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’s hotels, restaurants, and shops. Many others work as freelance tour guides and taxis. It is difficult to find work that pays a living wage without English.
We have been providing English language classes since our founding in 2009. We currently operate English classes at Wat Tramneak Pagoda in Siem Reap and in Stoung, Kampong Thom province. Together, these schools reach more than 200 students.
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 their parents’ careers, 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 nutritious 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. Nevertheless, obstacles prevented them from participating, particularly the costs of machines and well-rounded courses.
To create a bridge to this opportunity, we hired a local, experienced sewer, purchased machines and supplies, and provided free instruction for six students every year. They study for four hours per day, perfecting their skills, and upon graduation from our course take home their sewing machines and a bonus to purchase supplies and begin their home business.
To date, we have graduated 22 students in Banteay Srey District and have closed this site as demand has been met in the community. We began a sewing program in Kompong Khleang in 2018 and have graduated eight students. We look forward to again operating this program when sufficient domestic demand arises, or we are better able to connect them to international customers visiting Siem Reap.
According to Water.org, in 2022 more than 2 million rural Cambodians still lacked access to clean drinking. Many in the communities we work in are amongst them. Others claim to drink clean water, but it would be considered contaminated by international standards, and is a reason residents experience so many gastrointestinal and skin issues.
Our clean water initiative began in Banteay Srey. Between 2009 and 2011 we built seven wells throughout Kon Deng village. We have distributed over 100 ceramic filters and provided clean water and sanitation training to complement the distribution.
We continue our efforts in Kompong Khleang, the floating village, where most residents still drink directly from the lake. We have purchased 35 biosand filters to date, providing clean water for over 200 residents. We have also partnered with EcoSoap, ensuring residents have access to affordable recycled soap, and conducted WASH trainings with Husk Cambodia. In 2022, we built a large reservoir providing hundreds of residents access to easily treatable water during the dry season.
While English in Siem Reap is of utmost importance, proficiency in computers is a close second. Higher-paying employers expect potential candidates to be proficient in both language and technology. It serves as an employment floor that can be climbed over time.
Since 2013 we have been providing free computer classes for monks and students at Wat Tramneak pagoda. We currently offer short courses in typing and Microsoft Office. In 2017, we expanded our computer lab to Kompong Thom province. It presently has eleven computers. It is the only computer lab in a 10-kilometer radius and the only free computer lab in Stoung District, home to more than 100,000 residents. In 2019, we began offering computer classes in Kompong Khleang. It is the only computer lab in a 20-kilometer radius.
In 2022, we upgraded our technology and now provide state-of-the-art desktop computers with a Windows 11 operating system. Our facilities exceed those of most private schools and remain free of charge.
In Cambodia, the typical student will not begin formal education until primary school. In some cases, this can start as late as eight years old. This is a major issue, as crucial development occurs between the ages of four and seven. Students who begin studying and developing critical thinking skills and social behaviors at a younger age are more likely to finish their studies and succeed later in life.
Our pre-primary school in Kompong Khleang is open to students from ages four to eight. Our curriculum introduces students to reading and writing, simple mathematical exercises, and creative arts through drawing. After studying with us, students can transfer to Grade 2 of primary school, helping alleviate overcrowding at the government school.
We also provide a boat for students to take to the primary school during the rainy season when roads are submerged. This removes a logistical hurdle to education many students face by living on the Tonle Sap lake.
Many residents in the floating villages cannot afford land and live on their boats. Fishers tend to live day to day, and investing money into their living space is a luxury. As a result, the facilities are deficient and unsanitary, with kitchen and bathroom areas combined. Growing families have little room to sleep.
We have constructed three floating homes for three families in Kompong Khleang to date with our partners. The houses are 4×8 meters and have metal siding and roofing, preventing wind and rain from entering and eliminating maintenance costs. There is also sufficient space for kitchen facilities and a separate outhouse area. In fact, one home even has a small storefront. The homes are equipped with a biosand filter to ensure clean water access. Unlike stilted houses, these structures can be towed to the lake if the family moves there during the swelling, making fishing more affordable.