Fighting poverty in Cambodia - Children of the Mekong

Fighting poverty in Cambodia

Cambodia, a country with a large surface area

Children of the Mekong works in many countries in South-East Asia particularly in countries along the Mekong River and has been running child sponsorship programmes along with local supervisors since 2005. This article will be discussing and bringing awareness to the work we do in Cambodia; the reasons behind it, how and what we do.

Cambodia is a nation with an array of landscapes from the low plains to the high mountains; its borders Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. The capital is Phnom Penh; home to the Royal Palace and Central Market. The figures below demonstrate key information about the country:

  • AREA: 181,035 km2
  • POPULATION: 16.49 Million (2019)
  • CAPITAL: Phnom Penh
  • ETHNICITIES: 90% Khmer, 5% Vietnamese, 3% Chinese, 2% other ethnic groups
  • RELIGIONS: 96.4% Buddhists, 2.1% Muslims, 1% Christians
  • CURRENCY: Riel (£1 = 4,531 KHR in 2020 approx.)

Cambodia History

Cambodia is still considered among one of the Least Developed Countries.

Although it has been improving over recent years, the country remains mostly rural, which significantly contributes to their great inequality because the economic growth mainly benefits the minority; the urban population. Cambodia’s people suffered many tragedies in the late 20th century which has proven hard to overcome.


The poverty line in Cambodia

Statistically, a life out of poverty in this area of the world is quite rare; a third of the population is poor and therefore the poverty line in Cambodia is significantly low.

This means that almost 20% of the population are living under this line, with a third of the population also being under 15 years old, that doesn’t leave much room for improvement within the older community and the younger population require the right education to gradually decrease the percentage of people that are poor.

POVERTY LINE: 1.90$/Day (Asian Development Bank April 2020) / (1.25$/Day 2009 World Bank)

CAMBODIA: 0.93$/Da: (MO. Planning)

What indicators are used to determine if someone is living in poverty?

There a number of ways to indicate if people are poor and living under the line of poverty.

  • At least one household member is malnourished
  • At least one school-aged child is not enrolled
  • No household member has completed 5 years of schooling
  • No electricity
  • One or more children in the family have died
  • ‘dirty’ cooking fuel (e.g. firewood or charcoal)
  • The home has a dirt floor
  • No means of transport/communication/appliances (e.g. car, bike, radio, phone, refrigerator)
  • No access to sanitation

The education system in Cambodia : Literacy

The education system in Cambodia is very different from that of the system of education in the UK, most evident in the difference in the level of literacy. Only 30%-40% of the population of Cambodia are able to read, which is an LEDC in comparison to the 99% of the UK population which are literate.

Hence, it is Children of the Mekong’s biggest priority to educate the young population of Cambodia, to increase the literacy level in the country to allow for more jobs and an improvement in the standard of living.



Being poor is defined as people that: have low income, do not own much property, are in a lot of debt, have a big family of whom often all live in the same household, have been diagnosed with a disease or disability (HIV/handicapped/old age) or have been given a poverty certificate.


Help only one child per family

Although it may seem that only helping one child per family isn’t sufficient, by helping one child ultimately the whole family would benefit from the sponsorship. It would encourage other family members to learn how to read and write and will help them get out of the poverty cycle. The children that are chosen also to need to be within the fixed address in the program area. This means that there is not unfair treatment and bias towards children in certain areas in Cambodia.



In this case, commitment refers to a student that wants and loves to go to school. They are motivated and enthusiastic regardless of any obstacle he or she faces in her life. It also refers to families that want their child to go to school regardless of their economic situation, tradition, or any other obstacles.



Typically, the children that are chosen to be sponsored are between the ages of 8 and 15, from grade 3. This is because they are of the age when education is crucial and if they are supported they will be provided with an education that will change their lives forever and they will be able to learn in their prime years.


Children of the Mekong’s span of action in Cambodia include:



From the figures shown above, it is also apparent that more than just the children are benefitting from the support. There are five education centres that have been able to support 1,540 young people; whilst offering the opportunity for more jobs for local employees. Children of the Mekong focus on three main areas to tackle the poverty crisis and work towards eliminating the disastrous educational system in Cambodia.

