Give Cambodian Children Healthcare & Nutrition

by Indochina Starfish Foundation
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Give Cambodian Children Healthcare & Nutrition
Give Cambodian Children Healthcare & Nutrition
Give Cambodian Children Healthcare & Nutrition
Give Cambodian Children Healthcare & Nutrition
Give Cambodian Children Healthcare & Nutrition
Give Cambodian Children Healthcare & Nutrition
Give Cambodian Children Healthcare & Nutrition
Give Cambodian Children Healthcare & Nutrition
Give Cambodian Children Healthcare & Nutrition
Give Cambodian Children Healthcare & Nutrition
Give Cambodian Children Healthcare & Nutrition
Give Cambodian Children Healthcare & Nutrition
Give Cambodian Children Healthcare & Nutrition

After eight months of online lessons, homework drop-offs, and social-distanced physical education, our education centres have finally reopened their gates! On Tuesday 3rd November, over 600 excited students were welcomed back by our staff – all of whom were as thrilled as our students be back in school.

However, things may look a little different to how our budding learners remember it. Our Education team have been working tirelessly to prepare for a new way of teaching that is both safe and practical for our students. Some of the key changes will likely be recognisable from wherever you are in the world – such as the use of face masks, temperature checks, and hand sanitiser. Other changes are a little more creative and child-friendly, like colourful footprints painted on the floors of our corridors and stairwells to guide students’ movements around the school and encourage social distancing. Lessons also look a little different than before. Class sizes have been halved and a new timetable is in place to ensure students are not coming into close contact of each other during lessons.

Whilst these changes may take some getting used to for our students, the feeling around our centres is ultimately one of gratitude and enthusiasm to be returning to school and reunited with friends after what has been a very challenging period of time for families in Phnom Penh.

How did the children in your area spend their time during school closures?

Other children around the world may not be so excited to go back to school after an extended time at home, but there are many ways in which the lives of Cambodian children differ to others more fortunate than themselves.

One of the children who skipped back through the school gates this week was 10-year-old Kunthea. When asked how she spent her time during lockdown, she responded “I always stay inside and don't go out to socialise with other children. I only go out to collect recyclable waste with my grandmother, and when I do, I always keep proper distance from others and wash my hands regularly.” This is the unfortunate reality for many of the children from our Education Programme, who have been forced to contribute to the family income during a period of widespread job losses and increased poverty. Kunthea credited her understanding of the importance of personal hygiene and social distancing to the informative health education sessions she received from ISF nurses during this period – sessions which may have helped to prevent any COVID-19 cases in our students and their families.

Despite her protection from the spread of COVID-19, Kunthea has still experienced some ill health during the last few months and has relied on the valuable treatment provided by our school nurses. But we are pleased to report that Kunthea is now fit and healthy and happier than ever to be back in school.

*Names of children under 18 years old have been changed to protect their privacy.

The Importance of your support

We would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you who pledged a donation to us during this challenging time! With your help, we were able to provide food parcels, health education, check-ups, long-distanced learning, and physical education to our vulnerable students and their families.

However, the battle against COVID-19 is not won yet. The huge economic impact of the pandemic in Cambodia has resulted in widespread job losses and increased poverty – widening the gap between the rich and poor. With our students’ families under more pressure than ever to remove their children from school so that they can contribute to the family income, we must do everything we can to support our students to stay in education and achieve their dreams. However, reduced fundraising opportunities has had a huge impact on our income and we are now facing a difficult few months as we plan to adhere to our commitment to these families with fast-depleting resources.

This December, the annual #GivingTuesday event falls on the 1st of the month. On a day that was introduced in response to one of the biggest seasons of consumerism - peaking at the global discounted spending day of ‘Black Friday’ - we wish to embrace and encourage the spirit of generosity to our valued supporters. This #GivingTuesday, GlobalGiving are establishing a $1,000,000 incentive fund whereby funds will be distributed to organisations who attract significant amount of donations on this day specifically – so we need your help to be in with a chance of winning!

If you have connected with the stories from our students at all, please consider making a one-off or recurring donation so that we can continue to provide essential services in the vulnerable communities of Phnom Penh. But whether you donate on #GivingTuesday or any other day of the festive period, we want to thank you in advance for helping us to help the next generation of Cambodian superstars achieve their dreams. We value your support now more than ever!

Kunthea* washing her hands to prevent Covid-19
Kunthea* washing her hands to prevent Covid-19
Temperature checks at the school gates
Temperature checks at the school gates
Staying safe in the classroom!
Staying safe in the classroom!


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The outbreak of Covid-19 has had a profound impact across the world, and we hope you are keeping safe and well during these difficult times. Sadly, for our 728 students and their families, the pandemic has hit them particularly hard.

School closures has caused further disruption to the education of our students and the closing of countless businesses and factories has forced many families further into poverty; 90% have lost over half of their earnings, with almost a third losing all sources of income. Struggling to pay rent or buy sufficient food, ISF students are under increased pressure to drop out and seek informal – often dangerous - employment to support their families.

Thanks to the support of people like you, ISF has been able to innovatively respond to these challenges to ensure we can continue offering our holistic support. This includes:

  • Online and take-home lessons with tablets and top-up data for students who need it.
  • Monthly food parcels and hygiene supplies to 555 families and additional parcels and meals available to those experiencing extreme financial hardship.
  • Continued access to free healthcare and medical support at our ISF facilities.
  • Career counselling for students and parents to help with employment opportunities
  • Advocating for reduced rental fees or deferments with 121 local landlords.
  • Encouraging children to stay active at home with home exercise videos and virtual football coaching sessions. 

