Breakfast in Cambodia

My typical breakfast is a bowl of cereal or oatmeal plus a cup of coffee. It’s been the same since I was a kid (minus the coffee). As a child, we were poor enough that I got free lunch at school, and now many children in that same economic bracket get a free breakfast as well as lunch. Studies have shown that kids who are not hungry in the classroom learn better. Go figure. 

What does this have to do with Cambodia? For the last few years I’ve been involved with the Ponheary Ly Foundation; a non-profit set up to support schools in and around Siem Reap Cambodia. Ponheary was recently named CNN “Hero of the Week” and the attention to her and the foundation is well deserved. They’re not affiliated with any religious or political group, and are strictly dedicated to helping poor children get the education they need. 

Ponheary once told me she believed education is the key in preventing anything like the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge from ever happening again. I want to be a part of that in any way I can whether it’s through my own donations, fundraising, or physically being there. This year, it’s all three. 

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be making my third trip to Cambodia, less as a tourist and more as a volunteer with the foundation. I believe in this cause, and if you allow me to share why, I think you will too. I promise to return to our regularly scheduled program of recipes later this week with some really delicious stuff. 

In Cambodia, children are guaranteed an education by the government and that’s it. The problem is, most people who who live in rural areas earn less than a dollar a day. Not only can they not afford the $20 a year it costs per child for uniforms and school supplies, most children go to school hungry. 

Besides helping provide the uniforms and school supplies the students need, the foundation starts by setting up a breakfast program at each of the schools they adopt. They build an outdoor kitchen which is usually a simple covered pavilion with areas for open wood fires. They also develop school gardens and solicit donations of rice and other foodstuffs from organizations like the world food bank. With fresh greens from the garden, rice and some fish, the children are provided a hot meal each day, cooked by some of the parents. 

In 2007, my mother and I went to Cambodia and donations we collected from family and friends before we left helped enable the foundation to adopt a rural school in the village of Koh Ker. We visited this school at the time and found it in so much need; the kids were sick and malnourished and they were missing the most basic of supplies. You can see more about our visit and more photos of the school on my blog page from Koh Ker School in 2007

A lot has happened there in the last three years; there’s a new classroom building, the breakfast program is in place, and for the first time last year, the school had “graduates” from the 6th grade. The closest secondary school is more than 25 miles away so the foundation is setting up a supervised “dorm” house for girls to live in near the secondary school.  

Our fundraising efforts this year will focus on supporting the eleven girls who are ready to go to secondary school this fall. The benefits for educating girls in developing countries go beyond learning to read and write; they marry later, have fewer children, and earn higher wages. This makes the impact of secondary education for these girls far reaching, affecting their families and possibly the entire village in a positive way. 

The foundation has already purchased the land and a small house and our contribution will help with supporting the girls for the year, fixing some issues on the existing house, and getting the kitchen set up.  

Our goal is to raise $5000 by September 30th and as of today, we’re not even half way there. If you would like to contribute, you can do so easily though the fundraising page we have set up on for Koh Ker and Srayang Dormitory

All donations are tax deductible and the smallest amounts can really add up. For example, if everyone who is a Former Chef Facebook Fan donated $20, we’d reach our goal in no time. Thanks for your support.


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