COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the economy in Cambodia. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs, and these job losses have created a significantly lower demand on small businesses. At Human and Hope Association we are committed to getting through these tough times and supporting our community in whatever way they need.
This is a critical time for the communities we serve. This is the scenario faced by so many of the community members living in the poorest communes in Siem Reap:
- Very few people have savings to fall back on when there is no way to earn income, and no government safety net – An estimated loss of just 30 cents US per day in income per person would double the country’s poverty rate (UN World Food Program)
- Many women and children will be impacted by increased domestic violence as financial pressures increase
- Low educational attainment in these communities means there is very limited knowledge of how to keep themselves safe with basic hygiene during COVID-19
- Poor housing and childhood malnutrition creates extra risk factors for those who do contract COVID-19.
Right now we have such an incredible opportunity to shape the future as we want to see it. The following programs are in place/altered as a response to COVID-19.
Emergency Food Packs
We have been working with the Chief of Sambour Commune to work out what emergency support the community needs. He has provided us with a list of the families who are most in need of support, and we are providing them with emergency food relief packages. These packages include 25kg rice, 20 eggs, 10 cans of fish and 12 packs of noodles.
This is the first time we have provided food packs to the community. We don’t take this lightly, because we have always been cautious about the unintended consequences of direct aid. However, knowing that this is an unprecedented situation, and that the community members have nowhere else to turn, this is seen as a priority.
Food packs distributed to date: 65
Tuk-Tuk Hygiene Outreach
The Tuk-Tuk Outreach Program aims to stop community spread of COVID-19 in five target communes with high poverty rates in rural Siem Reap, Cambodia.
This outreach conveys vital information from the World Health Organisation about how to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Information about self-protection, shopping and working in wet markets and practising food safety is conveyed via loudspeaker by two tuk-tuks (a mode of transport), repeated three times every 10 minutes in each of the communes’ villages.
Also, soap and washable, reusable face masks have been distributed. These masks are made by graduates of our sewing program, creating employment whilst also reducing the number of single-use masks used in the community.
Days of tuk-tuk outreach to date: 3
Soap distributed to date: 250 bottles, 300 bars
Face masks distributed to date: 3,500
Vocational Training with Social Distancing
After a six-week break, the sewing classes for adults resumed on the 27th of April. There are only six students in each class, so our team was able to move the equipment around to ensure there is 1.5 metres between each student. We have provided personal protective equipment for the students, in addition to temperature checks.
It is crucial that this life-changing vocational training continues, as the program impacts not only on these women’s ability to provide for their families, but also their knowledge of hygiene, nutrition and health, their status in their home and community, and even on their housing.
The Ministry of Youth, Education and Sport (MoEYS) have decided to extend the suspension of education services in Cambodia until the new public school year, which is in November.
For the older English-language students who can currently access the internet on their parents’ phones, our teachers are running daily classes via Facebook live.
For the English and Khmer language students and preschool students who do not have access to the internet (approximately 40% of our students), they are provided with homework fortnightly. This is undertaken by having them visit our community centre at different times each fortnight so they can talk with their teacher, hand in their homework and receive new homework.
The Khmer-language students can attend a drop-in session at our library once a fortnight whereby they borrow Khmer library books, read them at home, and return them the next week.
After working from home for five weeks or in some cases, taking paid annual leave, our staff returned to our community centre on the 27th of April. We are practicing physical distancing and providing face masks, hand sanitiser and soap to all employees. Our temperatures are checked upon arrival.
Our funding has taken a hit because we can no longer generate an income from our handicraft sales or hold the local fundraisers we had planned for this year. Our partners in Australia, Human and Hope Association Inc, are working hard to get us the financial support we need, but with their economy taking a dive, and the exchange rate worsening, we are in a very volatile position. That’s why all our staff have taken a 20% salary cut, and we have cut our costs where possible. As we were already a very lean organisation, this was challenging to do. We are committed to coming through the other end with our team and community in tack.
With all of this going on, there is a positive. Because all of our staff are local, we have been able to respond in a timely manner to the constantly changing situation on the ground. We have always said that a local approach to development is the best approach, because we are the subject-matter experts, we know our community and culture well, and we are here for the long-term. Now we are able to lead the way, and hope other organisations will begin to follow our model.