1/ Firstly, we offer child sponsorship to children that are more motivated to enable them to carry on with their studies which they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to or encouraged to do, additionally, the sponsorship helps both the child and their family afford the many costs that come with having an education such as supplementary classes which must be paid for, uniform, teaching materials and stationery.


2/ Secondly, through providing special centres and boarding houses, children that may live in areas that are very rural and isolated, which are therefore too far away from school, are able to stay in these places so they can go to school easily. Within these buildings, the children receive personal development workshops: philosophy, and activities that ultimately enhance their personal development skills as well as free supplementary classes which would be uncalled for anywhere else.

3/ Finally, we provide the children with career support when they are getting to the end of their education. We make guidance sessions available for the students to give them advice on how to access the job market, finding suitable training, as well as preparing them with CV writing, public speaking and any other relevant requirements to get into the working world.

Following up on children and support given

There are two parts of a follow up: Home follow up and School follows up. Both of which have certain goals to attain upon the visits.

Objectives of a follow-up: 

  • To build a relationship with the children
  • To provide constant advice and positive encouragement
  • To know the children’s capacity and help orientate them to the right educational and career paths
  • To gather new information, in case there is a change in a child’s situation to be shared with their godparent
  • To intervene in case the child wants to quit school

What do social workers do for Home follow-ups?

As previously mentioned, social workers conduct both home and school follow-ups to check up on all aspects of the children’s lives. Children of the Mekong aim to visit each and every sponsored child in the program once a year or at least 15 sponsored child per month if that cannot be achieved, to ensure all children are visited specifically when they are at home.

Whilst visiting the child and their family are interviewed and the information received is noted. The most exciting part of the visits for the children when their photos are taken! Photos are taken of the children doing activities such as housework, working with their family, or doing homework; additional photos are taken with the family and where they live. These photos are sent to the children’s sponsor as a regular update of what their sponsored child looks like and what they keep up with schoolwork and with their families. Some sponsored children that are in the program live in isolated rural areas therefore more than one social worker is required to visit the children.

What do social workers do for School follow-ups?

  • The student’s books should be checked 3 times a year
  • School visits should happen 2-3 times a year to collect attendant and for social workers to build a relationship with the teacher
  • The annual bulletin should be collected once a year to show final grades and total attendants
  • They arrange with the teacher and conduct test to measure student’s capacity.- Especially for the student after grade 8 2 times per year in Math, Khmer and other subjects if necessary
  • They give the students advice and consult them about their study and future

Follow up priority checks regarding the students

Follow up visits are conducted regularly to look out for the children. The school follow-ups are crucial to ensure that all students are learning in the right environments and remain enthusiastic about their education.

Social workers have to check if any students did not attend school within the past month and stay updated with the decisions of children that may want to drop out of school. When children are visited at home, any changes or an improvement of their family’s economic status is noted and any students that social workers have not visited yet in the past year need to be listed; to ensure that are all treated equally.

The impact of supporting Cambodian children in need

It is clear that supporting children in need has a massive impact, ultimately in their lives as children that been chosen to be supported through the sponsorship programmes, have been able to accomplish and achieve many things that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to!

Additionally, it helps to educate their families and restore hope within small communities living in poverty. Regular follow-ups and visitations make the children feel important and ensure they are using their life-changing experiences for the better.

Fighting poverty in Cambodia with Children of the Mekong

To conclude, there has been a wide verity of help that Children of the Mekong has provided to ultimately contribute to the positive change that is so noticeably needed. Poverty needs to be decreased in Cambodia, and it is obvious that the number of people that are poor and living in conditions that consider them to be living under the poverty line is much higher than that of other countries in the world.

Our three main ways in which we provide support are child sponsorship, centres/boarding houses and career support.

Through our aid, children are able to receive the opportunity to go to school and receive an education to get themselves and their families out of the cycle of poverty. They are then able to develop and change their financial situations and enhance their way of living by ensuring no one in their family is malnourished, buy a form of transport, have access to electricity, clean water and household appliances. Having any of these things would improve their standard of living.

The social workers are required to follow up and update information regularly regarding developments the children have made or any changes to their attendance. They undergo both home and school follow-ups that allow for all aspects of the children. This ensures they are all continuously looked after and improvements can be seen in their lives.

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