Dec 23, 2019

700 children wish you happy holidays!

Heng, who's on the road to success
Heng, who's on the road to success

It's been an incredible year and we owe it all to you! Thanks to your continued support, we've been able to accept 84 marginalised children into our accelerated learning catch-up programme, bringing our total number of catch-up students to 218. Of these 84 new students, aged 8-11, 44% had never had the chance to go to school before and therefore joined our grade 1 classes. All our students are receiving 2 school meals per day, six days a week, healthcare and vaccinations as well as access to safe play spaces. To ensure they stay in school, their families also receive nutritional support and the opportunity to enroll in skills and vocational training through ISF's community projects. 

This academic year 2019/2020, we are also supporting a total of 438 students to study at state schools. Nine students who graduated from grade 9 in August 2019 have won a 50% scholarship to study at the Academy of Careers and Technology (ACT), an accredited general technical high school for grade 7-12. The school allows students to study a combination of general education with technical skills of their choice towards earning high school diplomas.

Furthermore, we currently support 14 students in tertiary education as well as 57 youth in our employment project. One of these students is Heng*. This recent state school graduate started with ISF in grade 5 and we’ve had the pleasure of watching him flourish. Through hard work and dedication, this ambitious youth rose to the top of an English Language Speaking Contest ISF held earlier this year. Prizes included a trophy and the opportunity to travel to Hong Kong for a weeklong language immersion trip. Now, we’re once again proud to announce that Heng has been accepted to not only one, but two, universities. During the day he’ll continue his English studies at one of Cambodia’s flagship universities; the Institute of Foreign Languages, which is a part of the Royal University of Phnom Penh. In the evenings, Heng will chase his dream to become an architect at Norton University. He took a moment out of his busy schedule to talk to us about his life at ISF and optimistic plans for the future.

As a budding architect, Heng describes his trip with ISF to Hong Kong as absolutely inspiring. “Oh wow, they have very wonderful architecture. A lot of types of building designs with differen advantages, like building a football field on the roof! They don’t have a lot of land so they build up. It’s very smart!”. His dream is to take those world-class engineering techniques and mix them with traditional Khmer design to build progressive, sustainable and modern Cambodian architecture.

As part of the field trip, he also visited two English Schools Foundation (ESF) schools, West Island and KGV schools which exposed him to an educational system different from his own. He came away with an admiration for the experiential way of learning he saw, where students learned through a mix of lecture and lab work.

ESF is the largest provider of English-medium international education in Hong Kong. ISF have recently began a three-year partnership with them to review our Education Programme and develop a strategy to further improve its impact.

Heng credits ISF with helping him develop computer competency, soft skills, and higher-level English conversation. In particular, he stated that his English lessons at ISF have made him more confident. “Because I have experience at ISF, it’s easy to talk to people and understand what they’re doing.”

At home, he says his family is supportive of him as he enters a new life as a university student. Heng's mother is a home-maker and part-time librarian at one of ISF’s community libraries, and his father is a moto-taxi driver. Neither have had higher education. 

When talking about beginning this new stage in his education, he expresses the heady mix of exhilaration and dread we all face at life’s big changes. “At first, I feel excited but a little bit nervous. It’s a new school and I don’t know [anyone].” Though Heng seems to be coming to terms with it all, “But now it’s OK, I know I can make friends.”

ISF will continue to support Heng on his educational journey. While he pursues higher education, he will have access to ISF facilities and counselors and will receive support such as school supplies, a laptop and food parcels, which will still be sent to his family monthly to alleviate financial stress. Our aim is to give him, and other students like him that graduate each year, the best possible footing when entering university. With 98% of ISF students progressing to the next grade and 80 new graduates going on to state school, we hope to support many more in the future. For now, we‘ll be rooting for Heng until he receives his cap and gown and beyond.

On behalf of all of us at ISF, thank you for your amazing support over the past year!

The ISF team


*Names of children and youth receiving ISF's support have been changed. 


Oct 3, 2019

Yoam's Story: Illiteracy is like a life sentence

High levels of school dropout rates coupled with little access to safe, reliable spaces to play means that many children in Cambodia do not get to enjoy their childhood. Without the opportunity to learn and play, children cannot develop their full potential and often end up trapped in cycles of poverty, poor health, well-being and forced labour.

At ISF, we take a multi-faceted approach to providing pathways out of poverty. From combating malnutrition and illiteracy, to providing opportunities for youth marginalised by HIV, disability, gender and poverty to play sport, which builds life skills and confidence, we are committed to improving lives. 

Increasing access to quality education is one of our core goals. Over the past year, we have supported 215 students in our Catch-up Programme who had never attended school or quit due to financial reasons. Furthermore, ISF has continued to support 381 students at government-run schools. The distribution of educational materials as well as uniforms has helped break down barriers preventing students from attending classes; allowing almost 600 students to stay in school.

Educational attainment was also up over the past quarter. We are proud to announce that 35 out of 36 ISF grade 9 students graduated from lower-secondary school, achieving the basic education target of nine years’ worth of schooling. All of them have decided to continue their education and will be supported as they enter grade 10 in November 2019. An additional five students completed their high school education. Previously, finishing high school would not have been an option or even a dream for these young people from Phnom Penh’s slum communities. After reintegrating into the education system, their hard work and determination are making dreams a reality as they consider going to university.

