Agility helps in Cambodia
What began with volunteerism by two Agility executives has grown into a corporate commitment for vital education initiatives in Cambodia, which continues to struggle with the effects of the harrowing Khmer Rouge period (1975-1979) and its aftermath.
Jens Wessel, SVP Sales & Marketing, Asia Pacific, introduced Agility to Caring for Cambodia (CFC), a group that operates 21 pre-K through Grade 12 schools in Cambodia, including programs aimed at building literacy and math skills for pre-school children, as well as parental skills for young mothers. These programs give children a significant advantage, as early enrollment increases the likelihood of graduation and academic achievement. Jens and his family, living in Singapore, have traveled to Cambodia to work with CFC. Agility has been supporting CFC’s pre-school and young mother programs since 2012.
At about the same time, Agility began working with the Norwegian Association for Private Initiatives in Cambodia (NAPIC). With support from United World College of South East Asia (UWCSEA), NAPIC set up a fullday school – KUMA Cambodia – in 2012 to educate and care for the most vulnerable children in villages near Takhmau, south of Phnom Penh. The Agility-NAPIC connection came about through Morten Damgaard, CEO of Agility Southeast Asia, who worked with UWCSEA and NAPIC as a volunteer and now serves on KUMA’s advisory board.
“Poverty stunts education,” Damgaard says. “In Cambodia, children are forced to drop out of school at primary or secondary levels in order to work and help support their families and because many can’t afford basic academic expenses. Without support, it’s unlikely they will get the education they need to rise out of poverty.”
Four years of destruction
The Khmer Rouge destroyed Cambodia’s education system and most other institutions during four years of totalitarian rule in which up to two million Cambodians, nearly a quarter of the population, died. Traumatized and impoverished, Cambodia was slow to recruit teachers, reopen schools and rebuild its education system.
When you arm children with the basic skills they need to get jobs and make their own contributions, you are making a generational difference.
Today, there are about three million students in more than 12,000 primary, secondary and tertiary schools. Literacy rates, at near zero among school-age children after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, are climbing.
“The educational landscape in Cambodia is improving,” Wessel says. “But progress is slow. Support from organizations like Caring for Cambodia makes education more accessible. It won’t be long before we see most, if not all Cambodian children in school where they belong.”
More than half of Cambodians are under age 18. Many are growing up in motherless households or have no female role models. As a result, CFC addresses normal education needs and offers instruction for young parents.
CFC builds a brighter future
With Agility’s support, CFC has been working to ready pre-school children for grade school while, at the same time, helping mothers develop parenting skills that will ensure their children succeed. CFC provides basic health and dental education, and hygiene instruction and materials, working with more than 330 mothers and 500 children from 12 pre-schools.
A separate CFC program, serving nearly 900 junior high and high school girls, aims to encourage and empower female students, giving them the confidence and tools to stay in school. Agility funds two counselors and a senior program manager; it has paid for laptops and program management expenses. Each semester, CFC trains more than 85 teachers in ways to address the needs of female students.
Programs such as CFC’s are new to Cambodia. They have helped keep children in school longer and improved graduation rates, drawing attention from key government officials. In a visit to CFC last year, Cambodia’s education minister said the country would adopt CFC’s education and program standards for pre-schools throughout Cambodia.
Lydia Breckon, Development Director for CFC, said: “We are very grateful to Agility for helping us to make this excellent education a reality for thousands of Cambodian children.”
NAPIC’s KUMA Cambodia program serves some of the country’s poorest children and families by providing schooling, food and medical assistance. Located south of Phnom Penh in villages around Takhmau, the capital of Kandal province, KUMA educates children who would otherwise go unschooled and offers the parents workshops in social skills, children’s rights, vocational training and employment.
Instruction at KUMA is basic elementary education: math, Khmer and English reading and writing, arts, and physical education. KUMA also provides three nutritious meals a day, hygiene, medical and dental care. Through Agility’s support, KUMA is able to give children medical exams and vaccinations, and to offer guidance, skills and instruction intended to help their parents get jobs.
Community development in emerging markets has become an Agility priority as the company has expanded in frontier economies. “You don’t have to make enormous financial contributions to make a huge difference in these countries. When you arm children with the basic skills they need to get jobs and make their own contributions, you are making a generational difference,” Wessel says.