Cambodia has an extremely turbulent history. It was almost completely swallowed up by its encroaching neighbours – Vietnam and Thailand - before this process was halted by the imposition of French colonial rule. The French colonial period lasted from 1863 – 1953. Following the fall of this, a nasty civil war broke out, resulting in the Chinese and Hanoi-backed Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot coming to power in 1975. This spurred the darkest period in Cambodia’s history with the government turning on its people and 1 million dying in the process. Their reign lasted until 1993 after the UN intervened with the Paris Agreement Peace Plan. Today, the government remains unstable in Cambodia with human rights abuses continuing.
Today, almost half of Cambodia’s population are under the age of 22, however only 1.6% of GDP is spent on education by the government. This ranks them at 170th in the world in terms of education spend.
The main focus of the education system, at all levels, is on basic literacy. Illiteracy rates remain high with 76% of women and 45% of men unable to read or write. State schools are under-equipped, and very often classes are run without textbooks or pens and pads for the students. Teachers are not paid well, with wages around €40 per month. Many teachers end up taking cash gifts in return for after school tuition, and other skilled teachers “go private” to earn more money. This undermines the State system, and also widens the gap between rich and poor. ActionAid works to ensure that all children in the villages we work in have access to education.
The role of women
According to the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Gender Gap Index, Cambodia has made little progress in gender equality and ranks lowest in the region as a whole (104 out of 136 countries). Overall there are more women than men in Cambodia, however the traditional notion that it makes more sense for boys to go to school rather than girls prevails. Therefore, men are usually better educated and can find work more easily. Women can often find jobs in garment factories for very little pay and horrendous working conditions. This hierarchical social structure becomes cyclical as the men obtain better jobs, and are then valued more than women in society. Consequentially, the role of women in power and decision-making is not nationally recognized.
An important part of our work is helping poor people discover their rights and entitlements after years of oppression and poverty. We work with local partners to fight both rural and urban poverty. The projects you are helping to support focus on education, women and health, HIV & AIDS, Food security and land rights, strengthening rural grassroots organisations and advocacy training.
Child sponsorship in Cambodia
Sopheak (12 years old), Chambok Village, Svey Rieng Province. Thousands of people in Ireland sponsor children like Sopheak. Sopheak writes to her sponsor, the letters and photos she receives in return, are really important to her. She keeps them in a plastic bag with her birth certificate. ActionAid is teaching her about dengue fever. She now understands that the fever which killed her 4 brothers and sisters, is caused by the tiger mosquito. ActionAid is teaching Sopheak and many other how to prevent denge fever.
Sopheak’s mother Som Hon explains how her friends attend monthly meetings organised by ADIFE (ActionAid partner).
We received mosquito nets and learned that we need to fill in pot holes and get rid of dry leaves and coconut shells to prevent mosquito’s breeding. I also make sure my daughter wears long sleeves in the evenings. The training helps us protect our children. Prevention is better, the treatments are too expensive and don't always work.