Poipet Education Center Provides Schooling to Vulnerable Kids

NGO Damnok Toek is providing a lifeline to vulnerable children by offering non-formal education to get off the streets and put them back into school.
Since 2009, thousands of vulnerable and out-of-school children have received non-formal education. Kiripost via Domnak Toek
Since 2009, thousands of vulnerable and out-of-school children have received non-formal education. Kiripost via Domnak Toek

Poipet city, Banteay Meancheay province – Roeun Vary, 14, is a fifth-grader at a non-formal education center run by NGO Damnok Toek. Vary started schooling there in second grade when she and her parents were repatriated back from Thailand after being ‘cheated’ there by brokers.

“[I] came to study here because our family’s living conditions are not good,” said Vary, adding her mum sells food at a factory and her dad helps her.

Keo Vanny, 34, a mother of two sons and one daughter migrated from Takeo province with her husband. They both work as wage laborers in the border city.

“I sent [my] two kids to study here because our family is poor. Putting them in this school relieves us of a burden,” Vanny said.

For both parents and pupils, the non-formal education center run by Damnok Toek is perhaps the best alternative for schooling they can find on the Cambodian-Thai border area for students, who, for varied reasons, cannot attend public schools.

Recently, the NGO received a boost for their efforts to provide access to education for vulnerable primary school-aged children in Poipet.

A new ‘Lifelong Learning Center,’ co-funded by French NGO Aide et Action (Action Education), Manos Unidas and other donors, was inaugurated with the capacity to integrate 80 more children in the 2023 school year. The new facility will also serve as a venue to conduct youth-related activities, workshops and training sessions, and community events.

The new Lifelong Learning Center represents an effort by the Cambodia Consortium for Out of School Children led by Aide et Action, and Manos Unidas, to promote non-formal education for street children and reduce the risk of exploitation and trafficking among children and youth on the Thai-Cambodian border.

According to Damnok Toek, since 2009, its non-formal education center, which has now been upgraded to the Lifelong Learning Center, has mobilized and provided non-formal education to 1,275 students – most of them are vulnerable and marginalized out-of-school children.

Vorn Samphors, country director of Aide et Action, which funds Damnok Toek, said from 2014 to 2018, more than $20 million was invested to help support out-of-school children at primary school age across the country. For the next four years, an additional $30 million will be invested for finding out-of-school children and putting them back into the schooling system to receive quality education.

The four-year project, according to Samphors, is a collaboration between Aide et Action and other donors.

“Under the project, we and our partners set a target to support 116,000 children at 2,000 schools across the country,” said Samphors.

Cambodia adopted the National Policy on Lifelong Learning in 2019 with the aim of addressing education inequality among children across the country through promoting non-formal education programs alongside the formal public school system.

For Vary, the non-formal education provided by Damnok Toek was able to bring her back into the formal schooling system.

“Before I didn't know anything. After I come to study here, I am better. I can write and read. I am happy to study and I want to study till grade 12,” said Vary, who has four siblings.