Let Us Create! – Cambodia


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Sihanoukville, Cambodia

There are many countries in Asia where children begging on the street for money is a real problem.  Moreover, children are taught from a young age how to beg: what to say, how to look, where to go, and what time is most profitable.  Usually, children are out begging at night because a lot of tourists are sitting at restaurants eating or drinking and possibly feel bad or may be a bit drunk and wind up giving some money.  Because of this, children are out until all hours of the night begging and trying to sell miscellaneous things.

A lot of tourists are torn on what to do.  Do you give a dollar or two to “help out” because a dollar goes a long way in these countries? Or is giving money to children teaching them from a young age that begging all night and skipping school in the morning is an ok way of life?  By giving a dollar, is it teaching them that begging will make them money and that education is not as important?


While in Cambodia, I heard about an amazing program that is taking steps in the right direction to tackle this problem.  It’s a program that acknowledges both sides of this debate: earning money for necessities such as food, clean water, and shelter is important in order to live, but at the same time, education should not be ignored and begging on the street is not a way of life.


So What’s the Program and What Steps are Being Taken?

The program is called “The Cambodian Children’s Painting Project” which gets its name from one of the major activities offered: painting!  Students’ paintings are then brought to a separate gallery downtown where tourists and locals are welcome to buy the paintings.

It used to be that if a painting was sold, then the money was split evenly between the individual student and the school.  This way, students do not need to beg for money because they are earning a small income from the projects done in school.  However, the program improved this by now splitting the money evenly between the school [for supplies] and ALL the students in one joint fund for things that they should be spending their money on such as food, backpacks, clean water, notebooks, etc.
I personally think this is a great improvement for a few reasons, but mainly (1) there isn’t one student who is making all the money and others that never have their art sold and making nothing [which could get very discouraging for a child and perhaps lead them back to begging], and (2) the student’s money is, for a fact, being spent wisely [for food to bring home and share with his/her family and school supplies].money on such as food, backpacks, clean water, notebooks, etc.



School Day and Classes

When students arrive to school, they all eat breakfast and then participate in yoga.  Morning classes are generally from 08:00 to 12:00 [noon].  After lunch is computer class and more exercise.  Afternoon classes are generally from 13:00 [1pm] to 17:00 [5pm].  Evening classes are generally 17:15 [5:15pm] to 19:15 [7:15pm].

Students take regular core classes such as English lessons [of four different levels], Khmer

[Cambodian language] focused on reading and writing, history, math, etc., but a big portion of the day is dedicated to being creative.

Art lessons take place every day. Students are given different creative challenges each day such as “instead of drawing a normal animal face, try to draw an animal face with real objects in place of its facial features.”  For example, draw a lion but instead of a normal lion nose, replace it with a tree.  Or maybe other days the lesson is more on landscapes.  It’s amazing to see what the children come up with!





Finished Artwork

Students are encouraged to finish one art piece per day, but if they are really concentrating on one piece, it’s more than okay to save it and finish it the next day.

When a work of art is finished, the student brings it over to where all the art is organized.  Each student has a number assigned to them.  If the student doesn’t remember his/her number, then the teacher looks it up by an easy picture system and then sorted on the shelf, very systematically, according to number.


The Gallery

There is a separate location downtown used as the art gallery.  Here, students’ artwork is showcased and available for purchase from anywhere between US$4 to US$150.  Postcards are also available which are really cute and, I think, better than just the ordinary postcard picture that you see everywhere else.

Once a piece is sold, the school sends another piece from that same student – the school always tries to keep at least one art piece of each student in the gallery.  So let’s say one day the gallery calls over to the school and says #4 and #81 sold, then a teacher at the school just pulls one art piece from the easy filing system of #4 and #81 and sends those over to the gallery right away.




Levels of Classes

There is no “grade level” like in other countries where “grade level” is mostly determined by age and only partly determined by ability.  Instead, classes are divided up purely by ability and not by age.

For example, English lessons have four levels: ABC1, ABC2, LET’S GO 1, and LET’S GO 2 [listed respectively from lowest to highest].  ABC1 is the basic alphabet, numbers, etc. where LET’S GO 2 students can understand pretty much everything in a conversation, and perhaps even participate in the conversation.  ABC1 might have a 5 year old, an 11 year old, and a 16 year old depending on the student’s ability.


The Week

Students meet Monday through Saturday, however, classes are only in session Monday through Friday; every Saturday is a field trip!  Student pile into the truck and go somewhere every Saturday.  The weekend right before I arrived was a field trip to the beach and 45 students were piled in the back of the tiny truck!


Who’s Allowed to Join?

The project is open to any and all students who wish to join, however, there is one rule: NO MORE BEGGING!  If a student is caught begging on the street, they are out of the program!  It would be really foolish if a student choose begging over the program because the program provides food all day at school, school supplies for each child, and food to bring home to their families.

When I visited, there were 126 students in the program but this number fluctuates because there are students joining or dropping out all the time.



Interested in Teaching Here?

Teachers are volunteers and encouraged to stay for at least one month.  Shared housing is provided but costs US$500/month.  This price for an apartment seemed high to me since (1) my apartment back in theU.S.was exactly the same price and (2) as a tourist I was able to rent a bungalow for only $5/day… However, all the money goes to the project and helping these kids so it’s not just money “down the drain” like any other apartment you rent.

I talked to the teachers at the school when I visited and also bumped into people while traveling in other areas that used to work for CCPP and everyone has told me they absolutely loved working there.

Also, Sihanoukville is right on the beach and a fun party town [if that’s what you’re into].  Lots of tourists come through and there is a lot to do and you’ll meet a ton of new people.

Think about helping out, making a difference, teaching with NO PAPER WORK, volunteering at CCPP, and making Sihanoukville your home for at least one month!

For more information, visit www.letuscreate.org and read more about the CAMBODIAN CHILDREN’S PAINTING PROJECT!


  1. Education is the key, I can’t even imagine teaching children to beg, makes me shudder. I love this program, thank goodness someone is trying to make a difference in these kids lives. Children should be allowed to be kids, and enjoy, be happy, learn, feel safe.

  2. I first started to travel in the 60’s. Wanted something way different than my mid Ohio surrounding. So I flew to Nassau for a week and found there were no schools to speak of, cause they couldn’t afford to live on a tourist island. Of course everything was shipped in and expensive from celery to VW’s.

    I then made 2,200$ a year with 52 kids on the W. side of Cleveland. A VW bus in Nassau was 40,000$. So the children and grandparents lived on the outer islands. Only those who could work l and 2 and even 3 jobs could afford to live OVER THE HILL – as it were.

    But the Brit’s had very fine schooling for white children, mostly in appointed Government jobs.

    We’d get up at 5 to visit the Hay Market where the colored women and men would buy their reeds to make hats and baskets by noon for the tour ships. And I noticed a darling little girl with her mamma, all in red with a big red bow in her hair and one withered arm. Then I realized she was the only kid in town that I’d seen.

    Later our cab driver that 3 couples hired together so we could have him drive us all over the island, told us why the children lived away from their parents. Also, (and a real eye opener to myself) that the cutie in red wasn’t a cripple till her mom tied a rubber band around her arm so she could beg.

    Could not get my mind around a thought like that because of where I’d been raised. Of course, that is the only way they could survive. And things haven’t changed much, have they? Just more.

    I was pleased to see how bright and cheerful the schools were decorated on your travels. Enjoy every moment.

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