One of the biggest challenges Grade 1 teachers in Australia face is keep up with the energy levels of their young students.

At Nammen Primary School in northern Laos, Grade 1 teacher Pim has the opposite problem.

Her students often come to school lethargic. Their young minds aren’t buzzing with enthusiasm. Instead, they are distracted by stomach pains and headaches.

Laos has some of the highest rates of child malnutrition in Asia. In many remote villages like Pim’s over half of all children are chronically malnourished and over a third are underweight.

Pim, who has been teaching at the government school for 13 years, sees firsthand the effect this has on children.

“My students often come to school hungry and when they are hungry they cannot concentrate, it is very hard to teach them,” she says.

Malnutrition locks children into a cycle of poverty.

When a child doesn’t get the food they need, their growth can become stunted, making them more vulnerable to disease.

Without proper nutrition, a child’s brain may not develop to its full cognitive ability. When children are repeatedly ill, their body can struggle to retain the nutrients of an already meager daily diet.

Repeated illnesses can affect their families, who may have to miss work or school to look after the child and spend more of their limited resources and income on medical care.

The majority of children who are stunted come from families living in poverty and who already under considerable financial stress.

Nutrition-related factors accounted for about 45% of all deaths of children under five in 2016. In Laos, every year more than 6,000 children die due to illnesses related to malnutrition.

For every undernourished child who survives, countless more are permanently affected. When stunted children become adults they can expect to earn 20% less than adults who were not stunted as children.

Thaimoua Yongvang, ChildFund Laos’ provincial area manager for the region that covers Nammen village, says this is one of the region’s biggest problems.

Literacy is a human right and a powerful tool for human and social development, poverty eradication, peace and democracy.

Many children in Cambodia have never had this right, especially in rural areas where schools are under-resourced and the standard of teaching is limited.

ChildFund Cambodia is increasing literacy rates in Cambodia by improving teaching, helping more children attend school, and providing new libraries.

Sreymao is a Grade 3 student in a school in rural Cambodia. When she was in Grade 2, her library was small and only had a limited selection of books.

While Sreymao and her schoolmates were on their school break, ChildFund built a new library and stocked it with a large selection of books and tablets.

ChildFund has upgraded more than 80 libraries in rural villages in Cambodia and built more than 12 new libraries for students like Sreymao.

“I am so happy that ChildFund built this new library that has many books, reading tools and tablets,” Sreymao says.

“The new library is also equipped with fans that make me comfortable in reading.”

The library has become a popular spot for Sreymao and her friends during their lunch breaks.

“During the two break times, I always go to library,” she says.

“Reading in the library helps improve my reading skill. When I can’t read some words, I ask the librarian.”

The books at Sreymao’s library connect her to the world and also bring to life the Khmer legends that are an important part of Cambodia’s history.

“I like reading legends as when I was young my grandma read legends to me,” Sreymao says.