Is Cambodia a third world country

Hunger for education in Cambodia

Education is basically free in Cambodia. But the way is still blocked for many poor children because their parents cannot afford the unofficial "fees". The aid organization for street children "Friends" is helping some.

Cambodia is the land of those hungry for education. Cambodia is also the country of young people. A good half of the eleven million inhabitants of the kingdom between Vietnam, Laos and Thailand were born after the end of the murderous reign of terror of the Khmer Rouge in 1979. Through decades of war and violence, Cambodia is also a poor country. The economy is recording growth rates of ten percent and more. But the government budget is only $ 900 million annually. That corresponds to the annual budget of a medium-sized city in Germany. In addition, hundreds of millions of dollars in government revenue and aid from international organizations end up in the pockets of corrupt politicians and officials every year. There is not much left for investments in the education sector. Young Cambodians want to get out of poverty. You want a better future. For themselves. For their children. They want to achieve this on their own, instead of constantly having to rely on outside help. The magic word is training. However, access to state schools and training institutions, which in principle are accessible without school fees, is difficult. With an average salary of $ 20 a month, the hopelessly underpaid teachers get paid for school attendance as well as good grades. Children whose parents cannot raise the bribes are refused school attendance. Or the parents are so poor from the start that the children have to work to earn the bare minimum for survival. Or the children were born into circumstances where there were no educational opportunities for them at all. Like Ariem. The 16-year-old was born in Thailand, in Chonburi, where her parents worked. The father died, she doesn't know what became of her mother. Ariem was sent back to Cambodia. Where she knew no one, no one wanted her. She persuaded a bus driver to take her to Phnom Penh for free. She hoped to be able to earn money in Phnom Penh. Young, penniless, inexperienced, uneducated people like Ariem in Phnom Penh can only earn money as "child slaves" in factories or through prostitution. Ariem was spared the misery of prostitution and drugs. She was only homeless and defenseless for one day when she was found by social workers and taken to the aid organization for street children "Friends". Ariem can live with his "friends", go to school and do an apprenticeship. "I want to be a seamstress," she says with certainty. So she goes to sewing class. In addition to school lessons and the English course. Ariem is not alone. About 700 young men and women are currently being looked after by “Friends”. Some want to become auto mechanics, others computer specialists or beauticians. They can learn all this and much more from their "friends". Over 300 former street children of all ages live in the project. They want to be provided with food. So the kitchen is also the training place for future chefs. Sok Chong has already had a remarkable career. The 23-year-old man is head chef and trainer at the "Romdeng", a restaurant that is part of the "Friends" project. With the “Romdeng” and the “Friends” restaurant, the aid organization kills four birds with one stone. After their apprenticeship, cooks and waiters have a job where they in turn train their next generation. The "friends" earn money for their work with the restaurants, although the lion's share of their budget comes from donor organizations such as the EU. In addition, the restaurants are a clever way to draw tourists' attention to the problems of street children and to collect donation dollars. And the vacationers feel less “guilty” for spending their vacation in a desperately poor Third World country. Sok Chong had to leave school when he was seventeen. The parents could no longer afford his education. He too went to Phnom Penh, where he worked as a construction worker. For a dollar a day that lasted ten hours. We slept on the construction site. Then he came to "Friends". He wanted to become a chef because he sees the profession as future-proof. "You can still do that when you are old." Sok Chong dreams of his own restaurant and he is sure: "I can do it one day." Ariem doesn't have such ambitious plans. A sewing machine would be enough for her to earn a living. All of Ariem and Sok Chong's peers are eager to learn. Some receive their training at state institutions, others find training positions at non-governmental organizations. In the metal laboratory in the National Museum of Phnom Penh, Cambodian experts restore ancient Buddhas battered by the ravages of time. Sean Charette, director of the project, funded by the Getty Foundation and the Smithonian Museum, said one goal was to train Cambodians to become accomplished restorers. "At the end of the project phase, we hand over the laboratory to the staff," says Charette and adds: "This is a contribution to the preservation of Khmer culture and the reconstruction of Cambodia."

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