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SreyTok, 21, from Kratie province in rural Cambodia, finished high school two years ago. She had planned to continue her studies at university but couldn’t afford the costs involved. Her parents, who are farmers and garbage collectors, earn very little, which makes it difficult for them to afford the expenses of university education.

For many young people living in rural Cambodia, pursuing higher education is a challenge. Universities are found only in a few large cities, often far from their hometowns, and require expensive housing, school materials, and other costs associated with living in a city. As a result, upward mobility is difficult for young people in these remote communities. They often struggle to find employment outside of manual labour, even after completing their high school education. SreyTok says her limited options meant she remained at home, assisting her parents with their farming work.

To support the future livelihoods of young people and encourage them to bring positive change in their communities, ChildFund, in partnership with the Cambodian Rural Development Team (CRDT), has launched an ‘Essential Life Skills’ training program in the region. The program aims to equip the participants with skills and knowledge that will help them become more confident in their abilities and lead healthy and fulfilling lives.

SreyTok, 21, says she has enjoyed learning new skills and working with local leaders to make a difference in her community.

“Two youth representatives from each village, roughly 20 per commune, were chosen to take part in the program,” says Mr. Ravy, a project manager at CRDT, explaining that the program saw young people take part in training sessions held every weekend over the course of a year. Topics focused on self-awareness, leadership, safely navigating social media, gender equality, reproductive health, and making wise life decisions.

Out of the 20 youth representatives taking part in the program, five were chosen to be the group’s leaders. For one day a month, the leaders would travel to different villages to impart lessons learned and skills gained through their training to other young people. SreyTok was chosen to serve as the team’s vice president. She says she is proud to share her newfound knowledge and skills with young people in the community, and now has a concrete plan to continue her studies in the city. “I know myself better and am more confident in my abilities and understand how to set and accomplish goals in life.”

As part of their training, young people also learnt the importance of teamwork and working with local authorities to create impactful and long-lasting change in their communities. This included a very informative session on community development plans, which covered budget planning and proposal, determining the underlying cause of community problems, setting priorities for those problems, and formulating suggested solutions.

SreyTok’s team has already begun to put their skills to good use, collaborating with the commune council to develop multiple projects. She says topics are wide-ranging but specific to the needs and future wellbeing of their communities, “Projects focus on child marriage, safe migration, social media, school infrastructure for children with disabilities, and more.”

Local youths attend peer-led training sessions, supported by ChildFund and its partners, to learn about a range of life-changing topics.

Ms. Phalla, a member of the commune council in charge of children and women’s issues, is quick to sing the youth representatives’ praises. “They have been very supportive. I couldn’t help the community as quickly on my own,” she says.

Attending the training with SreyTok’s team was an eye-opening and informative experience for Ya, 23, who was married at 18 and has two daughters. Prior to the training, Ya’s knowledge was limited, especially when it came to her own body and wellbeing. “I never knew details about reproductive health” she says, adding that she now feels equipped to take better care of herself and her children. “I plan on passing on this information and other important lessons to my girls to give them the best chance in life.”

Find out more about our work in Cambodia.

To celebrate International Day of Education, held annually on 24 January, we’re highlighting the dedication of Agostinha a young preschool teacher inspiring young minds in rural East Timor-Leste.

Agostinha prepares her classroom and lessons every morning before the bell rings. She likes to have everything in order for when the room fills with energetic children, eager to learn. With four years of experience teaching at her local preschool in Liquiça, Timor-Leste, Agostinha, 30, says she now understands the importance of early education, “It can lay the foundation for a child’s future success and how they interact with their friends, family and community.”

International Day of Education is an important day for Agostinha a reminder of how crucial education (including dedicated teachers) is to the wellbeing of children, particularly at a young age. “It’s a special day that emphasises how education is a path to a better life for children and young people no matter their circumstances,” she says. “We celebrate it so that we can encourage and motivate more children to come to school, especially preschools.”  

Early education is crucial for children’s futures, as it helps them develop important skills at a young age. Preschool provides an opportunity for children aged three to six to build a strong foundation for life says Agostinha, “They learn how to read and count, as well as what good behaviour looks like.” It also instils in them the values of respect and empathy, which they can carry with them as they grow up and contribute to creating peace in their homes and communities.

Preschool teacher Agostinha takes her students through their lessons in Liquiça, Timor-Leste.

Education can be a way out of poverty for children and young people. Yet, globally, 244 million are not in school. There are many barriers that prevent children and young people from going to school, ranging from financial costs to gender inequality and a lack of resources, such as adequate classrooms and learning materials. Agostinha says this rings true for her community in Timor-Leste, “We lack a lot of school materials and the one’s we do have are often damaged. Children use them constantly and over time, so the books, equipment and toys become broken.” Nevertheless, she always finds ways to teach and motivate her students, even with limited resources. “In our training we were taught how to repurpose local materials for lessons,” Agostinha explains. “We’ve used wooden blocks found in the community to teach math.”

Despite the challenges she faces, Agostinha remains dedicated to teaching and works hard to create a welcoming and positive learning environment for students. She says it all begins with setting the tone for the day, “I always greet them with a smile. When children first come to school, especially at the beginning of school year, they might be shy or cry because they aren’t used to being away from home.”

Sometimes they are late for class, but it doesn’t faze Agostinha, “I always appreciate them for coming and encourage them in their studies, so they continue to come to school and enjoy learning new things,” she says.

Rain, hail or shine, Agostinha and her colleagues push themselves to keep teaching. “I decided to participate in ChildFund’s teacher training program because I wanted to help children in my community have a better future,” says Agostinha. “I love watching them grow and learn and discover new skills.”

Agostinha says she looks forward to teaching more children and hopes early education becomes part of every child’s life in her community, “My wish is that preschools continue to receive support from not-for-profit organisations, including teacher training and better facilities, so we can give children a head start in life.”

Find out more about International Day of Education and how you can help celebrate the role of education in the lives of children and young people around the world.