When 16-year-old Leng is not at the Asian Hope Catch Up School, he earns a living from recycling trash.
Leng moved to the city four years ago to work and help support his younger brothers and sisters back in the province.
He scrapes by on just enough to pay for food and rent. And he sends the rest of his earnings back home.
"If he gets an education, this will help him find a good job and he won't have to live like this," says his Aunt Ngoun who worries about his future. She rents a small room to Leng at her home. "He will learn how to stay away from drugs and other bad things like stealing."
Three years ago, Ngoun enrolled Leng in Asian Hope's Catch Up School in Phnom Penh Thmei when she heard about the program from neighbors.
The Catch Up Schools help struggling students reach their grade level so that they can return to regular school and complete their education. Most of the children in the Catch Up Schools are several grade levels behind or they do not attend school at all.
In Cambodia, 45 percent of Cambodian students drop out of primary school. Many quit school to work and support their families. Others are not allowed to attend school without proper documentation. And most of the children cannot afford to pay the informal fees demanded by many government school teachers who are not paid a living wage.
Leng is one of the older students in the program. When he joined Asian Hope's Catch Up School, he could not read or write.
His teacher Topteng says she creates individual lessons plans to meet his needs. In the beginning, they worked on learning the alphabet and vowels. As he progressed, they worked on building his vocabulary. Topteng said she would read children's stories to Leng. During the sessions, Leng would learn 10 new words at a time. As Leng picked up, Topteng would add on dictation exercises.
Gradually, Leng was able to compose basic sentences. To stay on top of his studies, Leng keeps a journal to practice writing and he reads passages from a school textbook at night.
Today, Leng reads and writes at a fourth grade level.
"He tries really hard in school and now he is an average reader," Topteng said. "He does see the value of learning and having an education to help his future."
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