When the Khmer Rouge terrorized Cambodia in the 1970s, their genocide left no more than 300 individuals with a ninth grade education or above to rebuild the already disorganized and non-standardized school system. Nearly all textbooks were destroyed—any progress the nation had made was suddenly and literally neutralized.
Today, 50% of the Cambodian population is under 25 years old. Teachers are still sparse, and now university instruction is based exclusively on texts written in English, so while lectures are delivered in Cambodian, students must at least be able to read English to succeed. University tuition is expensive ($600-$1800 per year), especially in a country where the annual household income is $1500. And yet university education is necessary to escape the poverty endemic throughout the population.
Khmer Hands has directed its efforts specifically toward facing these challenges. Located within the Foursquare Children of Promise Church/Orphan Home (FCOP) in Phnom Penh, Khmer Hands offers vocational training to young girls with a view to improving their current circumstances as well as offering them a chance to attend university. Making these attractive shoulder bags allows them to express their creativity while gaining a skill and earning an income.
Currently there are twelve girls sewing regularly in their free-time, all of them living in the Chom Chau Church/Home and ranging in age from 14 (Karona) to 22 (Chhaily). Each girl is paid a monthly salary based on the number of bags sewn which she is free to spend as she chooses. An equal amount is also placed in a 'Personal Education Fund' for her at a local bank. This money is held until she is ready to start university, or make her next steps after graduating high school. If they are already in university these funds are applied toward tuition, or requisite books and materials.
Since beginning in 2009, Khmer Hands has sold its items to visiting mission teams. The program has already become self-sustaining, and earned enough to put six girls through their first year of university. The hope is to continue developing new products, increase the number of partners selling items, and provide more and more girls with the opportunity and means to improve their circumstances in a country wracked by poverty and ignorance.