In our work with Caring for Cambodia (CFC), we’ve had the opportunity to visit local schools and learn about the organization’s various support programs. Like many other NGOs working to improve education in developing countries, CFC understands it takes much more to educate a child than simply classrooms and teachers. Children can’t learn when their bodies aren’t nourished. They can’t focus on schoolwork when they’re fighting off disease. The Food for Thought program is just one of the supports in place to address those basic life needs which must be met before a child can focus on learning.
We’ve helped with the Food for Thought program during our time here by serving meals to students, clearing tables, and cleaning dishes. Everything about this volunteer experience made us smile. The children all gave us polite namaste greetings to say thank you when we served them their bowls of rice porridge. We watched their animated conversations at the tables as they talked with their friends or worked together on homework. We heard their shrieks of laughter coming from the playground as they burned off some energy before their morning classes. This service project was particularly good for the soul.
While it warms the heart to see all of this, it doesn’t mask the economic and political challenges Cambodia faces. The poverty here is certainly very real and very heartbreaking, with little assistance coming from the country’s government. Many point the finger at political corruption which remains an ongoing issue, as recent articles about longterm Prime Minister Hun Sen have not-so-discreetly pointed out. Even having benefited from improved educational resources in Cambodia, these children may still face difficulty finding quality work when they become adults. The baby boom following the country’s decade-long civil war has resulted in a fast-growing labor pool and rising concerns over the number of jobs the country can create for its future generation of workers.
Yet, on the mornings we spent helping with Food for Thought those future obstacles melted away among the din of young voices and clattering spoons. In that cafeteria it was clear to us that despite the challenges these children may face, they have a lot of good people working to give them the future they deserve.