Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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School is a long way from home for many children living in remote and rural communities in Battambang Province, in northwest Cambodia.

The only facilities for children in these communities are often under-resourced and in need of repairs, making them less than ideal for young students.

As a result, children in Cambodia often cannot get their education they need.

Cambodia’s primary education was ranked by the World Economic Forum as low as 110 out of 140 countries, and remote communities face the biggest challenges.

This results in high levels of students dropping out of school, a major problem for children in Cambodia.

ChildFund is rebuilding and renovating schools in hard to reach communities so children do not miss out on an education.

ChildFund Cambodia built a new school in Battambang

The school in Battambang that is pictured above was in a state of disrepair before ChildFund helped the local community build a new school.

The existing school was a one-room wooden shed with poor lighting and windows, no running water, toilets or handwashing facilities.

ChildFund Cambodia built a new school in Battambang

With help from the local community, ChildFund supported the construction of a new school for local primary school which could meet the needs of local children.

ChildFund Cambodia built a new school in Battambang

The new school consists of three buildings – two classrooms and a toilet block.

Eleven-year-old Borey says his new school has made learning easier.

“I remembered when I was in Grade 1 we shared a room with Grade 2,” Borey says.

“It was hard to listen to the teacher as the other class was noisy.”

ChildFund Cambodia built a new school in Battambang

A 2016 study found that only around 25% of schools have sufficient books and reading resources according to the Cambodian government’s standards.

The schools ChildFund helps build throughout Cambodia exceed standards, providing optimal spaces for children to play.

ChildFund Cambodia built a new school in Battambang

Since the renovation, the number of students attending the school has more than doubled, from 20 to 47 children.

Mr Yan, 64, (pictured above) is a member of the school support committee. He has already seen the difference the school has made in the lives of children, which is why he is committed to ensuring the long-term sustainability of the school.

“Before, children in the village needed to walk to school in another village which is more than 5km away,” he said.

“Some families decided not to send their kids to that school as it’s too far and dangerous.”

Now children have a safe place to learn right in their village.

Rajitha grew up surrounded by natural beauty. The landscape in her community in rural Sri Lanka is lush and green, studded with pristine lakes, ornate Buddhist temples and mountains marbled with rose quartz.

Now she’s a 23-year-old college graduate with a good job, and these days the rich scenery of her inner world matches her outer one.

It wasn’t always that way. She’ll never forget the helplessness of being a child trying to survive the challenges of poverty.

“There were days when my mother broke one roti into five pieces,” says Rajitha. “She used to divide a 40-page notebook into sections because she didn’t have enough money to buy notebooks for all three of us.”

Even now, Rajitha remembers how that felt.

The challenges of poverty during Rajitha’s childhood

Like many children in developing areas, Rajitha is from a farming family which relies on crops for food. Every year, the family battled unpredictable weather that sometimes became disastrous.

If it didn’t rain enough – or it rained too much – they didn’t have anything to eat.

“Farming was the only source of income we had, and my parents struggled every year to obtain a harvest so that they would be able to feed me and my two sisters,” Rajitha says.

The family was hit by drought often. During one long dry spell, they had no water and had to walk a long way to collect it. Another time, their two-room mud house was damaged by the strong winds of a tropical storm.

“We didn’t see an electricity bulb in our house until 2004,” says Rajitha.

In the evening, she and her sisters would study by the light of a small oil lamp.

Their mom knew the value of education and encouraged them to focus on school, telling them it was the only way to a better life.

She was right. According to the Global Partnership for Education, poverty and education have a strong inverse relationship.

The more education someone has, the less likely they are to live in poverty. In fact, one extra year of school increases a person’s earnings by up to 10 percent.

Sponsorship changed everything

Rajitha’s story took an unexpected turn in 2003, when she got a sponsor through ChildFund, Ms. Sharla.

Several years later, Ms. Sharla had to end her sponsorship, so Rajitha got a new sponsor, Ms. Feng.

“Both of them were reasons for my life to take a new course,” Rajitha says. Child sponsorship connected her to all the material things she needed to be successful in school – like books, notebooks, backpacks and shoes.

She started to participate in academic programs that enriched her life, including English classes.

“I couldn’t even write my name in English [before]. But through the ChildFund programs, I learned English the proper way without having to pay a cent,” Rajitha says. “This was a huge relief for my family.”

Now that Rajitha’s education was taken care of, they had more money for food and other basic needs.

Knowing that someone – even someone so far away – cared about her well-being became a huge source of motivation for Rajitha.

“Because my sponsors chose me and because their support and encouragement were there for me, I felt the need to push myself further in my education,” she says.

After overcoming the obstacles of poverty, Rajitha gaves back to her community

Rajitha graduated from secondary school with honors, and then earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Peradeniya, the largest and oldest university in Sri Lanka.

Today, she works as a program officer for Abhimana Community Development Association, ChildFund’s local partner organisation that helped her as a child, at one of its offices in southern Sri Lanka.

Rajitha with her colleagues at Abhimana Community Development Association
Rajitha with her colleagues at Abhimana Community Development Association

She’s also studying for a diploma in Human Resources Management and taking accounting classes.

“My next wish is to reach the highest peak in my career and bring more comfort and happiness to my family,” Rajitha says.

“I also want to help a child who is struggling economically, the way I was struggling. Just as I was supported, I want to support another child to become educated.

“When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being educated and more stable in life, but I was afraid. There were too many obstacles, the main one being poverty.

“One of my life’s dreams is to see my two sponsors, who helped me reach success, and thank them from the bottom of my heart.

“Without them, I couldn’t have come such a long way.”

You can help a child like Rajitha

Today, thousands of children in Sri Lanka are struggling just like Rajitha was, smart and curious but losing hope in dreams that seem unattainable.

When you sponsor a child, you support the education that will fuel those dreams and offer them access to the most reliable route out of poverty.

Learn more about the relationship between poverty and education – and how child sponsorship makes a difference.