As many of you know, I spend a bit of the year in Cambodia where not all children have access to an education.
In 1969-1970 the USA secretly dropped 110,000 tons of bombs on Cambodia, it was kept secret because Cambodia was a neutral country not involved in the Viet Nam war.
These bombings left Cambodia vulnerable and in 1975 Pol-Pot entered Cambodia with his party, the Khmer Rouge. Under the Khmer Rouge regime, the year was turned back to year zero; schools and money were destroyed, people were not allowed personal possessions and education was forbidden. Educated people were tortured and executed and the rest of the population were captured and taken to the countryside and set to work in the fields. Men, women, children, even babies were beaten, starved and killed. More than 2 million people were killed between 1975 and 1979.
I see a lot of kids in Cambodia, from the age of 7, maybe younger, on the street selling items due to extreme poverty; other children are out begging until the late hours of the evening. It’s so hard not to give them money but the money they earn doesn't go directly to their families, it is taken from them by people in organised crime.
On this trip we met with Nan, a 29 year old lady who cannot read or write; she has never been to school. Her father is a survivor of the Khmer Rouge; however, he had stepped on a land mine and lost his legs and was therefore unable to provide for his family. Nan sees the importance of education and is struggling to find the money to pay her rent, let alone an education for her 10-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son; she wants her children to have a better life than she had; she wants her children to have opportunities, aspirations, and a life where they can pay for a roof over their heads. Nan has a third child aged 2 year but during the pandemic things became increasingly difficult for Nan and her family so she took the very difficult decision and gave her baby away to a wealthier family so the can give her what Nan will not be able to provide.
Together with my husband, we will be undertaking wellbeing work in a school for the children who were living and working on a rubbish dump. The school was founded by a Cambodian lady, Phymean, who was only 4 years old when the Khmer Rouge took over.
Phymean was able to convince parents to allow their children go to school in return for food.
These families live in extreme poverty and do not always understand the importance of education over earning what little they can from the rubbish they find; they cannot see further than their next meal. Most teenagers in Cambodia, who are fortunate enough to attend school, must work long hours after school and weekends too so they can help their parents pay the rent and buy food; everyone has to do their bit no matter what their age.
It’s difficult to grasp the sheer difference between what our children in the western world have access to and what countries like Cambodia and surrounding countries have access to. It's a huge reality check and it makes me extremely grateful for the opportunities our children have, the education system, clean water, health care and the infrastructure our country has.
We believe every child has the right to an education but the reality is that in other parts of the world that only applies to those with enough money to pay for it.
One business owner in Phnom Penh is set to create a library in the middle of three villages so that adults and children alike have access to books of all languages, this will hopefully inspire them to learn. He is looking to get as many book donations as possible from people all over the world so he can replicate this in other areas of Cambodia too. It's great to see people who have struggled in the past paying it forward to those who are still struggling.