In January I was privileged to visit Oaktree’s partner Puthi Komar Organisation (PKO), through my role as one of Oaktree’s Cambodia Partnership Managers.
During our annual evaluation of PKO’s project, Young People for Development (YPfD), I had the opportunity to see the project for the first time, rather than imagine it from photos and details of activities from the various reports I receive. The project was impressive to see.
The front garden had been altered in favour of a vegetable patch, where spinach and various vegetables were starting to sprout. This is the ‘mini demonstration farm', an area where scholarship recipients can learn about agricultural techniques. Some of the vegetables are sold at local markets to provide income to PKO. Near the garden, there are chairs and tables around a beautiful tree, where I often saw high school students sitting with friends, studying and chatting.
Certainly it is easy to be impressed, particularly when the staff from PKO gave a presentation on project updates and future plans. Both innovative and always striving to improve services, PKO staff draw inspiration from contemporary academic studies and improvements. Whilst not compromising the quality or care to their immediate goals of the project, it was clear to me the staff were in tune with the broader context in which the project operates.
The PKO staff who designed, monitor and implement YPfD aim to provide scholarship recipients with the skills, resources and support to live fulfilled and productive lives, and all outcomes are considered, including assisting participants in the competitive job market, running career counselling sessions and providing assistance in writing C.V.s and Cover Letters. Most of the staff put in extra hours and effort; they care about the project and scholarship recipients and are passionate about seeing it succeed.
This year PKO are focusing particularly on revenue-generating activities to build up the financial sustainability of the project.
YPfD is due to finish in September 2016, and the staff are already planning to ensure the core activities of the project are sustainable. Oaktree aims to support projects which can have lasting, sustainable impact, and PKO staff are striving to reach this goal.
When meeting with scholarship recipients I was impressed by students’ commitment to studies and the sacrifices they made to prioritise their education. What was more impressive to me was the concern they had for their friends and neighbours who did not have the same support in their education. Every student expressed a strong desire to attend university, although for most of them it would be almost impossible without scholarship support (and still very difficult with it). Scholarship recipients at PKO were not only keenly aware of how important the support they receive from YPfD is, but eager to use their experiences to help those around them.
“I want my daughter to teach poorer families when she gets the knowledge from PKO” - parent of a scholarship recipient
One student I met with is studying to be a primary school teacher. She lives in difficult conditions with her mother and often needs to help with housework and cooking. She uses the little spare time she has to run study sessions for high school scholarship recipients at PKO’s Resource Centre. When someone asks her a question she can’t answer, she uses the books in PKO’s library or the internet at PKO’s computer lab to research it.
Another student I met with tries to help those in her community learn to read. PKO’s scholarship recipients see knowledge as having the highest form of value, and they credit their education with helping them deal constructively with their emotions and make good choices in life.
Life is still full of challenges for those in the YPfD program. But the scope of support, dedication and innovation provided by PKO’s staff means they have more choices in how to deal with those challenges.
Imogen Newhouse is Oaktree's Puthi Komar Organisation (PKO) Partnership Manager.
Puthi Komar Organisation is a local NGO in Battambang, northern Cambodia, working to empower young Cambodians through education and practical training.
Oaktree support PKO in their largest project so far, Young People for Development (YPfD). YPfD offers formal education opportunities for disadvantaged students through comprehensive and multi-level scholarship provision.
For more information about PKO and the other organisations Oaktree partners with, visit our Overseas impact page.