Many of our students are raised in households where parents are low-skilled, illiterate, or both. While we provide a quality education at ISF, we also want to ensure their households foster an appreciation of learning.  This includes offering development projects that support entire communities. In this way, our Education Centres do not exist in a vacuum but serve to lift up the wider community, offering ways out of extreme poverty and exclusion caused by it.

44-year old mother-of-two Yoam* is one of ISF’s community library users and a recent beneficiary of our Adult Literacy Course. Yoam moved from the countryside to Cambodia’s capital city Phnom Penh 22 years ago to work as a garment factory worker. Life for Yoam and her family in Phnom Penh has not been easy. And like many in the urban poor settlement where she resides, she lives under the poverty line, struggling to provide enough for her family.

In Cambodia, the literacy rate (those over the age of 15 who can read and write) stands at approximately 77%, with women having a lower average than men. [1] A lack of literacy skills as an adult puts individuals at a severe disadvantage and often keeps them trapped in a cycle of poverty. Without reading skills, women like Yoam cannot read or sign a contract or form, get a loan, read a newspaper, a medical prescription or her own mail, look up a phone number, use a computer or even help her children with their homework.

Growing up, Yoam only received three years of education which failed to teach her literacy skills. Like many of the beneficiaries of our Adult Literacy Course, Yoam compares illiteracy to a life sentence of dependency where fear and anxiety become part of daily life and social situations. “I always had to ask my neighbours for help – I could not read my own mail” she says. “I felt I couldn’t teach my kids anything, I have no knowledge – you need an education to be able to share knowledge and express your thoughts” she adds.

Today, after successfully completing ISF’s course, Yoam can read and write numbers and letters in Khmer. She works from home now, sewing school uniforms for local NGOs and spending any free time she has practicing her newfound literacy skills. She also joined a small book club in her community – made up of friends and neighbours from the course. Together they borrow and discuss books from the library and have read aloud sessions. Yoam is also learning from her youngest child’s school books and encourages him to study and focus on doing well in school. Yoam wants her son to have a better, easier life than hers. No matter what job he chooses, she believes that his education will always be a benefit to him and offer pathways to a bright future.

As always, thank you for supporting our work and make dreams like Yoam's a reality.

The ISF Team



*ISF has received pemission from our beneficiary Yoam to use her real name. 


Jul 3, 2019

Education is bringing hope

With the second half of the calendar year now in full swing, we're pleased to give you more information and insight into how your support is making a difference.

Here at ISF, we offer ongoing holistic support to all our Education Programme students including healthcare, two school meals six days per week, monthly food parcels for their families, school fees, uniforms and other materials, English classes, computer classes, extra-curricular activities such as sport and dance, vocational training and Employment Support. 

215 students are currently studying two grades in one year in our Catch-up Education Programme. We were delighted to see 88% of our catch-up students pass their exams in May with flying colours, progressing to the next grade. The 26 students who failed will have to repeat the grade and will have a chance to attend extra classes at ISF.

A further 379 students are supported to study at government-run schools in Phnom Penh. Each student received two uniforms, a pair of shoes, a backpack and a set of stationary. 45 state school students who had to walk more than 2km to school also received bicycle and helmets. During the reporting period, our students’ attendance rates have been high (93%) and the percentage of students scoring above average has increased by 27% compared to the last quarter.

Receiving an education is an opportunity that ten-year-old Saren* has grabbed with both hands. Life for him isn’t easy but he manages to attend school every day, to study hard, to help his mother sell fruit in the evenings and to play football in between – all with focus and a determination to succeed.

Saren is one of 11 siblings and the first in his family to go to school, a chance he didn’t think he’d get to have as his family’s income was too low to cover education costs for any of the children. Attending school is more than just the chance to learn the state curriculum, for Saren it’s a chance to learn and practice English (his favourite subject), to play with his friends, to join ISF’s Football Programme and to have a break from difficult living conditions at home.

To support nutrition as well as help compensate for any loss of income due to a child attending school, ISF provides the families of students with monthly food parcels. This has gone a long way in Saren’s household and means that two of his other siblings are now also able to receive an education – one at ISF and one at state school.

Saren’s favourite pastime is football which he excels at and was a key player in the winning team that took home first place in the U10 Boys category of the AIA-ISF Youth League 2018/19. Every day at school, in between classes, he can be found kicking a ball around with his friends and teammates. Saren’s favourite subjects include Khmer and English and he can also be found practicing speaking and reading English with his classmates.

Saren’s English teacher Hanlie has praised him for his hard work and he is very proud to be considered a top student. “I’m very happy that my teacher said that I’m a smart student and get to good grades” he says. “I’m always reading my textbook and happy to practice English with foreign visitors when they come to visit ISF” he adds.

In the future, Saren dreams of becoming an English teacher and a football player for the Cambodian National Team.

From education to healthcare to nutrition and football competitions, we're striving to reduce inequalities in the communities where we're working and make a difference where it matters most. As always, thank you for supporting our work and making good news stories like Saren’s possible.


*Names of children under 18 years old hav been changed.

Saren, ISF student
Saren, ISF student


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