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.  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.