers will commence university in 2014.
Fundraising? 4,000 financial supporters and a team of over 250 committed volunteers around the world, with headquarters in Singapore.

Keen to get involved? There’s a wide range of volunteer activities, from raising awareness and funds to healthcare, teacher training and school liaison committees.

Caring for Cambodia (CFC) has educated over 8,500 students since it started, with the goal of increasing school retention and providing a life changing, world-class education. A worldwide network of donors and volunteers across 35 countries raises funds, visits schools and mentors teachers, with the largest concentration located in Singapore.

The organisation was born in 2003 after American Jamie Amelio, who was living in Singapore at the time, visited Siem Reap. Primarily on a visit to see the country’s magnificent Angkor temples, Jamie was taken by a local child to visit nearby Kravaan School. As she describes it in a recent TED Talk, “I got bothered and stayed bothered, after seeing hundreds of children attending school in conditions of extreme poverty and poor health.”

Since that life-changing moment in 2003, which she has subsequently written about in a memoir, Graced With Orange, CFC has taken responsibility for eight government schools in the Siem Reap area. Statistics indicate that schools involved in the CFC programme increase enrolment over a five-year period by an average of 70 percent.

At Amelio Primary, their first school, the number of students enrolled has more than doubled, with an initial enrolment of 323 students in 2003 to 790 students today. “It’s proof that when provided with smaller class sizes, enthusiastic trained teachers, food, clothing, transportation, health care and fresh water, more children in these communities will seize the opportunity to learn,” says Jamie.

CFC’s partnership with the government means that children now get to attend school, stay in school, graduate and go on to work or higher education. In the past, a multitude of barriers, including transportation, poor nutrition and parental attitudes, might have prevented children from even reaching the classroom. If they did get to school, teachers might have been missing or they might have been given rote lesson plans with no connection to their futures.

Jamie says Cambodia possesses rich human resources for solving its own issues. “The brightness in the smile of a child, the quietly resolute mother who walks miles to bring children to a CFC school, the commitment of a teacher who works hours after the official workday ends, the willingness of government partners to take the risk of allowing foreign involvement in their schools; these examples show the wide-ranging and endlessly renewable resources that fuel CFC.”

Kay Flanagan, CFC Singapore Country Manager, says her reasons for becoming involved are simple. “Education, education, education. I believe that every child deserves to learn and to be the best they can be. Our schools offer a foundation for each child to grow and reach their potential. A great school is one that prepares you for life,” she says.

Tip for readers: Take a look at Jamie’s recent TED talk on starting Caring for Cambodia here.

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