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A multi-year education project to improve school environments and strengthen teaching skills, is using technology to keep children in disadvantaged communities in Cambodia in school.

The Easy 2 Learn project, developed and implemented by ChildFund Cambodia and local partners, is transforming 17 schools across Kratie Province to help improve students’ literacy and numeracy skills and keep them engaged in classes.

In poor, rural communities across Kratie, primary school-aged children are at risk of falling behind in their classes and leaving school early because of inadequate teaching and limited educational resources and facilities. Children who leave school early often stay at home to take care of their younger siblings or enter the workforce to help support family incomes.

ChildFund’s Easy 2 Learn project has been helping to improve the quality of education in these communities by training teachers, renovating schools, and providing resources and new technology to classrooms.

Over the past three years, 17 schools have benefited from more than 23,000 books, 17 laptops, 294 tablets and 119 reading and math toolkits. The project has also helped to build two new schools, seven libraries, and three computer labs, and renovated playgrounds and classroom libraries.

Eleven-year-old Chhaly says the new library at his school has helped him to improve his reading. “I could not read well before,” he says. “Now I can. I am happy to be able to read.”

Teachers have been trained on how to develop child-friendly lessons and track students’ progress using literacy and numeracy standards. They have also been provided with tablets with an app that stores test results and provides information on how to help students improve their grades.

Parents and caregivers have also been trained on how to use different literacy tools to help their children read at home.

The Vice Chief of Chhlong District of Education in Kratie Province, Monorom, says the pass rate of students in the schools where Easy 2 Learn is implemented has increased from 70% to 82% over the past three years. The student dropout rate has decreased from 7% to 5%.

Another objective of the project has been to establish student councils and peer tutor programs. Grade 1 teacher Manich says the peer tutor program is helping to build the confidence and leadership skills of older students while also supporting younger children falling behind in their studies.

To date, the project has supported 6,000 children across Kratie and Svay Rieng Provinces in Cambodia.

This project is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

Lauren did not expect to see her wedding photo hanging on the wall in a remote village in Kenya.

Colourful stickers held down each corner of the photo, a happy image of her and her husband signing their wedding papers; her in her white dress and a white flower in her hair; and him dressed in a smart shirt and vest.

Following Lauren’s initial surprise of seeing the photos were feelings of love and joy.

“It was very overwhelming and it brought me to tears,” Lauren says.

Lauren was visiting eight-year-old Michael, whom she had been sponsoring through ChildFund Australia.

After two years of correspondence, it was the first time Lauren and Michael had met in-person.

Lauren was far from home in NSW, but the kindness and warmth of Michael and his family – and seeing the photos of her life proudly displayed in their family home – made her feel like she was among loved ones.

“I had always wanted to visit Africa and in particular Kenya,” Lauren says. “Meeting Michael was the driving force and highlight of the trip.

“It was one of the best days of my life.”

Lauren’s sponsor trip in 2012 began with visiting Michael’s school, where she was greeted by dozens of students and teachers who had organised a welcome lunch for her. “There was a buzz in the air,” Lauren says.

Lauren was then given a tour of the schoolgrounds, and a group of students held a tree-planting ceremony, before she sat under a tree with Michael and his friends to draw and talk.

“The visit not only strengthened my bond with Michael and his family, but I also experienced, first-hand, how my sponsorship was positively impacting Michael, his family, the school and the community,” Lauren says. “It was such a special journey.” The most memorable part of the trip, says Lauren, was the smiling faces of the children in Michael’s family and at his school. “I was welcomed and embraced with open arms.”

Lauren with Michael (in grey shirt) and his family, in Kenya in 2012. Meeting Michael and his family was “one of the best days of my life,” says Lauren.

Eleven years after signing up in 2010 to be a child sponsor, Lauren continues to sponsor Michael, who is now 17 years old.

She has seen Michael’s English progress rapidly over the years through their correspondence.  “Initially, when he was much younger, the letters were written by family friends on behalf of his family, although Michael would draw pictures, write some words and sign his name,” Lauren says. “These days Michael writes beautifully telling me about life, family and future goals.

“It is evident to me that he is a grounded, strong, happy and determined young man. I am blessed to have seen him grow and to have been welcomed into his family with open arms.

“His family have shown me such kindness and love over the past 11 years and I feel we have an extremely strong bond.”

Today, Lauren is also sponsoring 15-year-old Sorm from Cambodia. Although the pair have not met in-person, they have formed a meaningful connection through regular correspondence. “Sorm is a beautiful, kind, gentle and intelligent young girl whose smile lights up the world,” Lauren says.

After seeing the positive developments in Michael and Sorm’s lives and communities, Lauren has recommended sponsorship to her friends and family. “Sponsorship not only benefits and changes the life of one child, but their families and communities at large,” she says.

“I was fortunate enough to have a safe and healthy childhood, having grown up in a loving household.

“I wish the same for all children.”