Located in Sre Sar village, Tbeng Khpos commune, Samaki Meanchey district of Kampong Chhnang province, Smiling Gecko is an organisation dedicated to transforming the lives of children and the community.

Situated on a vast 150-hectare area, which was once a war zone with a large impoverished population, their mission is to create opportunities for the next generation and nurture them into vital human resources for Cambodia’s future.

One of their flagship projects is a comprehensive cluster initiative that focuses on various areas of development. This includes providing high-standard education through schools where nearly 400 children are currently enrolled. Additionally, adults are offered training workshops and craft processing programs, while the elderly receive technical assistance for agricultural projects. Furthermore, Smiling Gecko offers hospitality services through their Eco Resort and Farmhouse Resort.

Barbara Beaufait, the director of an educational project by Smiling Gecko in Cambodia, emphasised the exceptional care provided to the children who attend their schools. This includes not only academic support but also provisions such as uniforms, personal hygiene products, medical services, first aid, and nutritious meals throughout the day.

She highlighted the daily routine followed at the campus, ensuring every child is ready for a productive day of learning.

“The children arrive with their clothes and school uniforms, take showers, and are provided with grooming essentials like combs and nail clippers. Afterward, they enjoy breakfast, followed by lunch and an afternoon snack at school.

“Once the school day ends, the organisation ensures the children receive any additional necessities they may need, as hunger and discomfort hinder their ability to focus on their studies,” she said.

In terms of curriculum, Beaufait explained the first three years consist of kindergarten classes taught in English, with a gradual introduction to the Khmer language to prepare them for mixed learning in Grade 1. From Grade 1 onward, the curriculum is taught in Khmer and English.

Currently, the Smiling Gecko campus caters to nearly 400 students, with plans to expand enrolment by 50 students annually, eventually reaching a maximum of 1,000 students. Beaufait emphasised the enthusiasm and happiness exhibited by the children at the campus, with near-perfect attendance rates, except for illness-related absences.

Meanwhile, Theary, the assistant manager of the organisation’s sawmill, shared insights about the workshop within the Smiling Gecko project.

She said the workshop employs 26 individuals working in various groups, including a construction team responsible for creating doors, tables, and cabinets, a chair production team, and a repair team.

“The workshop’s products, such as the chairs seen by the pool at Smiling Gecko’s Farmhouse Resort, are all made in-house. Additionally, the workshop processes palm trees into cutting boards that can be sold to guests staying at Farmhouse Resort,” she said.

Farmhouse Resort plays a significant role in creating employment opportunities for over 60 individuals. The resort offers training programs in areas such as tour guiding, hospitality services, culinary arts, housekeeping, and gardening.

Overall, Smiling Gecko Cambodia has created a supportive community where education takes centre stage. Since its establishment in 2012 under the Gecko Switzerland (SGS) Smile Foundation, the international organisation has been working tirelessly to improve education quality in the region.

Their long-term funding initiatives and small-scale projects, including chemical-free agriculture, aim to uplift the livelihoods of the community and create a better future.