Please imagine for a moment! Children have been abandoned by their fathers since they are very young. What is the matter with their mental and physical condition? What will happen to their dreams? While Lack of warmth head of a household with very poor conditions fell on a family in Village 6, Srah Chak Sangkat/commune, Daun Penh Khan/district, Phnom Penh City, in a slum area. The family consists of four members including a mother, two daughters, Man Chhot Aini 16-year-old, Man Ropini 14-year-old, and a 65-year-old grandmother. The two adolescents have been living under the care of a widowed mother since her father got away from them. The widow is also raising an elderly grandmother with a chronic illness. They immigrated from Kampong Cham province in 2017 to the slum area in Phnom Penh City to get low-paid jobs to go on their living while there was no income in their hometown where they were not able to live there. During moving, the two adolescents dropped out of primary school to help support their families, and for economic reasons that they only finished grade two. While living in Phnom Penh, the two usually follow their mother to work as a cleaner at a public hospital, earning $ 150 per month. This income is not enough because she has to pay for the rental house, monthly medical expenses for the grandmother, and the daily food expenses of the family members.
Getting to know the information about the family's livelihood condition in the target communities at Beung Kak, a slum area, the school supervisor visited directly to their rented house and met two young girls to explore more information about them and then realized their real situation, the school supervisor and teachers of the SCC at Community Basic Education (CBE) have allowed the two young girls to continue their English and Khmer language classes at our school since early 2019 till today. Due to Ropini's intelligence and the improvement of their knowledge, she was assigned as a volunteer to teach children kindergarten at the school. She teaches orphans, vulnerable children, and children living with HIV in the afternoon and continues to learn English in the morning. "I am very happy because it is my dream," she said. For this volunteer work, she received a monthly incentive from the organization to partly assist with their living condition. Ropini added that through this work, she has learned a lot related to how to teach and learn well. Moreover, she received a new bicycle from the organization to ride to work to support her family and to study English and Khmer language classes at the SCC Community School after her part-time job. Ropini and her sister received support from SCC, including food packages, study materials, internships, and counseling, especially since they directly received Khmer lessons from the school supervisor.
Suffering from childhood to adulthood, the two young daughters have struggled in life even though their father abandoned them. Even though they live with their mother and elderly grandmother in a difficult situation, they are always praised and encouraged by their teachers. Finally, both daughters are happy to participate in the SCC Community School project. They and their families would like to thank SCC and all the sponsors who have helped them and their families. They declared that SCC assisted them with achieving their dreams. Therefore, they ask the organization to continue to help support orphans, vulnerable children, and children living with HIV in Cambodia. Thank you!!
Two siblings, the older brother is Sambath, 7 years old and the younger sister, Sreynang, 5 years old, who are studying at the primary school were locked in the small rental room by their parents, Sreyneang, 44 years old, is their mom who is a food seller in the street and Mr. Sophat, 37 years old, is father a Security Guard who have been relocating into #22 Village, Sras Chak Sangkat, Kan Duon Penh, Phnom Penh City since 2020 from Kampong Cham Province, staying in the rental room cost 60.00 USD per month. Because of poverty, they can’t send their children to a private school for additional education like others. In their free time from public school, while the parents had to get out for selling food and work, the two children were mostly hanging out with street children that why they were locked in the rental room to avoid them walking away far from home with street boys. Otherwise, their children might use drugs or commit any illegal activities lured by their friends and/or any harm to them unavoidably. Certainly, it was a wrong decision, but they had no choice and they could not feel concentrate on selling and job. The mother of two children normally needs to take time to check home often for monitoring the children whether they were at home or studying in a locked room whenever the seller is not too busy or make a call to her neighbors to see instead if the seller was busy.
“The CBE-School is a place helping to deal with the burden of poor families like mine so that I can move forward in enhancing my family’s livelihood”, Mrs. Sreyneang said. The seen difficulty of her family, the neighbors advised her to register the children to access education at CBE School, and then, she talked to the village chief to assist her to request to the CBE school manager. Having known the story of the 2 children, it was drawn the attention of the school manager and led her to visit directly at their home so she decided to forward the request to the SCC management team to allow them to gain additional education. Since they have attended the school, they stop going out with a stranger boy and focus on their education. They are socializing and friendly with other children even end of the class they are still at the school complex to read books and play with other classmates and like to talk with foreign volunteers. As the result, they got a high score and upgraded to the next level for the next year.
Living with hope and meaningful life. The mother said that I was very happy when my children stayed at home and read books or played with their schoolmates only, stop hanging out with the boys like before, and they have a better read and write Khmer and English. Moreover, they had changed their attitude by respecting and greeting elders, and parents and more focus on their homework. She added that I had extended the period of my selling to two more hours per day since her children had been accessing the CBE school. So, my income had been increased than before and I do hope that I will have a good family with educated children.
