The year 2020 has brought new challenges to humanity. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all the spheres of human lives. Even though the situation in Cambodia is relatively safe, the country has also suffered from the virus. It is especially visible in rural communities where people have limited opportunities for access to information and income generation. On 6th June we went to our target area in Prek Chrey commune to speak with KCD field staff and some beneficiaries to reflect on our activities related to response to COVID-19.
Chiva Ren (youth empowerment facilitator) and Horrong Kimmoy (child rights facilitator) remember that when the pandemic arrived in Cambodia, KCD has followed the government rules, hence had to postpone all the activities that required gatherings of groups of people. At the same time, field staff knew that they had to react fast. So the next step was to develop a framework for an effective response to new challenges.
KCD has defined two primary issues to focus on at the start of the lockdown: awareness on virus and hygiene, and natural agriculture for food and economic security.
When speaking about the importance of awareness, Ran Ren (field coordinator for Nutrition and Community Development projects), mentions that he himself had to learn new things in order to respond to the problem in his home community: “When I first heard that coronavirus happened in Phnom Penh, the next day I had to go there to study English. So, I actually was a little bit afraid and I was very careful in the class. After I returned, I tried to isolate myself from other people. Then I learned how to protect myself, especially in terms of handwashing and hygiene. This is why I created this handwashing facility near my bathroom because I did not have any special place for washing hands before. So now my family can wash their hands more often”.
Therefore, in order to provide accurate information to the villagers in the community and to combat fears, stress and rumours, coming from the social media, KCD field staff decided to cooperate with local authorities to conduct an awareness campaign and hygiene campaign. “During this campaign we have shared the actual information about the virus that we got from the Head Office in Phnom Penh” – says Chiva, “we have also distributed soaps and masks to the villagers and explained to them how important it is to wash your hands properly “.
It was not always smooth, as some people in the community did not know KCD and were afraid to speak with our staff, so the field staff had to ask local authorities to join the campaign so people could trust them more. Kimmoy also says that staff had to practice social distancing and, as it was not possible to conduct one workshop about hygiene with many participants, they had to go house by house which was time and effort consuming. Hong Siv, football coach for KCD’s Khmer and Vietnamese football teams, had to change his activities from sports to facilitating Khmer-Vietnamese translation during the campaign. He smiles when he remembers that some ethnic Vietnamese people in the community thought that KCD was trying to sell them the soaps and were very grateful when they were explained that it was for free.
Sithong Thorn (IT Assistant) notes, that as a part of the awareness campaign, field staff came up with an idea of creating a video about the importance of good handwashing. The video was uploaded to KCD Facebook page and YouTube channel and collected a few hundred views along with many shares.
When reflecting about the results of the awareness and hygiene campaign, KCD field staff says that it has certainly had a positive impact on the community. KCD has not only managed to bring people’s attention to the issues of hygiene but also reduced the fears related to COVID-19. Chiva mentions that “now when people realized there is no coronavirus in their communities, the fear is reduced. They slowly start to travel outside of their villages, do celebrations together in small groups“. Kimmoy supports her, saying that: “community now knows KCD and its work much better”. And Siv concludes: “I could see that people started to wash their hands more. Ethnic Vietnamese people also became more interested in getting engaged in KCD activities and local authorities were also very supportive of KCD”.
Even though some positive results were achieved, there are still many challenges, arising from the pandemic that we will have to respond. Being engaged in the Child Rights project, Kimmoy and Chiva fear that children now spend a lot of time on their mobile phones. They are also worried about education as they are afraid that after being away from school for such a long time and even sometimes starting to work to support their families during difficult times, children might not return to their education which will increase the school drop out rates in their community significantly. They point out the unfortunate tendency that around 30% of youth have already left Prek Chrey to search for a job outside of their home community during the pandemic. Issues of drugs, domestic violence, gambling, misbehaving and rumours are also of extreme concern. Therefore, it is a new challenge for KCD to collect, analyze and design adequate response to these new threats.
They put big hopes on young people to lead this response, by bringing those issues to the public and making their voice heard. As opportunities for social contacts are limited at the moment, the value of online communication has increased. When we arrived at Prek Chrey, we found field staff shooting a video for children, which explained the proper way of handwashing in a playful manner.
As long as COVID-19 continues, new challenges will arise. This means that we have to be flexible and always ready to react.