The Need We See
Despite its close proximity to UNESCO World Heritage listed Angkor temples, the most famous of which is the breathtaking Angkor Wat, and burgeoning tourist industry, Siem Reap remains one of the three poorest provinces in Cambodia. A 2010 report found that 37.8% of households in Siem Reap were living below the International Poverty Line for East Asia of USD $1 per person per day. In addition, Siem Reap had much higher levels of chronic poverty, those households that are poor but have high vulnerability of being pushed further into destitution, than many other areas.
Cambodia itself continues to remain one of the most impoverished nations in the world, with the effects of decades of war still being felt.
Unless people have the skills to take advantage of the local tourism industry, employment opportunities are scarce. As a result, a high proportion of people in Siem Reap are self-employed, often in the agricultural sector. This leaves many vulnerable to negative life events and natural disasters, such as crop failure, flooding, drought, livestock mortality, and the impacts of the illness or death of a member of the household, particularly the devastating effect of the loss of the main income earner.
While basic schooling is provided in Cambodia at no cost, attendance is not mandatory. Subsequently, many children are either forced to drop out of school or do not attend at all so that they can work to help make ends meet for their families. In 2007 the Cambodian Child Labour Survey estimated that there were some 1.5 million children between the ages of 5 to 14 working across Cambodia, many in hazardous positions. For those families who can afford to send a child to school, often they are forced to choose between their offspring. Girls are frequently bypassed in preference for boys, significantly disadvantaging them and leaving them highly vulnerable later in life. Chronic poverty was shown to be the highest across Cambodia in households where the head had little to no formal schooling. Households with a female head also had higher levels of chronic poverty than others.
With no social welfare system to speak of, should individuals, including children, find themselves in necessitous circumstances, there is little option but a life on the street. For these children, of whom there are many, such a life comes with a high risk of child trafficking, forced labour, or either forced or voluntary entry out of necessity into the sex trade.
Like the rest of Cambodia and in contrast to much of the Western world, Siem Reap has a high proportion of youths and children. The average age in Siem Reap is 21, and it is estimated that approximately 50% of the 900,000 + population are below 25 years of age.
Accordingly, without action, the cycle of poverty is only likely to continue for the people of Siem Reap over the coming decades.
Empowerment through Education
As has been shown the world over, one of the most effective solutions for reducing poverty is education. Education equips children with the knowledge and skills to not only lift themselves out of poverty but also benefit their families and their communities.
An inspiring individual who many of us have had the privilege of meeting through G Adventures, Bun Yong Roeun, has a dream of being able to provide the transformative power of education to the children of Siem Reap, Bun’s home town. Bun’s goal is to create a free school for children, called The Learn to Share Centre, in the village in which he grew up. The Learn to Share Centre will focus on teaching the skills that Bun sees as essential for enabling the children to achieve success and for helping Cambodia move forward as a country. These skills include English language skills, computer skills, and creativity, fostered through art and photography. The school will accommodate 50 children, with 70% of these being girls and 30% boys. Preference will be given to orphan children who lack family support.
Bun himself is a testament to the impact that education can have. In his early twenties, Bun was given the opportunity to learn English. This enabled him to go on to pursue a career as a tour guide and has provided the means to support himself, his extended family, and to establish a business that employs a number of local people. It will now also provide Bun the opportunity to support the community through his ambitions for the school.
The name of The Learn to Share Centre reflects Bun’s philosophy on life, which he hopes to share with the children. Bun would like to provide every child with the opportunity to learn to share responsibility, communication, food, love, fun, and happiness.
Bun was recently awarded the Bronze prize in the Wanderlust World Guide Awards, an annual award run by Wanderlust Travel Magazine recognising the best tour guides from across the globe. Bun received USD $3000 prize money from this competition and will be contributing this money to the development of The Learn to Share Centre. He has also gifted his former family home to the project to be used for the school’s premise.
However, more funding is required to make this project a reality. The aim is for the school to have a library, creativity club, internet connection, 15 computers, two classrooms, one for teaching English and one for Khmer, and appropriate staff to provide these services. While Bun’s prize money will enable him to provide the library, creativity club, and internet connection, an additional USD $20,000 is required to fund the building costs of the two additional classrooms, furniture for the children, the computers, and for the first twelve months staff and maintenance costs for the school, which equates to USD $1250 per month. The long term objective is for the school to be primarily self-funded through the establishment of a number of social enterprise initiatives.
How You Can Help
If 2000 people can give as little as $10, we can make this project a reality. Exceeding this target would help ensure the long term viability of the school and provide the potential for the development of further services to assist disadvantaged children in the area.
If adequate funds cannot be raised for the establishment of the school, all monies will be directed to projects of a similar nature in Siem Reap. Donors will be notified by email as to which charity the monies are being directed to in this circumstance.
Please help make a genuine impact to the lives of disadvantaged children – give to The Learn to Share Centre today.