Just for a moment, close your eyes and think of a six-year-old child about to start school. What are the things you wish the most for that child to have? Maybe these things come to your mind quickly;
- Someone to love them and take care of them
- Clean water and food to eat.
- A warm and comfortable bed to sleep.
- And a school that they can go to, to learn and play with their friends.
Yes!!! All very basic but fundamental needs for survival. And a right that every child deserves.
In Cambodia, many children don’t have these basic needs covered.
- World Vision advocated for the well-being of over a million orphans and vulnerable children living in Cambodia to be protected.
- 56% of children living in villages don’t have a school to go to. That’s denying one out of two children to get an education.
- According to data from UNICEF- 3.5 million people in village communities in Cambodia don’t have access to clean drinking water, and the mortality rate amongst children under 5 is the highest in the world.
- Many children survive on one meal a day. Families survive with less than $2 a day in income.
This is the reality and my personal experience, and these are the reasons why we work in Cambodia.
When I first visited Cambodia in 2012, I went to a small village just on the edge of Siem Reap on a very hot and dusty day. The village is called Svaychey with a population of about 1700 people. There I found a community struggling to provide the most basic of needs, for the children. The community had no real school to accommodate all the children, very little fresh drinking water, NO proper sanitation or regular meals for the kids. I was shocked to see these conditions. There are so many small children with nothing and yet wanting to learn and play. The poverty was very confronting. I returned to Sydney with the passion and commitment to build a school for the children of Svaychey and help them get an education. The first seed for the Step 2 Foundation was now planted.
Over the last 10 years, we have grown into a thriving grassroots charity with an impressive track record for making real change. There are now four board members, and the foundation has registered NGO charity status.
We have come a long way since my first visit in 2012, and I would like to share with you some of our successful projects that have contributed to real change. Our priority to build a school in Svaychey was successfully completed in 2014. 250 children now attend our Primary School every day, and a further 230 children come to learn English. And in the last 10 years, we have had 100’s of students complete primary school and go to high school.
Step 2 school has 9 well-built, fully furnished classrooms, a library, sanitation, and clean drinking water. In 2020/21 we were able to raise enough funds to complete a new classroom and get 30 more children to school in January 2023. With the funds raised in 2023/24 we are planning to build a further classroom and expand the school. This will allow another 30 children to start school in 2024.
We currently have 14 teachers teaching subjects covering English, Maths, Computer skills and Khmer language.
We’ve ensured that the children have access to educational supplies including a library, writing and reading books.
We introduced volunteer teachers from Australia to our school in Svaychey. Three qualified teachers have stayed at the school to be part of the community and teach English to students. We are currently working to connect a qualified teacher from Singapore with our advanced English class in Svaychey.
Step 2 Foundation has supported 46 young capable students (over 50% of our students are girls) who have completed primary school (including 4 of our English teachers) to attend advanced English education designed and delivered by the Australian Centre for Education in Siem Reap, part of the IDP group. In January 2023, two directors (Colin and Zeynep) visited the school and issued certificates to the students who completed the English program with ACE.
English learning is critical in Cambodia for senior education and getting a job. It is an important path to breaking the poverty cycle and giving them the opportunity for a better life for our students. These programs also create leadership within the communities in which we work and provide opportunities for us to recruit local teachers to the school. We try to work deep with a long-term sustainable vision.
WATER PROJECTS – Our next biggest challenge was to provide fresh drinking water to children and their families. This is a task we took very seriously as we can see the very urgent and immediate need for clean water and sanitation in the school and surrounding villages.
Each year, according to UNICEF, 200 kids in Siem Reap district die from drinking dirty polluted water, and 100’s more get sick. Lack of sanitation and drinking water also stops kids from attending school as they need to travel long distances to collect water for their families and siblings.
After working for many months with local engineers, we developed a unique and affordable water treatment process. Each system produces over 8000 litres of fresh drinking water a day. Step 2 now maintains 6 water sites in five villages, giving fresh drinking water to over 12,000 people, including 1,500 primary school students.
Covid lockdowns affected all of us in a different way. In countries like Cambodia, the devastation was more obvious, and the need was more immediate. In 2020/21, we supported 130 families with a food program, giving over 10,000 kg of rice and canned fish. This shift in priority was critical and we were able to help the very needy families of our students until the lockdowns were completed. We have continued the food program by making sure kids get a healthy breakfast at the school daily. We are continuing to advance better health for our students. In 2024, we are planning a partnership with an American charity called “Vitamin Angels”. They will be providing high-quality vitamins to our students across two village communities targeting 800-900 children.
So, what makes Step 2 Foundation Unique?
- Since 2012, we’ve devoted all our resources, projects and efforts to helping impoverished children get an education and strive for a better life for themselves, their families and future generations. Because we believe – “Every child deserves the right to live and learn.”
- 100% of every public donation goes to projects in Cambodia. Administration costs are paid by the Directors.
- For any cause to go the distance, it needs to empower the people it supports. Since its inception, the Step 2 Foundation policy of only employing local staff and suppliers has created a growing village ecosystem and a genuine sense of project ownership in the community.
- With your support, we want to continue these projects and give Children in Cambodia an opportunity to go to school and have a healthier life.
Education is the only sustainable way out of poverty and steps to a better life.
Small changes can make a big difference in a child’s life.
Never underestimate the change you can make.