The Importance of Education Continuity

As is the case in many countries, Cambodia has now closed its schools and this has implications for our GATE projects and the scholarship recipients.

Education continuity during times of emergencies such as we are seeing with the corona virus pandemic should be a fundamental right for children.

It not only ensures students’ academic and cognitive growth, but has a significant impact on their psychological wellbeing.

As well as the educational and psychological benefits of such continuity, there are a number of benefits for our more socially vulnerable children, which includes the LOA scholarship students.

Education continuity in emergencies can:

  • Reduce the risks of violence and exploitation
  • Reduce the risks of gender based violence and sexual violence
  • Prevent the separation of children from their families
  • Prevent alcohol and drug misuse
  • Provide direct psychological support and counselling

Governments around the world are now enacting their plans in the face of the Covid-19 emergency.  One of the strategies of the Cambodian government for education continuity is to focus on grade 9 and 12 students, who are expected to sit national examinations this year. For these students, the Ministry of Education has developed a smartphone app with online learning opportunities.

And here is where inequality and poverty hits again. While much of the world, and indeed much of Cambodia, now has access to smartphones, it is of course the very poor who do not. This includes a number of the LOA GATE girls. Their ability to access the app is compromised by a lack of smart phone and then the costs of running the internet. For many families, these costs are overwhelming and simply put, enough to throw them over the edge in times of crisis when things are so uncertain.

Luckily for the girls in our GATE Program, they have support networks both in Cambodia and here in Australia. LOA is working closely with LOCAM and Cambodian Women’s Crisis Centre to assess the individual situations of each of our girls, to determine the best way forward. At this point, we are funding the purchase of a number of smartphones by LOCAM, which will be loaned to the girls for the duration of school closures. Loaning rather than gifting removes issues such as jealousy amongst scholarship students and others, and enables us to consider contracts with the girls that support their online safety. In addition to ensuring that all our girls have access to a smart phone, we are reallocating funds from tuition costs to cover the costs of accessing the internet.

While this helps girls keep up academically, it doesn’t ensure their safety and protection from the huge risks in their lives such as exploitation – the reason we support these girls in the first place. Our in-country partners are therefore setting up a series of online groups with all the girls, so that they can continue to monitor the girls, their educational progress, their safety and their wellbeing. Our LOCAM counterparts are working from home in Phnom Penh, and will be using these networks and groups to provide counselling and support in these tough times.

Girls and their Grandmothers

Raising a child takes a village, but sometimes the only person left in that village is the grandmother. We met with three of our girls who live with their grandmothers, and were touched by the love and care provided by these strong women.

Sreyneang (above) has lived with her grandmother since she was 2 years old, when both her parents died due to HIV. Her older sister also went with her. Running in the garden are two more children – another grandchild whose parents work and live at a factory, and a young boy with Down Syndrome whose parents are from the village – Grandma cares for him while his parents work. Sreyneang desperately wants to finish school, so she can get a better job that will allow her to help her grandmother.


Sreykhouch (above) moved in with her grandmother about two years ago when her parents divorced. They both remarried and have new children in the city, but Sreykhouch’s grandmother didn’t let her go with them because she feared for her granddaughter’s safety. Sreykhouch is happy with her grandmother and wouldn’t have it any other way.


Daneth (above) prefers we don’t share the details of how she ended up with her grandmother as it is an on-going situation. She is a dedicated student who hopes to become a Chinese language teacher or a tour guide when she finishes school. Daneth’s grandmother is elderly, and they both worry constantly about what will happen to Daneth in the future.

Kim – age 16


Kim is the oldest of 8 siblings, all living with their mum. Her dad is a day labourer, taking work where available and is currently clearing grass from farming land, so living away from the family.

5X1A2415Around 10 years ago, the family was living in a small hut on some land in a village. They were acting as the guard because the owner lived away in the city. They built their own house and lived rent-free. One morning, mum was out working on the land when her daughters decided to make kites from plastic bags. In the hope that they would fly well, they made an incense offering in the family’s ancestor house (a little prayer house that most families have in front of their homes). While they were flying the kites, the incense fell and their home burnt down – they lost everything. At this point they decided to move closer to the city to try to rebuild their lives, however urban life was difficult, work was hard to find and the family found themselves sinking further into poverty.

Now, because of the fire, mum has had a lot of trouble getting birth certificates and identification cards for her younger children, as she no longer has her own documentation. She is particularly worried about her little 5 year old who is due to start school next year. The costs involved in travelling to the office and filing for documentation are significant enough that the family doesn’t think they can do it.