With schools expected to be closed until November, our students have taken this new way of remote learning in their stride. This is certainly the case for 16-year-old student Panha.

Due to fears over the virus spreading in Phnom Penh and work having dried up, Panha’s parents uprooted the family hundreds of miles to stay with relatives in Prey Veng, one of Cambodia’s leading agricultural provinces. Regardless of this, Panha has been one of our most devoted students while schools have been shut.

Panha explains “I care about my education very much, especially English. I think English is very important for Cambodian kids because it can really help our studies. We can also make new friends around the world and maybe even study abroad. It can help us to make our country better.”

As a result, he has been an enthusiastic and reliable participant in Zoom lessons with his teacher Josh. He manages to fit this in even though he is now expected to work on his family’s farm. Despite helping with ploughing, looking after animals, and growing vegetables, Panha has continued to participate in all ISF’s online English lessons.

Panha is even going the extra mile, taking the opportunity to set up an English school to share his knowledge of learning English with local children. 

"The funny thing is I don’t really like kids that much! So, I’m not sure why I did it! But I’m glad I did. I’m really grateful to ISF and to my teachers for supporting me, so it’s good for me to support others."

His decision to teach the local children came when he realised that their English was lagging far behind their Khmer. The province of Prey Veng is one of the country’s poorest. So Panha wasn’t surprised to learn that nobody could afford extra English lessons. Having already helped teacher Josh with some teaching at ISF, he decided he would start offering free classes.

“It wasn’t hard to get the children to take part at all,” Panha explains. “I use an ‘English For Children’ textbook to teach them, and also the knowledge I learnt from Josh. Sometimes it can be a lot of fun, especially when we play games. I think if they can learn English it will be much better for them in the long run.”

In the future Panha would like to work as a businessman and a farmer, all while helping Cambodia develop further. We believe that if he is already showing so much initiative, drive, and ability to cope with adversity now, there’s nothing he won’t be able to do later. We can’t wait to have students like him back in our classrooms, giving us hope for the future.

The importance of your support

Responding to the emerging challenges and needs of our students and their families has only been possible with your generosity to ISF. Thank you for helping us to continue providing a necessary safety net to those experiencing food and income insecurity in these challenging times.  

The coronavirus outbreak is however having a huge financial impact on us and we are currently operating with fast-depleting resources. This limited funding has forced us to make some difficult decisions including unfortunately not being able to take any new students in our Catch-up Programme for the new academic year. We urgently need new funding if we are to provide our services both in the current crisis and into the future.

If you are able to make another donation to ISF it would be very much appreciated. As part of their Bonus Day, GlobalGiving are also matching all donations between $100-$1,000 on 15th July meaning any support you can give will have even more of an impact. Please do also consider asking your friends and family to get involved so we can continue our vital support that your generosity makes possible. We appreciate this is not a small sum of money and so I would note that any donation you are able to give would be greatly appreciated.

Your ongoing support to ISF will ensure we can continue making a difference to some of the most underserved children in Phnom Penh so they can build a brighter future for themselves and their families.    


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We have many reasons to celebrate this month. Our holistic Education Programme aims to help disadvantaged and marginalised children with little-to-no-education escape poverty. We do this with a combination of no-cost accelerated learning programme to get them re-integrated into Cambodia’s public-school system quickly, healthcare, and nutritional support. Our community outreach projects help their families develop the skills they need to gain employment. When students graduate from our Catch-Up Programme, they continue to receive support from ISF throughout their educational journey.

See some of the highlights below:

  • 84 new students were accepted into our Catch-Up Programme in November, bringing our total students to 728
  • 80 students graduated our accelerated learning ‘catch up’ programme and were re-integrated into state school. We now support 443 students to complete state school education
  • 13 students are receiving ISF support in tertiary education
  • 47% of our student body are female
  • 29 students have found stable employment and have graduated from all our programmes

On a different note, in accordance with a safety measure from Cambodia’s Ministry of Education, ISF schools will be closing until further notice to prevent any possible spread of the COVID-19 virus. We have no students or staff exhibiting symptoms of or have tested positive for the illness. 

Our staff have been meeting with students' families to notify them of this closure and give them information about our services going forward. They will keep these families informed through regular home visits, phone calls and a dedicated Facebook Group. Soap will also be distributed throughout the community to promote preventative hygiene and informational material given to educate residents on the virus and its prevention. Our commitment to our students and their families remains paramount in the days and weeks to follow.

The Importance of Our Support

Crises like the Coronavirus outbreak underscore the necessity of our healthcare, community projects, and education services to Cambodia’s most vulnerable children and their families. We need your support to maintain these projects that provide a necessary safety net for those experiencing food and income insecurity and help lift them out of poverty. If you can, make a donation to our life-changing programmes.

We appreciate your support as we continue to extend relief to some of Phnom Penh’s most unprotected residents.

Thank you!

The ISF Team


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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. 


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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. 


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Organization Information

Indochina Starfish Foundation

Location: Salcombe - United Kingdom
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @n/a
Project Leader:
Margherita Chiarolanza
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
$33,806 raised of $40,000 goal
381 donations
$6,194 to go
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