Nestled between Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, Cambodia is a country that has seen many dark days. When the Khmer Rouge seized power in 1975, currency and private property were immediately abolished, and Cambodian city-dwellers were sent into the countryside to work in the fields. Under its leader Pol Pot, the regime attempted to violently restructure the country as an agrarian, communal society. During his nearly four-year reign, over 1.8 million Cambodians died of torture, execution, disease, exhaustion and starvation.

No international intervention was made until Vietnam invaded Cambodia in late 1978, ending the Khmer Rouge’s rule. In 1991, the United Nations sent 26,000 peacekeepers, police and civilians to construct a temporary government and organize elections.

After years of warfare and strife, Cambodians are still at work clearing thousands of land mines, creating commerce, and reviving their culture. Cambodia experienced its first full year of peace after 30 years in 1999, and although vast improvements have been made in Cambodia with respect to previous decades, 80% of Cambodians still earn their living from subsistence farming, food processing or forestry. Permanent employment, electricity and drinkable water are extremely scarce in rural areas.

Population 15 million
Land area 181,053 Km2
National language of instruction Khmer
Launch of operations 2002
Room to Read office Phnom Penh
Provinces where we work Kampong Cham, Kampong Thom, Prey Veng, Siem Reap, Tbaung Khmum

Educational Landscape

Nearly all educated Cambodians were executed during the Khmer Rouge’s brutal regime. By 1978, there were almost no surviving teachers, writers or scientists in the country—an entire generation of literate role models eliminated.

While 96% of Cambodians today attend primary school, only 55% continue on to secondary. Partially, this is due to widespread child labor including farming, scavenging, garment manufacture, sexual exploitation, fishing and construction. 

For girls in Cambodia, additional educational barriers exist, such as parents' worries about over-educating their daughters—a potential handicap to marriage prospects.

Programs & Results

Room to Read Cambodia is committed to helping the country rebuild its educational system from the ground up. Our local staff speaks the language, knows the customs and understands the challenges that exist in implementing our various programs there.

Immediately, we found one of the greatest needs in Cambodia to be affordable Khmer-language books to meet the demand of the country’s young readers. With that in mind, the Book Publishing program has been a priority for our Cambodia team since the early days of our operations there.

Outside of Book Publishing, our work in the country includes School Libraries, Girls’ Education, School Construction and Reading & Writing Instruction.

Key partners in Cambodia include: Kampuchean Action for Primary Education (KAPE), Khmer Writer’s Association, Kruosa Thmey (KT), Maryknoll, Mith Samlanh/Friends, NGO Education Partnership (NEP), Shanti Volunteer Association (SVA), Soutien à l’Iniative Privée pour l’Aide à la Reconstruction (SIPAR), Asian Foundation (AF), Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), Tiger Foundation, US Peace Corps, Open Institute (OI), Protect the Earth Protect Yourself (PEPY), the Department of Primary Education, the Department of Secondary Education and the Department of Curriculum Development.

Cumulative results
Libraries established 1,731
Book titles published 178
School construction projects 64
Girls' Education participants 6,159

Results updated annually

Meet our local staff:
Kall Kann, Country Director

Kall holds a master's degree in business management from Norton University in Phnom Penh. Having spent more than 14 years working in international development, he joined Room to Read in 2009, driven by his passion for education.

“After experiencing decades of internal conflict, genocide, social inequality and poverty,” Kall says, “I believe that investing in children’s education will help the younger generation overcome some of these inherent problems and pave the way for a better future with sound governance.”

When he’s not working, Kall spends time with his family. A true literacy buff, he can often be found reading or telling stories to his daughter.

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