Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFP) is a grassroots organization in Cambodia that focuses on various community development projects in Kavet villages. The Ratanakiri Bilingual Literacy Project is one of their flagship projects serving remote areas in northern Cambodia where access to education and resources is extremely limited. The Kavet are among the most disadvantaged people in Cambodia. Due to isolation and civil war, government education services rarely reach their communities.
Prior to 1997, when the first Khmer literacy project started, only a handful of men in the six villages (population 2,500) could read and write Khmer at a first grade level. No women were literate. Few, if any, could do the basic math calculations necessary for market transactions. The Kavet experience annual food shortages, high maternal and child mortality rates, and low life expectancies. They live in scattered hamlets far from the government schools, and most have not had the opportunity to attend school. The rates for infant mortality, maternal mortality, malnutrition, abject poverty, and life expectancy are the worst in a country that already ranks among the lowest in Asia.
Today the Kavet Bilingual Literacy Project directly benefits about 550 persons per year. There are 38 volunteer teachers and local monitors, and an additional 17 community education committee members and village leaders involved in overseeing the project, all on a volunteer basis. The community members in each of the villages built a wooden or bamboo community center that doubles as a literacy classroom. The Ratanikiri Bilingual Literacy program has been acknowledged internationally. In 2011, UNESCO recognized NTFP’s program as a model in the Asia-Pacific region for the mother tongue based/multi-lingual education (MTB-MLE) approach.
‘Before we did not understand the value of bilingual education, learning to read and write our own language. But now we realize that it is an important foundation for learning to read and write, and then we can learn to read and write Khmer’
Village chief, Trak village
‘Before we did not know how to do marketing, we weren’t confident in selling our chickens, pigs, etc. But now we are confident plus we get a fair price. That is why some of us have started a small store in the village.’
Student from Lamuey Tonle village