SMILE Asia Project

The Supporting Maternal and Child Health Improvement and Building Literate Environment (SMILE Asia) Project is a literacy education support project mainly targeting expecting mothers and women who are raising children. In Cambodia, where this project has been in place since 2008, it is said that there are 2.07 million people who were affected by the long-term political instability and civil war, deprived of the opportunity to receive basic education, and grew up without acquiring any basic reading or writing skills. Women comprise 67 percent of such population (2019 survey).

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The SMILE Asia project provides comprehensive support for women to acquire basic reading, writing and calculation skills. Some of the features of the project include: learning materials cover topics such as women’s rights and self and family health and hygiene; and, learners learn and practice reading, writing and numeracy as well as life skills with support from specialists invited from community health centres. Moreover, reading corners carrying various reading materials are installed in each village, contributing to the overall enhancement of the villages’ educational environment, as children are seen enjoying books alongside their mothers taking classes.
As of 2019, over 1,340 women from 61 villages participated in the SMILE Asia Project.

Voices from participants

From learner to village committee member! (2012 participant)

The classes offered in the SMILE project were so much fun for me! I am pretty talkative by nature, but after gaining confidence by attending the literacy class, I think I’ve become more assertive. The classes were not only about being taught, there were opportunities to speak up and voice our thoughts, so the more I spoke up, the more I was able to develop my courage. Seeing how I was doing in class, my teacher (facilitator), believe it or not, nominated me as a village committee member! The committee is comprised of the village chief, sub-chief, and three other members including myself, and we talk about various village matters. I am happy that I can feel I am contributing to the village. At home, in addition to farming which we’ve been engaged in, I’ve started a grocery shop after finishing the SMILE programme. I record the purchasing. I am now also able to read the report cards my children bring home, and have a better idea of what is going on in school. I’ve even started to read the news on my smartphone recently. If I have the chance, I would like to study more and become more educated. If there is another SMILE class again, I would definitely take it!  

Ms. Ly Phirum
35 years old, mother of three


I am happy to be working for the village women (facilitator)

At first, I had no intention of taking on the job of facilitator at all. At that time, my children were still very small and I didn’t think I would be able to fulfil the role. After being persuaded time and again, I finally decided to give it a try, but now that I’ve become connected with local administration and am in the position to participate in meetings. I’ve come to strongly feel the importance of women’s participation in society. I am very grateful to the female worker who tenaciously encouraged me and gave me this chance. Nevertheless, I did face difficulties. For instance, I had to take training sessions in advance to become a facilitator, but I was very embarrassed to bring my children to the sessions. However, I decided that I was going to set an example for women who were in the same sort of situation as I was, and thus, I did my best. In class, it was a challenge to have the elder generation learners, who took care of kids while the mothers worked in the fields or in factories during the day, understand what was being taught. I noticed that it was difficult for the elderly to memorize all the contents written in the text, so I came up with the idea of extracting and teaching just the key points. I believe I was able to develop myself as a facilitator with each passing day, too. It makes me happy when I see learners doing so well or becoming active after completing the SMILE programme. I am very glad I decided to take this job for my own sake as well as for the sake of all the women in the village.

Ms. Sun Thary
35 years old, mother of five