According to Unicef, Cambodia has the highest infant mortality rate in the region and 45 % rate of malnutrition amongst children. One third of the country’s population lives below the poverty line on less than $1 a day. Children represent more than half of the country’s population. The country has been torn apart by 25 years of war and genocide by the Khmer Rouge. 99% of teachers and professors, 95% of doctors, and 99% of artists have been wiped out between 1975 and 1993. 3 million people have lost their lives out of a population of 12 million. The war has destroyed historical cultural values, traditions, and ethical foundations of the Cambodians. Extreme poverty makes survival the priority for families over their children, who are forced to work day and night or are sold. Children work to the extreme of their forces, undernourished, in dangerous and degrading conditions.
The Pistorio Foundation supports over 100 children at the “Catch up School” of Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE). The children receive accelerated teaching in the national curriculum at this school, located in the PSE premises in Stung Mean Chey, in proximity of the recently closed dump around which many families used to live and on which adults and children used to work. The school covers Primary to High School education with a strong emphasis on Khmer, mathematics, physics and foreign languages (English and French). Sports are also practiced on a weekly basis as well as teaching of traditional theatre and dance, and courses on Human Rights and Rights of Children, and on prevention of sexually transmittable diseases such as HIV. Children on scholarship also receive medical assistance, nutritional support, and education on hygiene practices at the PSE centre. The Foundation supports their education until the completion of their high school diploma and professional school degree at one of the 11 professional school training programs available at PSE.
The sponsorship covers the provision of uniforms, school supplies, two meals and one snack per day, and basic health care to children, teachers’ and social workers’ salaries,
and a compensation in rice to their families for the loss of income as the child is no longer working. Social workers ensure that the families do not make the child work after school hours into the night, which would negatively impact thechild’s performance in school. Children arrive at the center at 6.30 am where they can shower and have breakfast. At the center they have a lunch meal and a snack during school breaks. Following their afternoon tutoring, they will return to their homes in the evening.