History: The AllKids Story
By Paul Otto
I first became involved with Cambodia in 2000 when during my Christmas holidays, I travelled to the country as a volunteer worker for the Australia Cambodia Foundation. I increased my involvement by accepting a position on the board of the Australia Cambodia Foundation in 2001 and returned to the country again in 2003 and 2007. In early 2010, I relocated to Cambodia to manage the construction of a 4 hectare village and clinic for HIV children - near the coastal Port city of Sihanoukville. The building site is at the back of the rural village of Smach Deng in the Commune of Ream. Each work day for the next eighteen months, I walked through the village on my way to the Sunrise building site.
At some point it occurred to me that it was the same children that greeted me each day and I started asking the question; “why were they not at school”? I spoke to the local Commune Chief, school principals and some of the elders in the village and we estimated that about 25% of children in the Ream Commune were not attending regular school.
Although government education is free in Cambodia, teacher’s salaries are so low that teachers are forced to top up their income by charging students for extra classes and selling snacks, books, stationary and food.
Many of the poor families in the Ream district earn as little as $60 each month to house and feed their entire family. They can’t afford extra payments to teachers, let alone school uniforms and transport to and from school - so the children just don’t go to school. Many older children stay home to care for their younger siblings while Mum & Dad go to work.
The building project was drawing to an end and I was planning my return to Australia. However, one morning walking through the village, recognizing the same young faces running out to greet me from beneath their small wooden huts, I realized that I was in a position where I could change their lives for the better. The concept of AllKids began to form in my mind.
I then went back to Australia where I discussed AllKids with my friend Mr John George who was very supportive. John, a successful businessman and an active Rotarian, has over twelve years experience in managing charity organizations in Cambodia and served as Chairman of the Australia Cambodia Foundation for more than a decade. John has since joined the AllKids board as Chairman.
Upon my return to Cambodia I employed Mr Keo Hak Ly (Harley) who now manages the AllKids program with the help of four student support staff. They are all young, very enthusiastic and dedicated to improving the educational prospects of poor Cambodian children.
At our first board meeting held on the 30th May 2012 in Ream, I was appointed Country Director of AllKids and the Australian company AllKids Limited was registered with the Australian Securities and Investment Commission on the 9th August 2012.
AllKids hold MOU’s with the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Social, Veterans and Youth Affairs and the Sihanouk Provincial Government.
In our first year, 2012, over one hundred children aged between 6 and 16 started the new school year with the support of AllKids. Many of these children had never attended school before. Others had very poor attendance records and where at risk of dropping out of the school system. There are currently over three hundred children attending school with support from AllKids and every day, more families come forward seeking assistance.