An education program in Cambodia founded by a Taiwanese charity has benefited nearly 10,000 Cambodians over the past five years, which is comparable to a modern equivalent of the famed agricultural missions dispatched by the Taiwanese government to aid diplomatic allies in the 1960s.
The Cambodia-Taiwan Education Program was launched by the Taiwan Exquisite Culture and Education Association five years ago after the group, having funded a lunch program for orphanages in Cambodia with local priests, found that food relief would not lift orphans out of poverty, the program’s director, Hsu Chien-wen (許茜雯), said.
An occupational training subprogram was initiated this year to introduce 2,000 Cambodians to employment opportunities at Taiwanese businesses based in Cambodia over the next three years, Hsu said.
After emerging from the regime of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia remains the poorest and most in need among Asian countries, she said, adding that the association decided to provide aid to the country as its efforts could be maximized with minimal budget in Cambodia, while the friendliness of Cambodians toward aid workers was also a factor.
“The philosophy of the association is: ‘We do what we can.’ It is within the power of the association to support Cambodia, although there are other countries in need of assistance,” she said.
Established with a limited amount of charitable donations, the education program was selective in providing aid, starting in cities and then expanding to remote areas, she said.
The program is mainly based on English and computer courses, as English is an international language, and digital literacy gaps have led to a widening wealth gap in the 21st century, so computer education is at the heart of the program, she said.
Kenny, a Cambodian manager of the program, said that although rural areas are in general underdeveloped and poverty-stricken, everyone knows that learning English and computer skills is key to changing the future, so parents are willing to sign their children up.
The program has offered Chinese courses in some regions to help young people find jobs in the tourism industry or with Taiwanese businesses, Hsu said.
Nearly 10,000 Cambodians have taken courses with the program, and the association launched an occupational training subprogram to provide sewing training this year, with trainees having completed the training to be recommended to Taiwanese companies, she said.
The program provides Taiwanese with an opportunity to perform volunteer work, with hundreds of Taiwanese students volunteering in Cambodia and learning by helping others each year, she said, adding that the program has helped promote Taiwan through charity work.
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