Helping to Break the Cycle of Poverty in Cambodia
Leah Lockhart, Communications Chair
Education is one of the keys to escaping poverty but, unfortunately for many children, poverty is the biggest barrier to attending school.
During the CEF visit to Cambodia in January, we met with a group of students in a program run by our partner, Kids International Development Society (K.I.D.S.). The program, called Smart Kids, supports children who otherwise would not be able to receive an education.
In Cambodia, especially in rural areas, parents often cannot afford the costs associated with school and require their children to work or help with household chores. Many children work to help support their families and are unable to go to class.
We met with students at the school where Compassionate Eye was funding a clean water project. Although it was the weekend, the entire school, teachers, and parents came out to greet us. The students in the Smart Kids program performed a fabulous play demonstrating the importance of clean water and how children often miss class because they are ill from drinking unclean water.
Later that afternoon, we visited some of the students in their homes to help us better understand why they were enrolled in the Smart Kids program. Families in that area have very low incomes, mostly derived from fishing and labour – in this case, primarily brick factories. The children, ages six and up, work in the factories alongside their parents, in poor working conditions, often operating dangerous machinery or stacking bricks in kilns.
Sadly, many of the children also call these factories home. The stark contrast of these smiling faces in crisp school uniforms sitting at their desks, followed by seeing them in their day clothes surrounded by the dusty, grim factory grounds was unsettling. Many of the families living on the brick factory property cannot leave because they don’t own land and can’t afford to rent or buy a house. One girl’s mother had moved to the factory when she was 15 – her daughter’s age – and had been there ever since. The mother desperately wanted a different future for her daughter, but her options were very limited.
This is where Smart Kids comes in. The program helps break these vicious cycles of poverty by supporting one child from each family by providing education-related expenses like uniforms, school supplies, and a bicycle to commute between home and school. The program also covers Cambodian school costs and English classes. An education, and especially English lessons, is a ticket out of the difficult situations many of these children endure. The children work hard, often going to school in the morning, then to work in the afternoons, and take English classes in the evening.
At the time of the visit 23 children were enrolled in the program. Upon our return, we decided that CEF would help others have the opportunity, and are delighted to say that we are now supporting an additional 11 children to go to school through the Smart Kids program.
To learn more about the program and some of the children we met on our visit, hop over to our partner K.I.D.S.' blog here or check out this great video by K.I.D.S. that follows one of the students we met, Pisu, as he goes about his day from the brick factory to school and back.