For a long time, Nongnith never liked to smile. She was ashamed of her teeth and never received dental care until she enrolled in an Asian Hope Catch Up School.
"I was kind of scared that it was going to hurt," says the 11-year-old as sherecalls her first dental visit a few months ago. Today, she's getting two root canals and two crowns.
Nongnith sits quietly in the lobby of a local dentist office and is greeted with a big hug from her hygienist. "I've been here many times," she responds with a wide smile, "and I'm not afraid anymore."
Nongnith is one of the 300 students enrolled in the free, Catch Up School at Logos International School in Phnom Penh Thmei. Logos International School is an Asian Hope private school that houses this Catch Up School in the evenings.
At the school, teachers help struggling students reach their grade level so that they can return to regular school and complete their education. Most of the children are several grade levels behind or they do not attend school at all. 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.
The Catch Up Schools provides much more than a high-quality, Christian education. Students like Nongnith receive nutritious food, access to clean drinking water, and regular medical and dental check ups. For most of the children who come from poor families, receiving these free services is life changing.
In Cambodia, poor families live on less than $1.20 a day and they cannot afford to pay for medical or dental treatment. As a result, many impoverished Cambodian children suffer from preventative diseases that adversely affect their growth and school attendance.
In Nongnith's case, she had trouble concentrating in school because of the pain from her neglected teeth and gums. Since she's received dental care, Nongnith's self confidence has improved along with her academic performance.
"She seems like she is happier when she goes to school," said her 53-year-old Great Aunt Seang who looks after Nongnith and nine other children."When she goes there, she's motivated to learn. I want her to have a good education for her future. It's something you cannot lose."
Chenda Ban, co-manager of the Catch Up Schools, describes Asian Hope as an extended family for the children. Many of the students come from broken homes where their parents or caretakers are unable to provide them with basic life essentials.
"When they come here," Chenda says, "we provide the love and the care and also the education to the students."
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