Luckily for Kim’s family, CWCC will be able to support them through this process. This is one small example of how the LOA scholarship can inadvertently help other children in a girl’s family to receive an education.

IMG_6110Kim hopes to either join the police or become an engineer when she finishes school. Since she never comes below fifth in her class, we have high hopes for her achieve her dream.

*All photos are used with informed consent

World Tourism Day

On World Tourism Day, it is important to reflect on our impact as tourists in a country like Cambodia. I lived in Cambodia for six years and witnessed the incredible growth of tourism over that time – it went from a relatively unknown “exotic” location, to the next Bali for many Australian tourists. This sounds bad but it doesn’t have to be. The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) believes that tourism can “spearhead growth… improve the quality of people’s lives, support environmental protection, champion diverse cultural heritage and strengthens peace in the world”. Now that sounds amazing, but it also comes with a warning that more planning and careful thought is needed about the growth of the tourism sector as tourism doesn’t inherently lead to sustainable development. Cambodia is a prime example of where tourism growth has had very mixed consequences, and we as potential tourists need to be aware of the impact we are going to have.


By now surely you have heard the term “voluntourism”. The concept of making your holiday count is something that has struck the mind of almost every tourist I have met in Cambodia. When you see skinny children with matted hair sleeping by the river, waking to beg for money or sell woven bracelets and postcards, its hard to ignore the emotional pull to help – but behind each of these children on the street is someone taking their earnings, keeping them practically enslaved, there is a child missing out on an education, there is a child who will likely turn to glue sniffing once their “cuteness” wears off and they are finally released to fend for themselves. In fact, Friends International has lead major campaigns encouraging people to never buy from children, yet a walk along Riverside shows that either the message never got through, or the tug of the pleading eyes overthrows tourists’ rational thought on the matter, and they give in. What difference is one bracelet going to make anyway?

Happy Mother's Day

Cambodia has capitalized on our instinct to help when we see something that unsettles us. Begging on the street is nothing compared to the number of orphanages housing poor, sad children who need a westerner to come and save the day… for a few days. Volunteering organisations thrive despite years of campaigning by the likes of Friends International and the “Rethink Orphanages” movement. So what’s the problem? “Surely something is better than nothing” an Australian tourist asked me on my most recent monitoring visit.

But the reality of our good intentions is that over 80% of children in orphanages are not orphans. They have been coerced, rented, sold or even stolen from rural families living in poverty. This is trafficking.

I have been one of these good intentioned tourists. I spent a week “teaching English” in an orphanage in Vietnam. I was completely out of my depth and realised almost immediately that this was not appropriate for me or for the children, but their teacher took the opportunity to disappear for a break and I was stuck. From that moment on I have carefully questioned any volunteering I have done, and continue to question how Lotus Outreach Australia is positioned in terms of voluntourism and the protection of children in Cambodia.

Because in the end it is about child protection. In Australia, tourists cannot walk into a school or a foster home to play with the kids and take photos, because we value the safety of our children and the right for them to have a normal childhood. The dangers for children in orphanages goes beyond the severe emotional and psychological trauma however, with numerous orphanage owners or operators being arrested for sexually abusing children in their care. Children are also at further risk of being trafficked from orphanages into the sex trade.

Volunteering is good. Voluntourism is not. What can I do?

  • Australians can look into volunteering opportunities through the Australian Volunteer Program, the Australian Government funded program, which is meticulously monitored. It matches volunteers with specific skills to organisations who require specific support for longer term assignments.
  • You can enjoy your holiday overseas and then volunteer your time in Australia to an organisation needing your skills. Lotus Outreach Australia for example, will always welcome people who volunteer to develop and run fundraising activities.

How can I help while I’m on holiday?

My daughter and her best friend at Good Morning Guesthouse, Phnom Penh, on our most recent monitoring visit

