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Left to right: Boeun, Makara, Bunnaray on their first day at the National Polytechnic Institute of Angkor 

The Ponheary Ly Foundation is an education organization. We focus on creating access to education for thousands of children from kindergarten through tertiary education. But what does access even mean? The transportation to school; the supplies and uniforms required to enroll; the toilets, soap, & clean water to stay healthy enough to study… And FOOD

Food is one of the most basic needs that every human must meet. For many students in Cambodia, a country where 32% of children are malnourished, that need is instead only a daily hope: hope that the harvest will be good that year, hope that their parent won’t be laid off, hope that no illness in the family will mean trading food money for medicine. At the primary schools where we work in Preah Vihear where most of the population lives below the poverty line, we provide daily breakfasts to all students, to alleviate some of that difficulty for their families, and to ensure the students have enough nutrition and food in their bellies to keep them focussed and present in class. At our Knar, Chreav, and Urban locations, several of our families are faced daily with the choice of sending their children to school or sending them to find work to help meet the family’s basic needs.

We’ve created food banks to ease the pressure of that heart-wrenching choice. As long as the children are regularly attending school, we provide a monthly bundle of food staples  – such as rice, oil, eggs, and dried fish. These bundles are designed to replace the income that a child put to work would contribute to the family, and the program has brought good results and kept scores of children in school. 

Three of those students have just begun their Associate’s Degrees in Electrical Engineering with scholarships from PLF and the school itself, and we couldn’t be more proud! Both Boeun (above left) and Makara (center) began receiving PLF’s food bank in 2020 when they were in Grade 9 and Bunnaray (right) and his twin brother began in 2023 as they started Grade 12. These three boys, like our other students in the food bank, daily defy the odds and overcome the challenges stacked against them.

The students in our food banks largely share the same characteristics: living with relatives as parents have either passed or moved away for work; coming from families with generations who were not able to access education themselves; showing a passion – from the student as well as the family – to change their future through education. Providing food is providing a choice for these students, by enabling that access to school. And so many of them, like Bunnaray, Makara, and Boeun, are grabbing that choice every day by showing up for themselves, their families, and their futures by choosing education.

BOEUN (collecting food supplies with his family)

Food Bank program helps to get enough food to eat, and I don’t need to work and have more time to study than before. The food program at PLf helped me finish grade 12 and continue 2 years of vocational training in skills that I like. PLF helps with kitchen stuff. Monthly stipend, bike for travel, which is really helpful, and my family doesn’t worry about my studying and living experiences.


BUNNARAY (left, at home with his family)

If I did not get support from PLF’s food-bank I am not able to finish my education at the vo-tech and follow my passion. If I don’t get this food, I’ll find a job first so that I can save money for my family and myself. After that, I’ll use the money I earn to complete my education at the university, however, it will take longer. My family and I have a better life now that the PLF’s food program has supported me to finish our studies and helped me solve a lot of difficulties. 

When I was younger I didn’t understand much and I hang out with gangs. PLF support me to stay in school, and I think if I didn’t my life would be very different now. Now because I stay with education I feel like my life will go in the right way. I also want to express my thanks to the Ly Ponheary Foundation for giving me the chance to break away from other people’s look down on my family.

School is the Answer has always been our motto, it’s something we believe at our very core. Underpinning that foundation, Food is the Answer too because, for so many, there simply is no school without food. For Makara, Boeun, and Bunnaray, food was what opened the doors to their education and onward to their futures.

 Boeun, Makara and Bunnaray are among the first group of vocational training scholarship recipients who begin their associate degrees this year, as we expand this program to offer a wider range of options to our growing cohort of high school graduates. We recently held an award ceremony to celebrate all 2024 scholarship students and wish them on their way to their futures – you can meet some of them in the video! 

Want to walk alongside our students in their journeys but not sure how? Here are some of the really useful ways you can support our mission!

Become a Recurring Supporter

For as little as $10 a month, you could contribute to the ongoing education of our students. $120 goes a long way in Cambodia: that’s 5 village children on the road to education, with access to school and clean drinking water for half a year. Or a million other things, all of which coalesce into the tools needed for life to change for the better!

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