SCC-CBE school tries hard to ensure children are given all the support and encouragement they need to step back into state schools and have a better future after the Covid-19 outbreak in Cambodia. Schools in Cambodia were closed for 250 days between 2020 and 2021. The biggest risk of all is that if children don’t return to school soon, they may never return. The children receiving our support were concerned that the longer remain out of school, the less likely they were to go back. They may feel that they have fallen too far behind to ever catch up, or their families may have become too reliant on the extra income children provide through working for improving their living. Through efforts in any way of keeping provide refresher courses/extra learning classes during and after the Covid-19 pandemic as well as providing food support for the children’s families, 77 out of 94 children are seen to pursue their education with the public schools in reopening schools during the low covid-19 infection rate.
Under continuation support of SCC, these 77 orphans and vulnerable children were re-enrolled in the state schools after reopening schools as soon as the announcement of the Ministry of Education. This is a great achievement that SCC-CBE Community School has implemented its activities with the best efforts to prevent these children from dropping out of school during and after the covid-19 outbreak in Cambodia. First, direct and indirect learning and teaching. Direct and indirect learning and teaching mean that the teachers of CBE School went directly to the community to teach the children in their own homes, helped to organize the daily study schedule, and study hours, and set them homework to practice in collaboration with their parents and caregivers (Group 1). Group the children, who live near the school, requiring them to come directly to the school to take homework and practice at their respective homes, then submit it to the teachers and received a further explanation from their teachers (Group 2). Group the children who can learn via online learning and teaching (Zoom learning). This way is only for children with smartphones (Group 3). Second, CBE teachers went to teach children and their families about health related to reducing the risk of COVID-19 infection. They have to adhere to the principles set by the Ministry of Health of Cambodia for COVID-19 transmission. These alternative approaches and activities of the school were remedial teaching and learning during public school closure to keep our vulnerable children from returning to school without a negative impact on our children’s education.
In addition, Food was in the highest demand for survival, especially during the outbreak of COVID-19 when all business activities were required to be closed. Most vulnerable children’s families have badly been facing this issue because those vulnerable children's families work as baggers, selling food on the street, construction workers, laundry service providers, cleaners, moto-taxi drivers, and other low-paid workers which they normally were able to save the small amount of money so that they could not supply their families' food for a longer time. SCC contributed to addressing this by mobilizing resources from other supporters to provide nutrition support to 56 most in-needed families each family received 1 bag of 40 kg rice, 6 bottles of soy sauce, 4 soap, 1 box of face masks, 1 bottle of alcohol, and 1 spray bottle. Separately, 77 vulnerable students were provided school material such as 1 uniform, 1 pair of shoes, 1 bag, 2 written books, 1 white boat, 1 marker, 1 set of pens, a pencil, an eraser, a correction pen, and 12 colored pencils. The handover events were conducted for 2-times following the instruction of the Ministry of Health to avoid COVID-19 at CBE-School in the Bangkok Slum area. The events were participated in and congratulated by local authorities. In short, the food provided was a vital contribution to the vulnerable children returning to school since their parents have not become too reliant on the extra income children provide through working.
However, in the amount of 17 vulnerable children dropped out of CBE School and the public school because of their families’ severe reasons. First, their family moved out to their parent’s homeland to prevent COVID-19 transmission. Second, because of poor living conditions, their family members were forced to migrate to work in Thailand. Thirst, the family did not have enough money the living so they need to sell labor for a living. Fourth, the family member fell ill and the parents decided to stop their education to earn income to take of their family. Fifth, Parents/caregivers changed residents and migrated locally for other work with their children.
Youths who received an education and support from SCC-CBE school last more than 10 years ago contributed to motivating through sharing their struggle life experience with the next generation's students whose situations are similar to themes. Hundreds of children living in slum areas in Phnom Penh whose poorest parents are beggars, waste collectors, people living with HIV, laundry services providers, and other low paid-workers who did not capacity to send them to access education even in the state schools. Starting from compassion and contributing to improving these children's future, SCC created the CBE schools in 2010 working closely with authorities and parents to push these vulnerable children to get education both at state schools and CBE-school.
Most of our former vulnerable students have now got a better life through higher education with a suitable job. After finishing the high school level, some of them are pursuing their education at a higher degree in a university in Phnom Penh without relying on their family due to they have their own income from part-time work. Meanwhile, other students who graduated from university have got suitable jobs with income to support themselves and their families. It is our pride of the project to contribute to transforming vulnerable children whose life could fall to uneducated people to become human resources to support themselves, their community, and society.
In return to the CBE school, these former students always motivate their next-generation students by bringing their valued experiences and knowledge to share in any events carried out by SCC. Beyond providing a free informal education system, a peer education program is a very significant mechanism part for motivation among successful former students and present students. In this regard, the youths allocated their time to share their life experience with the next-generation students. The event is playing a very vital role to inspire poor students to enhance their education without considering that poverty is a challenge for their education and realizing that only education is able to change their destiny. Obviously, Ms. Chea Sok Pisey 17 years old, is a part-time English teacher assistant and pursuing her education at the high school level in Phnom Penh. She used to be a girl whose mother didn't send her to school because of her poverty. Her mother was a poor widower, who worked as a cleaner at a hospital and her income was not sufficient for the daily food of five children. Seeing this difficult situation, SCC decided to select her to join the school in 2013 and support her family on food items and non-food items as well as to counseling her family to send her to the state school.
