Dear friends and supporters,
We are very happy that several of you took the time to write to us and to express your appreciation for the updates on the impact of the current crisis on Cambodia. We follow the media at home and it is understandable but a pity that there is less coverage of international issues than usual.
In this article we will therefore link as many sources with background information on the current situation as possible.
Last week the Cambodians would normally have celebrated Khmer New Year. During the celebrations, which last for almost a week, people traditionally spend a lot of time with their families, eating, drinking and playing various board games. This is, of course, accompanied by several visits to the local temples. Because the government feared that the virus would spread more widely through these festivities and the associated domestic travel, it had postponed the holidays indefinitely this year.
It was announced that the New Year celebrations would be made up for as soon as the crisis was over. Since many factory workers still claimed that they would take time off, the government reacted by banning travel between the different provinces (in our case the federal states). According to media reports, however, about 15,000 textile workers still travelled from Phnom Penh to their respective home provinces via country roads. They are now to be quarantined for two weeks after their return. Those who are able to do so are to isolate themselves in their rented apartment. Those who are unable to do so have been asked to report to the authorities and will be accommodated in the currently empty schools. The next few days will show whether this will actually happen. The regulations are being discussed on an ongoing basis between representatives of the Ministry of Labour, trade unions and various civil society organisations. In recent weeks, the parties involved have repeatedly shown that they are quite open to criticism and willing to compromise.
Regardless of the travel problems caused by the holidays, many factory workers are currently worried about their health. They say too little is being done in the factories themselves and during travel to and from work to protect them from infection. The fact that they continue to go to work shows clearly that social distancing is a luxury that many poor people cannot afford.
This is also the view of the authors of an article on the situation of textile workers in Sri Lanka, India, Cambodia and Indonesia. They write:
“The above-mentioned instances make it clear that social distancing is a privilege, as the vast majority are much more concerned about the known fear of hunger and loss of employment than the unknown fears of a pandemic.“
Since it is not foreseeable how long the crisis will last and the government cannot guarantee the basic supply of the population indefinitely, creative and feasible solutions must now be found as quickly as possible. If not working is not an option, this could mean, for example, focusing on improving occupational safety and health and effectively identifying and isolating the sick.
You may ask yourselves why we report in such detail on the situation of the workers in the country, when the focus of our projects is on education? The reason is that mass unemployment and a recession will also have and already are having a massive impact on the education sector. And this in more ways than one.:
Most of parents and adult siblings of our students and pupils work in sectors affected by the crisis. Many of them currently even provide additional support to family members who previously earned their money as migrant workers in Thailand and who have now also become unemployed due to the crisis. To make matters worse, the per capita debt in Cambodia is higher than in almost any other country in the world. Many families have to pay off loans which they could only repay with great effort even before the current pandemic.
Because the basic needs of families are no longer guaranteed, education is increasingly taking a back seat. If the emergency situation continues, it could lead to children being forced to drop out of school early and work. The rates of domestic violence and abuse also rise noticeably in emergency situations. In addition, malnutrition and undernourishment threaten the mental and physical development of the children.
We are therefore thinking about how we can continue to effectively support the people we work with during the crisis. The monthly payments of funds to the families of our sponsored children are usually tied to the presentation of a school records. Since the schools are currently closed, we have already informed the families that we will therefore disburse the money without requesting them to show these records until the end of the crisis. This was received with great relief.
Furthermore, thanks to the donations of the supporters of our English school, we can pay the teachers 45% of their salary. Because they also continue to receive their state income, teachers are currently in a better position than many of their compatriots. In return, we are asking them to start thinking about how they will be able to organise their lessons in the time after the schools reopen. The older classes could, for example, discuss the World Health Organization’s materials on COVID 19 prevention and thus learn new vocabulary. We are, however, aware that it will be just as important to talk about things again that have nothing to do with disease and despair.
Depending on how long the crisis lasts and how many people remain unemployed, one could also consider providing more emergency aid. For example, we could try to find a doctor who would set up a free clinic at school once a month. Many families are currently more likely to avoid expensive visits to the doctor than they already do anyway.
Another possibility to relieve the families financially and to ensure the development of the sponsored children would be the establishment of a soup kitchen that serves one warm meal per day and pays attention to the observance of the distance rules. A positive side-effect of such a measure would be that we would enable the cook or cooks to improve their livelihood. One could then also consider giving the children worksheets and homework when they pick up their meals. But since such a thing involves significant additional costs and a considerable administrative effort, we want to observe the current developments for a little longer. Furthermore, we would only be able to carry out such measures if we could find sponsors who would commit the necessary funds for several months. Otherwise, the amount of work and the actual impact would be disproportionate.
So far these are all pure mind games. If you have your own ideas for emergency aid and its financing, please send us an e-mail to email@example.com
That is all for now. Many of the current arrangements expire at the end of the month. We will then contact you at the beginning of May and report whether and what has changed in the situation.
Greetings from Phnom Penh and Kandal,
Your Kidshelp Team!