With an annual GDP growth rate of about 7% since 2011, Cambodia has experienced strong economic growth in the past decades, but real socioeconomic progress has been hindered by systemic corruption, limited human resources, high income inequality, and poor job prospects. 12.9% of the population lives below the national poverty line (Asian Development Bank). Obstacles to development include widespread lack of education and productive skills, particularly in the more impoverished rural areas, which also lack basic infrastructure. According to the International Labor Organization, 8.4% of children aged 5-17 were engaged in child labor in 2016, primarily in the agricultural sector, but also in brick making and services such as ambulant vendors, garbage scavengers, domestic workers, and in the hospitality and tourist industry, sometimes as a result of human trafficking from rural to urban areas and across country borders. Although primary school enrolment rates have improved over the years, lower secondary completion rates were still at 57% as of 2017.

Since 2009, the Pistorio Foundation has partnered with Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE) and supported the long term education, basic health care, and nutrition of over 180 students in the center’s “Catch up School” in the PSE campus at 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. Most beneficiaries were former garbage scavengers from the dump site and street children, and all coming from extremely poor, unhealthy, and precarious contexts in the slums of Phnom Penh. At the “Catch up School”, children follow an accelerated program which allows them to complete two years of formal education in one, and hence catch up from the years they have been out of school. The school imparts the national curriculum from 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 receive medical assistance, two meals in school, and education on hygiene practices at the PSE center, and their families receive a compensation in rice to prevent them from making their children work.

In recent years we have participated in infrastructure projects such as the creation and expansion of libraries, the construction of a new classroom building, and the set up of tools and didactics for distance learning to adapt to the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.