In Cambodia, Aide et Action has launched a food distribution project for families who are struggling to feed their children in the midst of the Coronavirus crisis. Piloting this week in an urban poor settlement in Phnom Penh, we are reaching out to families who used to rely on school meals in the informal education centre we support.
The disruption and closure of schools around the world is estimated to not just negatively impact children’s rights to education but also on other fundamental human rights such as the right to adequate food. As the pandemic continues, school closures are affecting access to regular school feeding and nutrition services for marginalised children. In Cambodia, where 32% of children under five are reported to be stunted due to malnutrition, the coronavirus poses a further threat to child development.
Under the Cambodian Consortium for Out of School Children, which Aide et Action leads, we have been supporting Cambodia’s YMCA to run an informal drop-in education centre for children in the disadvantaged area of Posenchey, Phnom Penh. However, in line with Coronoavirus prevention measures and nationwide school closures, the centre had to temporarily shut its doors in March. Not only did this mark a loss of education but also a loss of nutrition as the centre offered two meals per day to local children attending.
In response, and in partnership with YMCA, we are now supporting families in need with a 10kg package of rice every month for the next three months. This project, following food distribution recommendations from The World Food Programme, launched in Phnom Penh on Thursday, 09 April 2020 with plans to expand to rural areas of the country in the coming weeks.
“Today, I feel happy – we needed this,” said 35-year-old mother-of-six Hoat Channa as she picked up her package. For mothers like Channa, the impact of the coronavirus is costing families their livelihoods. “My husband is a tuk-tuk driver but now he has no customers and we cannot feed our six children as much as before,” she explains. Sadly, Channa and her family’s situation is not unique – the World Bank suggests that poverty in East Asia and the Pacific region alone could increase by 11 million people if conditions worsen.
While we are currently responding to critical needs such as health, sanitation, and nutrition, we also wish to highlight the fact that educational needs cannot be forgotten and these have an equally detrimental impact if left unaddressed. As schools remain shut, out of school children from disadvantaged backgrounds are entering into insecure labour. In Phnom Penh, children are finding work on the street such as scavenging plastic, selling food or collecting and bundles wood. “Right now my children are out working instead of in school,” added Channa.
“The pile-on effect of the coronavirus is that, during the global COVID-19 pandemic, interruptions to education can have long term implications – especially for the most vulnerable, such as those living in Phnom Pen’s poor urban settlements” explains Ruvini Wanigaratne, Programme Manager for Aide et Action Southeast Asia.
For us, our sole mission is to ensure access to quality education for the most vulnerable and marginalised populations. Now, there is an urgency for these groups to receive immediate support to ensure vulnerable communities can continue to live in dignity and good health. We work with many of these vulnerable and marginalised groups already, including ethnic groups, out of school children, disabled children and poor and rural communities.