A community development organization based in Siem Reap, Cambodia, Build Your Future Today (BFT) Center focuses on the education and health of children in the provinces’ rural villages by providing tools and programs to build community-wide self-sufficiency.
BFT provides much needed services in a country whose recent history was marked by unimaginable devastation and destruction. 80 percent of its population lives in rural areas, 66 percent of the population children receive an average 4.4 years of schooling. While the provincial capital of Siem Reap has grown tremendously due to tourism (Siem Reap and its proximity to the Angkor Wat temples make up nearly 40 percent of tourism in Cambodia and receives over 2 million visitors annually), the rest of the province has not benefited from the multiplier effect. Villages are vulnerable to chronic food shortages and face extreme poverty and economic instability.
BFT supports these rural and remote communities through a five-pronged holistic approach: community education via literacy programs, teacher development, and vocational training; community health care and nutrition via gardens, supplementary food programs, health education, hygiene and sanitation workshops; community capacity building and livelihood improvement via business skills training and micro-finance capital assistance; community peace building via hardship and crisis counseling and moral education courses in conjunction with local monks; and support center that provides goods and services that help to build a safe and secure environment for children.
The wide breadth of these programs is a challenging undertaking, and it is a testament to the organization’s guiding principles – “Knowledge is Hope” and “Peace is Development” – and its founder Dr. Sedtha Long, whose personal experiences form the foundation for the organization. BFT is both a legacy of his cumulative journey of survival and resilience as well as a manifestation of his hope and belief in the future of his country.
A survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime, which claimed the lives of up to 2 million people – many who were educated middle class – he fled in 1979; by the time he arrived at refugee camps near the Thai-Cambodian border, he had also adopted under his care 20 orphaned children who were left behind or separated from their families. In the refugee camps, Long served as a volunteer and educator, spending more than a decade in community development. Long returned to Cambodia in 1991, and dedicated another 15 years to developing the country, with United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia, United Nations Volunteers, Cambodian World Family, and Angkor children’s hospital in Siem Reap, before founding BFT in 2006.
With Long’s decades of development experience and knowledge of local needs, BFT has grown rapidly; it has provided tools, programs, and services for an estimated 50,000 people in 25 villages. Over time, BFT has made strides to improving conditions and providing stability in these communities, especially for children.
Give2Asia is supporting BFT both as a fiscal sponsor as well as a recipient of our advised grantmaking. One current grant is a four-year project focused on one village of 147 families located 75 kilometers from Siem Reap. Approximately 40 percent of its 795 villagers live under $1 a day and nearly three-quarters do not have access to clean water; 50 percent of the children are under 15 years of age, and less than half attend school. BFT is applying its holistic program to all aspects of village life, focusing on infant and maternal health, food security and nutrition, clean water and sanitation, as well as child and adult literacy.
Garrison Spencer, Fiscal Sponsorship Manager at Give2Asia, visited Dr. Long and Build Your Future Today Center in November 2014. Read about his experience here.
Dr. Long, his personal trials, and his dedication to the future of Cambodia have served as inspiration to many, including Chad Williams, a 20-year old American expat from Dubai and frequent BFT volunteer. Williams has written extensively about Long, and a version of his book Tragedy and Triumph is available at the website Tragedy and Triumph.