About the Project
This project is one of the 2012 WISE Awards winners.
Cambodian Children’s Fund provides intensive, high-quality education with integrated family services, through its four Residential Schools, four Satellite Schools, a Community Medical Center, Daycare Center, Nursery, Maternal Care Program, and Outreach Programs. The Residential Schools, its hallmark program, offer safe accommodation, healthcare, hot meals, and accelerated learning opportunities to nearly 450 children aged 6 to 18. The curriculum integrates Khmer public education with English literacy. The children also participate in computer training, the arts, community service, and other learning activities. They have opportunities to travel and attend leadership conferences and learn how to become entrepreneurs.
Children who attend the Satellite Schools receive a monthly Perfect Attendance Incentive for their families, which offsets the loss of child labor. Through this incentive, the absentee rate has dropped to three percent. A trust fund account for some impoverished children offers a monthly deposit of $20 in addition to annual bonuses for families whose children attend school regularly. Some families are directed to a Family Future Plan, through which they can set up a business and can receive a zero-interest loan. The project is beginning the generations-long process of changing a culture from one that too often valued children as laborers to one that sees them as future leaders.
Context and Issue
Cambodian Children’s Fund helps children in extreme poverty and desperate circumstances who reside and work in Steung Meanchey. Steung Meanchey, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, is one of the world’s most destitute and toxic environments. It was host to the city’s largest garbage dump until 2009. The dump moved in 2009, but the garbage remained and so did thousands of Steung Meanchey residents. These impoverished families struggle to survive on the tiny incomes they make selling recyclables scavenged from the streets of Phnom Penh and from the mountains of garbage surrounding the former landfill. Extreme poverty often goes hand in hand with other extreme problems, as is the case for all these families.
Children from impoverished families struggle to survive on less than $2 a day. Poor health, dysfunctional debt, alcohol and drug abuse, and domestic violence afflict many families. Furthermore, the government’s programs to address these issues are not yet effective, condemning these families to poverty for generations.
In families with such issues, education for their children is not their first priority. Access to public education is free but there are related schooling costs – such as study supplies and uniforms, teachers’ tips – that they cannot afford. The quality of education at public school remains low and students do not benefit greatly from it, unless they pay for extra classes.
These children have great potential to grow, receive a better education and enjoy a brighter future. This is possible only when all the obstacles are removed. Once health problems are taken care of, income difficulties are resolved, domestic violence is reduced, and schooling costs are covered, both the children and their families can commit to education, which is a bridge to their bright future. The project’s central belief is that a single child with a good education can lift a whole family out of poverty.
The Solution and Impact
CCF uses a multi-pronged approach integrating a series of interconnected projects aimed at tackling problems at the root. For instance, many children are unable to attend school due to family work obligations. The project therefore works with their families to generate better income by providing them with loans, employment, etc. In school, the children can focus on their studies because their stomachs are full, their health is good, and there is a safe place to stay. The organization accompanies the project with leadership training which boosts children’s’ commitment, confidence, and social responsibility, all of which help them blaze successful paths out of poverty for themselves, their families and community.
The project is designed in a way that keeps children and their families together. CCF works with the children and their families because the progress they make has reciprocal knock-on effects. It is producing a sustainable impact, reducing the rate of dependence to the minimum since everyone must be part of the solution. For example, a family can get a loan if they work hard and cooperate to encourage their child to study. The other strength of the project is general change, helping families emerge from poverty and the children become responsible parents. The integrated projects, including comprehensive leadership, help consolidate this strength.
The impact of the project is the change in behavior of a large majority of children’s families who now see the education of their children as important. This positive behavior, and the hard work of dedicated staff, have made possible significant achievements. The number of children in the educational program has increased from 87 to nearly 2,000. The pass rate has remained 100 percent, with a daily absentee rate under 3 percent and a 97 percent retention rate. Lately, all 30 high school students passed the national exam and entered university. Six of them have full scholarships provided by prestigious universities. The vocational training program has placed 100 percent of graduates in well-paid jobs.
To date, the number of beneficiaries is estimated at about 2,000 people. The success of the project has led to the replication of a new Satellite School formally launched in late 2012 near Steung Meanchey. The same principles have been applied to run this new school which so far has absorbed and retained a large number of children in dire need of free education. In less than one decade, CCF has increased by more than 20 times the number of children it serves.
Over the next five years, Cambodian Children’s Fund plans to attain two main objectives:
1/ Promoting replication of the educational model financially and replicating quality and sustainability in adverse environments.
2/ Expanding funding opportunities.
The project plans to achieve the first objective by strengthening consistency in curriculum development and implementation across its educational facilities. This will involve upgrading learning resources, revising subjects taught and educational activities, enhancing the capacity of teaching staff and education staff, and regular monitoring of educational results. The second objective is to be met by increasing child sponsorship and developing new and diverse funding models so that financial sustainability can ensure the continuance of the project.