In the wake of the Khmer rouge's devastation, the Build Your Future today center (BFT) is dedicated to rebuilding what has been destroyed.
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Since its founding in 2006, BFT has been dedicated to helping build a better future for Cambodia’s youth. As an NGO that has grown out of Sedtha’s personal desire to help give back to his country, BFT’s central motto of “Knowledge is Hope; Peace is Development” comes directly from both Cambodia’s need for education and Sedtha’s personal experience living through the Khmer Rouge.
BFT’s first project was to build a school for children who lived too far from any government school to attend, and over the next nine years BFT has grown to include work in Health, Capacity Building and Peace Building. This progression was natural and catered specifically to the needs of the people where BFT was working and as such has been highly applicable throughout rural Cambodia. This grassroots development has come to define how BFT has been able to help so many people and why they have been so successful.
These are BFT's five central programs:
The Child Support Center in Siem Reap, Cambodia was the place where it all started. Before 2006, it was Sedtha's home and was where he would raise the children who he had adopted and had nowhere else to go. Even before BFT was founded, Sedtha would teach English classes English here; the only place in Siem Reap where children could go to learn free of charge. Today, Sedtha and BFT still use the same house in Siem Reap to provide classes to children as well as take in those who have nowhere else to go.
Kim Hong was one of those kids. After being abandoned by his parents at the age of 9, he ended up at Sedtha's doorstep. Now 19 years old, Kim Hong helps teach English to the younger children, and is photographed above in his classroom. As of March, 2015, Kim Hong is studying tourism at a university in Siem Reap. When he graduates, he wants to be able to use his English and tourism skills to open his own business.
Education is at the center of what BFT does. In the years since the Khmer Rouge Cambodia was left with a severe lack of teachers and intellectuals, making illiteracy amongst Cambodia’s youth a real problem; a problem that persists today. The children who are least likely to be able to pursue a basic education are those living in rural communities, and it those communities that BFT specifically targets. In 2006, after its foundation, the first school that BFT built was in the village of Kra Van, about 15 kilometers from the city of Siem Reap, where BFT is headquartered. The children in Kra Van lived too far from any school to be able to regularly attend, and for many of them the school that BFT built would be their first opportunity at an education.
Now nine years later, BFT has been able to go further out into far away villages, and though BFT programs now span many different aspects of development, education is always at the center. In all of the 33 villages BFT now works in, schools the BFT has built or schools that they support with teachers or supplies remains at the center of their development work.
Thousands of children across Siem Reap and Banteay Meanchey province have been able to pursue an education thanks to these programs by BFT.
After about a year of operating the school in Kra Van, Sedtha and BFT noticed that many of the children failed to re-enroll for the next years studies and those that did often had a difficult time focussing on the classroom activities. The root cause of this was not a lack of motivation for education from the children themselves, but rather because of a lack of basic nutrition and healthcare at home which made making school work a priority difficult. In order to tackle this problem BFT began by feeding the children breakfast and lunch while they were at school and quickly expanding the curriculum to include information about basic health and hygene. They grew this into community wide action and developed a partnership with the Angkor Hospital for Children in order to monitor the health of all the children in order to prevent diseases like malaria and malnutrition.
Today Health and Nutrition goes hand in hand with education in all of the villages where BFT operates, whether it is basic water sanitation or vaccinations.
After BFT implemented their Health and Nutrition programs, school attendance improved but continued to be an issue this time not because of the children’s health but because of the family’s finances. Rural Cambodian families with many children often need those children to help work on the farm or in a family business, making it difficult for them to support education for their children beyond primary school. BFT’s capacity building project aims at supporting these families through microloans and education. One common way that BFT does this is to give classes in things like basketweaving or farming and then connect them with customers in the city who buy their products. These programs help families increase their income and allow them to have their children away at school gaining an education.
One classic case of this is of Udi, who before BFT started supporting her struggled to get by. She had no way of supporting her own children which resulted in them begging on the streets of Siem Reap. BFT started by working with her in order to develop her skills in raising animals and growing food so that she could support herself and then taught her different skills such as basketweaving so she could increase her family’s income. The photo above is of her reaction after being asked about how her life has changed because of BFT.
The lack of education for Cambodia’s youngest generations has not been the entirety of the long shadow the Khmer Rouge has cast on Cambodia today. In the wake of having a fifth of the population of the country killed and families across the country torn apart, domestic violence and alcoholism have joined the legacy of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. And like the lack of education, these problems are magnified in the rural villages where access to any kind of services are gravely lacking. This problem became one that BFT encountered consistently as they expanded from education into more developmental projects and their Peace Building program aims to help heal these open wounds.
Working with monks from local pagodas, the Peace Building program operates through both communal meetings as well as family by family counseling sessions. The monks, with their Buddhist education and the respect they command in Cambodian society, are able to be particularly effective in helping people get over the personal and spiritual problems that lead to substance abuse and domestic violence.
Through these five programs, BFT has been able to help an estimated 50,000 people over the nine years since their founding. They are active in 33 different villages throughout the Cambodian countryside and are looking at ways to help more people every single day. Every dollar made in profit by Tragedy and Triumph goes directly towards funding BFT,