  • Tourism itself can boost economies and change peoples lives. Try to remember this when you are haggling over $1 at the markets or with a tuk-tuk driver. Your cheap holiday can feed their family. My very good friends at Good Morning Guesthouse in Phnom Penh and Kampot were tuk-tuk drivers when I arrived in Phnom Penh in 2010. Now they run three successful businesses – all through their efforts driving tourists around. They now support us when we do monitoring visits for Lotus Outreach Australia.
  • Visit training restaurants. In Phnom Penh, Friends and Romdeng (Street 13 and 174 respectively) are run by Friends International and operate as hospitality training centres for children who have left the street. In Battambang, Jaan Bai was set up as part of Cambodian Children’s Trust, with profits going towards their child protection activities. In Siem Reap, you may even be served by one of our own LOA graduates who are studying hospitality at Sala Bai.
  • You don’t have to visit an NGO run restaurant to be benefiting the community either. Businesses like “The Shop” on St 240 (one of my favourites), has built its own little family. Staff have been working there for longer than I lived in Cambodia, evidence that they are well cared for, well treated and truly part of the family. The Shop hires staff who have graduated from hospitality training programs similar to those our scholarship girls attend.The ever enticing selection of cakes at The Shop, 240

Be informed

The theme of this year’s World Tourism Day is “Tourism and the Digital Transformation”. We are so fortunate to be able to research our holidays before we travel – the more aware we are, the more responsible we can be. A great place to start before visiting Cambodia is the child safe website, offering seven tips for travellers, and the DFAT smart volunteering site.

Cambodia is a beautiful country with much to offer – let’s all be responsible tourists and work together to protect Cambodian children.

Charlie Cristi

(In-country Liaison Officer)

Montgomery, H. (2018). Children and Sex Tourism: The Case of Thailand. Tourists and Tourism: A Reader, 281.
Guiney, T. (2018). ‘Huganorphan vacations’:‘love’and emotion in orphanage tourism. The Geographical Journal.
Cheer, J. M. (2018). Commentary article for tourism geographies 20th anniversary, Chicago.
Palacios, C. M. (2010). Volunteer tourism, development and education in a postcolonial world: Conceiving global connections beyond aid. Journal of sustainable tourism, 18(7), 861-878.
UNWTO (2017), Tourism for Development: Volune 1: Key areas for action. Spain, Madrid.
US Department of State (2018), Trafficked persons report. Washington DC.

Exam time in Cambodia

Exam time in Cambodia is riddled with stress. Girls feel the pressure – how they perform in their exams can determine the rest of their life. Will they find meaningful work or will they return to their home, limited to a domestic life with no prospects for breaking their family out of poverty?

Our LOA GATE girls have typically achieved higher than the national average in their exams – but not all our girls are guaranteed to pass. Most of our girls have experienced endless barriers to their education – that’s why they were chosen for scholarships.

Many of our girls experienced severe malnourishment as children. Some were set back even in the womb – mums who had to work throughout their pregnancy, in taxing physical jobs, just to feed themselves. Unfortunately this impacts on brain development, and many of our girls are behind the bar before they even get to school.

Then the early years of school happens. Boys are sent to school everyday with almost no hesitation. Girls on the other-hand are still expected to cook and clean, look after younger siblings, and simply stay home when parent can only afford to send one and must choose between their son or their daughter. Missing class during the foundational years of school can put a girl so far behind that she may never catch up.

Yet LOA doesn’t discriminate – we believe that all children have the right to an education, and all are worth investing in, whether they will top their year or not.

ChansocheataChansocheata is one such girl – once identified to receive a scholarship through LOA, she put every effort into her studies. Her family learnt about the importance of educating girls, and started supporting her to attend school every day. Unfortunately Chansocheata failed her class 12 exams in 2017. At that point she could have given up and stayed home to help her mum, but through LOA counselling, she decided to give it another try.

An important part of the LOA GATE scholarship is the counselling and support that girls receive. Not only do they get counselling if they are at risk of dropping out of school, but they also have a lot of guidance leading up to finishing school. Our in country partner, Lotus Outreach Cambodia (LOCAM) researches opportunities for girls who finish school but don’t get into university. Vocational training can provide girls with skills they need to get themselves and their families out of poverty.

LOA GATE Girls now have a variety of opportunities through the relationships HairdressingLOCAM has developed with vocational training organisations such as PNC, a well established computer programming course, and Happy Chandara, a hair and beauty training program.

Chansocheata failed her exams again this year, but her future is still bright. Before sitting her exams, Chansocheata had already visited Sala Bai, a hospitality training program in Siem Reap, where she was accepted for training. She will be moving to Siem Reap with another GATE scholarship recipient, and will be monitored throughout her program by LOCAM.

LOA and our in country partners make every effort to ensure that our support doesn’t stop after school. Chansocheata is one of nine girls who finished class 12 this year. Let’s see what their futures bring.

Charlie Cristi

(In-Country Liaison Officer)

Sreynoi – age 17

Meet Sreynoi – a 17 year old girl in class 10.

