English is the de facto international language and is very important in Cambodia, where tourism makes up over 16% of the country’s GNP. The industry employs thousands of people in Siem Reap in hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, and tour agencies as well as freelance work as tour guides or taxis. Without English it is very difficult to find work to pays a living wage.
We provide English classes at Wat Tramneak Pagoda in Siem Reap and in Kampong Thom province. Offering English classes allows motivated students to learn the language, creating a bridge to job opportunities and meaningful careers in the tourism and hospitality sector. Finding work in the city will bring a higher salary and gives the students the ability to support themselves and their families back home. Without the school, students will most likely inherit the careers of their parents, the majority of which practice agriculture. While there is nothing wrong with these careers, it eliminates the chance of upward mobility and its benefits, like healthcare, a consistent diet, and advanced education.
In 2010 we began offering sewing classes to local entrepreneurs in Banteay Srey. Many women were interested in learning the skill, but obstacles prevented them from participating, in particular the costs of machines and courses. If you want to learn sewing in Cambodia, you must pay to study with any experienced sewer. This is very expensive and unaffordable for most.
In order to create a bridge to this opportunity we hired a local sewer, purchased machines and supplies, and provide free instruction for 6 students every year. They study for 4 hours per day, perfecting their skills, and upon graduation from our course are able to take home their sewing machines as well as a $100 cash bonus to purchase supplies.
To date we have graduated 22 students in Banteay Srey District and are expanding our program to Dam Dek District at our site in the floating village.
According to a survey conducted in 2007 at the request of the World Bank, between 39% and 60% of rural Cambodians currently have access to clean drinking waterMany in the communities we work with still lack access to clean water. Others claim to drink clean water, but it would be considered contaminated by WHO standards. Bridge of Life School is addressing the issue with an approach that focuses on awareness and the importance of using clean water to improve overall health.
Our clean water initiative began in Banteay Srey district. Between 2009 and 2011 we built seven wells throughout Kon Deng village. We have also distributed over 100 ceramic filters and provided clean water and sanitation trainings to complement the distribution. We continue our efforts at our site in Kompong Khleang, the floating village, where most residents still drink directly from the late. To date we have purchased 35 biosand filters, providing clean water for over 200 residents. We have also partnered with EcoSoap, ensuring residents have access to affordable recycled soap.
While English in Siem Reap is of upmost important, proficiency in computers (in particular typing and internet/email) is a close second. Employers expect potential candidates to be both fluent in the English language and capable of applying it to technology.
Since 2013 we have been providing free computer classes for monks and students at Wat Tramneak pagoda. We currently offer short courses in English & Khmer typing as well as an introductory class to email and the Internet. 60 students participate in these 10-week short courses at a time, allowing us to reach about 300 students a year. In 2017 we expanded our computer lab to Kompong Thom province. It is the only computer lab in a 10-mile radius and the only free computer lab in Stoung District.
In Cambodia the typical student will not begin formal education until primary school which starts around eight years old. This is a major issue, as critical development occurs between the ages of four and seven, and students who begin studying and developing critical thinking skills social behaviors at a younger age are more likely to finish their studies and succeed later in life.
Our primary school in Kompong Khleang is open to students from ages 4-8. We have our own curriculum that introduces students to reading and writing, simple mathematical exercises, and the creative arts through drawing. After studying with us students are able to transfer to Grade 2 of primary school, helping alleviate overcrowding at the government school. We also provide a boat for students to take during the rainy season, which shuttles students along to lake to and from the primary school.