Obviously, on January 20, 2022, SCC conducted a meeting with 35 students/21 females to enable them to understand HIV and the benefits of HIV testing. The meeting was held in Village 22, Sangkat Srah Chak, Khan Daun Penh, Phnom Penh, co-facilitated by Ms. Ty Saran, Commune Committee for Women and Children (CCWC) officer of Srah Chak Sangkat, Phnom Penh. The overall theme of the meeting is to educate youth students to study harder and stay away from drugs and avoid love affairs during school age which is lead to damage to their future and family's dignity as well as the dangers of HIV infection and the importance of blood tests for HIV, and the transmission of HIV from person to person through three main types were raised. On behalf of other youth who are supported by SCC, Pisey brought very incredible experience in her life and struggle with education in order to motivate the next generations in the meeting, said: “Education is very important for our future and please don’t consider the poverty is the challenge. Even we are poor, we’re still able to continue our education, please don’t give up.”. This message inspired the participated students to pay the very attention to listen to her sharing and they said that “I will try my best to be like Sister Pisey as she is my idol from now on.”
In an overview of the implementation of the peer education program, it was seen that participating young people were having fun mixed with learning the various subjects and experiences without realizing it. The program strengthened the bond between youths and youths, SCC and youths, youths, and local authorities. It also helps to cultivate a united mindset in living with morality, compassion, and cooperation to help each other. On the other hand, they shared incredible knowledge and experiences with each other related to HIV health on how to prevent HIV infection and learn about the importance of HIV blood tests. Most importantly, students received the incredible courage and struggle experience from their previous older students.
Children’s educational situation:
Most of the poor target students of SCC-CBE enrolled to study in either public school or SCC-CBE school even though the Covid-19 affects their livelihood. In the period of all schools in Cambodia were closed because of the Covid-19 outbreak, SCC-CBE teachers were still strengthening their target students’ capacity through online training and also pushing them to pay more attention to public school online training programs to be sure their education is still in progress. Also, teachers conducted the home visit activities in order to monitor/follow up health, livelihood, and the education of their students and encourage parents/guardians to push their children to focus on their education with both the public schools and SCC-CBE School. As the result, more than 80% of target children between the ages range of 6 to14 years old were enrolled for the new school academic year 2022-2023 to start in January 2022 with public schools, while 20% of equal and under 5-year-olds are not allowed because of unvaccinated. In this regard, the government has mobilized all 5-year-olds to be vaccinated so that all children will be allowed to attend school. In the meantime, SCC in alignment with the announcement of the government has been re-opened its CBE school in grades 1 and 2 in Phnom Penh with 94 students included 47 females. In short, working closely with parents/guardians through the home visit, online training during school close, and encouraging is enable target students to continue their education for their better future.
Living conditions of children and their families
The poor people including SCC target children’s families in Cambodia have been facing livelihood problems during the Covid-19 outbreak and lockdown. Starting from January 2020 when the Covid-19 started pandemic in Cambodia, the government closed education institutions, garment factories, entertainment venues, restriction, and a curfew, affected the life of the people, especially food shortage for the poor families while they could not earn income as normal due to unemployment, lockdown, and food price increased. SCC in participation with the government to respond to the emergency needs of our target poor families by using the money, donated by the generous sponsors to support the basic need of the poor families in our target area of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap province. Obviously, 50 poorest families in the slum area of Phnom Penh were provided food and material support on 16th December 2021 at SCC-CBE School. Each family received a kit that included 40 kilograms of rice, 6 bottles of soy sauce, 1 liter of alcohol and material, 6 soaps for washing hands, and 1 box of facial masks (50 masks). Meanwhile, 20 poor families most in need in Siem Reap province were provided nutrition and Covid-19 material support on 6th January 2022, the kits included 50 Kg, 1box of face masks, and 0.5 liters of alcohol at SCC-CBE Christine school. Nutrition and material support are a very significant contribution to their daily life since they would have time and space to make more income after this difficult situation.
The situation of COVID-19 in Cambodia:
COVID-19 pandemic remains a hot issue in Cambodia. As of the first week of January 2022, 195 Omicron cases have been detected, of which 4 were local community transmission. Meanwhile, the government decided to administer the second booster 4th dose for designated target groups. Though the Royal Government has opened up the country for its people to do small, medium, and large businesses, three prevention of covid-19 included hygiene, social distancing, and mask-wearing are adhered to by the public. Meanwhile, both public and private schools have been operating since January 2022, but must strictly follow the guidelines of the Ministry of Health. At the same time, SCC-CBE has been opened the classed for children who are studying at level 3; on the other hand, children who are at level 2 and level 1, come to school getting lessons and assignments to do at home. At this time, some students still have been receiving lessons through online learning. Generally, Omicron cases are the new concern of Cambodians.
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