Sreynoi moved with her family from the countryside to the outskirts of Phnom Penh, in search of work. However hopes for the big city didn’t turn out how they expected. Sreynoi’s dad now collects palm wine – gruelling work climbing to the top of ten different trees each day – and sells it in his back yard. This means that there are often drunk people hanging around the house, and the family worries about their daughter’s safety, but with dad managing to collect 100 litres each day in the dry season, this is the most stable form of income, leaving them with little choice. 


Sreynoi is studying the biology stream in high school, as she hopes to one day become a doctor. She has seen how many people in Cambodia are getting sick these days from chemicals and poisons in food and drinks, and would love to be able to help teach poor families how to eat safely. 

In order to achieve her dreams, Sreynoi has to study hard. She takes extra classes in in Maths and Khmer Literature, because these are the subjects she has trouble with, and she would like to take more but she can’t afford to. 

Sreynoi recognises that in order to study at university, she will need to have some English Language skills, so she has enrolled in a private English class, using the stipend from her LOA scholarship, and some money from her dad who has been doing extra work to support her. 

Sreynoi’s parents make a lot of sacrifices to support their daughter’s education because they believe in her – they never imagined their daughter would be able to finish school, but now they can see how well she is doing and are full of confidence. Dad says that the 50kg of rice support they receive each month has made all the difference – now they can give Sreynoi money to study because they don’t have to spend it all on food. 

Sreynoi’s wish is to see her little 3 year old sister have the same opportunities as her in the future. She worries about her now but knows that once she gets a job she will be able to get her sister through school too.


Lotus Outreach Australia not only gets vulnerable girls like Sreynoi into school by giving them scholarships, books, uniforms etc, but builds awareness with families in these poor communities on how to protect girls from the risks of the sex trade. Sreynoi feels much safer knowing that she is being supported both at home and at school. 

*All photos used with informed consent from families and girls

Charlie Cristi

(In-Country Liaison Officer)

Srey Phen – age 15

My parents have no education so they are very proud that I go to school. Since I received the LOA scholarship I always get good grades. I want to go to university to become a doctor because many Cambodians are sick and I want to cure them.

I have a bicycle from LOA to get to school but sometimes I let my mother use it because her work is very far. We are very poor, really very poor, and with the scholarship we receive rice and we are very happy for that.

I tell the girls in the village about education and to take care when they walk anywhere because it is not always safe for girls. We have a big concern in the community about sex trafficking and illegal migration because the people are abused and exploited. Strangers come to the village to convince people to go abroad to work, even very young girls. I have seen this.

I want a better community than this because there are many drug users and no hygiene.

Thank you very much LOA for supporting me and providing learning materials for me and I hope the donors will help me until I finish school and also help more poor girls.



Putherika – age 23


Thanks to the scholarship from LOA I finished my IT course at the end of 2015 and am working at USAid on the Development Innovations initiative that aims to improve life for Cambodians through technology.

I have been mostly working with partners and clients of USAid to help them with web development. I found that I was good at solving problems and that made me so happy about my education.

It was good to earn some money too and I have been able to help support my family but I have kept some money for further studies and they understand. I will soon find another job and do more IT studies plus English and French in the evenings.

Now I can rent an apartment in the city with my sister. I never could have done any of the things I have done without LOA and the donors who support the poor girls of Cambodia and I am very grateful. I still have my bicycle from LOA and I still use it. Look, I even have a business card holder and a business card of my own.

A Victim’s Story

A number of our sponsored girls have come to us through Cambodian Women’s Crisis Centre as victims of domestic or sexual violence. In order to respect their privacy and to keep them safe, the girls remain anonymous. Here is one story:

“When I was seven my mum had to leave me at home every day while she went to work in the garment factory. My step-father didn’t work; he drank and liked to play cards with the neighbours. We couldn’t afford for me to go to school; the uniforms and books were too expensive and I couldn’t pay the daily fee to the teachers for the lesson materials. So I stayed home, I served the men drinks and tried to keep to myself. One day after the men left, my step-father raped me. It felt like the worst day of my life …… and it continued. 

My mum and I were forced to run away to hide from my step-father. We hid in a shelter for almost a year; we had no home and my mum had to change her job. Now she is a cleaner, day and night, and we live in a small hut at the back of the building where she works. 

Now I go to school, and I study really hard. Lotus Outreach Australia have given me a uniform and books, and provide rice so I don’t have to work like my mum. I am doing well and I am so thankful to have this opportunity.”