Our Director of Programs, Emily, has compelling insights and updates for you after visiting Cambodia. While in Cambodia, Emily, got the chance to see our partners’ work firsthand, meet with other community-based organizations working in education, health, and human rights, and learn more about Cambodia’s vibrant culture. We hope you enjoy her account of her journey:

I recently spent an incredible 10 days in Cambodia – and truly loved my first visit to this breathtaking country! All of my expectations of beautiful temples, very friendly people, and phenomenal food were more than surpassed 🙂 But what I enjoyed most of all was finally getting to meet and spend time with GoPhil partners there. There is no substitution for this face-to-face time together and in-person visits, and they gave me a much greater understanding of the challenges they face and the impact their programs make.

As well as spending time with our current four partners, I also met with five other inspiring community-based organizations in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, as we hope to be able to take on one or two new partners in the country in 2024. GoPhil’s vetting process is very in-depth and takes time, so it’s important to start getting recommendations from great organizations and having initial scouting visits as early as possible. We’re looking forward to continuing to get to know these exciting organizations!

I wanted to share a few of my insights and observations from my trip – as always, please do reach out if you would like to know more!

  • As in other countries where GoPhil operates, I kept being told by current partners and new organizations that “we don’t meet funders like GoPhil”. There is a huge need for the kind of support we provide to partners and an immense appreciation for the support for core budget items, the length of our partnerships, and our capacity-building/cross-learning opportunities. Thank YOU for helping to make this all possible!
  • There is a huge number of NGOs in Cambodia (with 3,500 registered organizations, they have one of the highest numbers of NGOs per capita in the world). It’s important that any organization GoPhil supports is not replacing the role and work of the government, and is instead supplementing support already being provided by the government. For example, HUSK’s school does not replace the local village school but instead provides supplementary classes that support the curriculum (such as English and computing). 
  • A significant number of international donors are withdrawing support from Cambodia, meaning that NGOs are competing for a smaller number of grant opportunities in a shrinking donor pool. I met organizations that are receiving significant grants from international donors and large international NGOs, but these tended to be short-term and specific project-focused, with very small percentages built in for overheads and organizational running costs. It was easy to see how GoPhil’s smaller, but longer-term and more flexible grants play a key role in the sustainability of an organization.
  • Tourists are returning to Cambodia which is great to see! However, there are still smaller numbers than before Covid and many hotels and restaurants remain closed. It is also unclear whether increasing tourist numbers are converting into donations for local NGOs, as very few seem to have been able to successfully tap into the potential to transform tourists into donors.


I was so happy to be able to spend quality time with all four of our partners and was impressed by how committed, passionate, and skilled their teams are. I have shared a few very brief updates below on each of the four partners – but very happy to share more details if you would like more information on a specific partner.

Journeys Within Our Community – JWOC

I made a couple of visits to their campus and enjoyed seeing their workshops in action and meeting their team members – five out of 14 of whom are former scholarship students themselves. I had a particularly great meeting with two of their scholarship students who were so incredibly impressive and confident! Both now in their 4th and final year of degrees, they explained so eloquently and openly the impact that JWOC has had on their lives – how their peers from their villages are now working in construction or as farm laborers overseas, and the contrast with their own bright and exciting future careers in teaching. As part of the Resilient Leaders program (that GoPhil’s annual grant supports), both students spend Saturdays volunteering to teach English to communities on the outskirts of Siem Reap. They talked about how important it is for them to give back, after the incredible opportunities they’ve received from JWOC.

Free to Shine

Free To Shine has had a very tough few years, with fundraising challenges and budget constraints coming at the same time as increasing need in their communities (with increased drop out from school and higher levels of early marriage and trafficking). Despite these challenges, the team was so positive, upbeat, and incredibly passionate about their work and the girls they support. Their strong values on child protection underpin everything they do and I have enormous respect for their refusal to compromise those values for marketing or fundraising purposes (as many organizations working with children do). I was hosted by Vannit, their Communications Assistant and former PEPY scholarship student, who talked about how his difficult background means he can relate to the families Free To Shine works with. 

I met with the Education Officers and Social Workers at length, learning about the work they do to educate parents and young people on safe migration (simple but effective strategies, such as making photocopies of your documents so that family members know where you are), and the huge problem of loans and indebtedness that Cambodians face (they estimate that 80% of the families they work with have ‘problem debt’). GoPhil’s annual grant provides funds for salaries for these critical staff members at Free To Shine and I’m so grateful to our donor community for enabling us to support these.

HUSK Cambodia

I was fortunate to be able to visit both the old school and the new school site, which is coming on very well in preparation for their full move there in October this year. I was able to see the construction progress for classroom number three (of a planned five), the library, and the completed computer room, toilet block, and water station (that provides water for the villagers). I was particularly excited to learn about the plastic bottle construction technique that they are using for their classrooms – they are the first organization in Cambodia to use this method, which prevents landfill waste and they learned about it from someone in Costa Rica, so it’s very new and innovative! They collect old bottles from businesses in Siem Reap and then they give these to the poorest families in the villages who stuff them with plastic, cotton, and other waste materials. Then the families trade the bottles with HUSK for whatever they might need – food, mosquito nets, school uniforms, bags, bikes, etc. They like to ensure they do not create dependency in the villages and instead promote self-sufficiency. The walls will last around 70-100 years and prevent thousands of used bottles from ending up in a landfill. 

Co-founder Lim explained to us how grateful they were for the GoPhil community’s support during Covid, as it meant they could continue paying the salaries of all their teachers and staff and support their villages with critical food supplies.

PEPY Empowering Youth

Last but not least, I spent a wonderful afternoon at PEPY! The whole atmosphere feels warm and uplifting as soon as you walk in – PEPY is one of those organizations that truly makes you believe that a better world is possible! Their team is so passionate and motivated and I was particularly inspired to see how many of their staff have come through their scholarship program. These were young people who came from very underprivileged, rural backgrounds with little hope for a better future until PEPY provided them with incredible opportunities. And now they are giving back in such a great way by supporting other young people! 

I loved getting to participate in an English class with their very dynamic teacher Soury (a former scholarship student!) and was so impressed with the level of English and confidence the young people had, only three months into the program. 

I also heard about their strategic plan progress – they have spent the past few weeks working intensively on a new five-year strategic plan which will be finalized soon.  It was great to be able to meet their new Executive Director Lux in person and hear about how he hopes to build on the culture and energy of the organization, and the drive of the team, to take it to the next level. GoPhil’s annual grant supports overhead costs at PEPY, contributing towards their hardest to fundraise for budget-line items.

I’ve mentioned some of the grant support GoPhil provides to these inspiring organizations in Cambodia – our support is essential for helping them to fill many of the critical gaps in their running costs and programs. We need your continued help to fill these gaps! Fundraising is very challenging right now and we know there are a huge of causes across the world. But if you – or anyone in your network – can contribute toward the amazing work our Cambodia partners do, we would be very grateful for your support.


If you would like to know more about the work of any of the organizations or their current needs, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at [email protected] 

Thank you so much for all your support and for taking the time to read our updates! We are thankful for each and every one of our community members.