Just over a year ago, Ni Nith, a mobile-library volunteer, replaced the books he carried in his tuk-tuk with soap, hygiene materials, and a loudspeaker to share the importance of hygiene practices to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Aide et Action’s research estimated that approximately 250,000 children were out of school in Cambodia and many more were at risk of dropping out due to barriers such as poverty and geographic remoteness. To help encourage children and parents to place more value in learning and staying in school, as well as to improve literacy, we established mobile libraries – in the form of tuk-tuks – to bring books and educational games to children in remote villages.
From reading awareness to health prevention
Ni Nith joined Aide et Action as a mobile library volunteer in Siem Reap province in November 2019 in the hope that increasing reading opportunities for children in his community would lead them to improve their reading skills and enjoy school more. Every day, he brought the books to local villages, stopping for two hours in each village and visiting ten villages a week. He took great pride and joy in being able to explain difficult words to the children as they developed their vocabulary and reading abilities.
However, from March 2020 onwards, as schools were closed and gatherings banned; Nith’s day-to-day changed dramatically. “Instead of equipping my tuk-tuk with books, I equipped it with a loudspeaker to broadcast messages from the government (Ministry of Health) related to the prevention of Covid-19”, explained Nith.
According to Water.org, 77 percent of Cambodians living in rural areas have poor access to safe water and sanitation. To better support rural communities during the crisis, Nith installed washing stations in ten villages in Siem Reap province to facilitate handwashing and distributed soap throughout the communities. Aide et Action trained Nith on how to educate people on washing their hands, wearing masks, and keeping social distance. Now, every day, he drives his tuk-tuk to disseminate information to ten villages per week and keeps an eye on their washing systems and soap stock.
Prioritize the education of marginalized children
In addition to supporting the health and well-being of out of school children and their families through awareness-raising and emergency responses like this, Aide et Action under The Cambodian Consortium of Out of School Children, in partnership with Educate A Child (EAC), a global programme of the Education Above All Foundation, and supported by the Qatar Fund For Development, is continuing to prioritize education for marginalized, formerly out of school children, especially as the crisis endures.
Alternative and flexible learning strategies are crucial at this time and this will remain a focus of The Cambodian Consortium for Out of School Children during the pandemic. Speaking on the subject, Educate A Child Executive Director, Mary Joy Pigozzi, PhD, stated: “With a focus on ensuring that education for the hardest to reach out of school children continues through alternative learning approaches at this time; supporting children, their families and communities to remain healthy and protected during this unprecedented health crisis is of critical importance.”
The Cambodian Consortium for Out of School Children’s focus on distance-learning and flexible learning strategies during pandemic restrictions, to ensure no child gets left behind, has led us to support local NGO Rabbit School Organisation to develop online teaching resources for teachers and caregivers for children with disabilities, to distribute over 4,000 radios to ethnic minority children without internet access to access educational broadcasts, to deliver books in hard-format and in electronic format as well as ICT supplies around the country.
A vital response for communities
As Nith passes through the villages, sometimes the children approach him to ask when the mobile library might return. While he also misses reading with the children, he knows the information he is sharing now as part of Aide et Action’s crisis response is vital. “Most of the people in the communities I visit are not well educated and they don’t understand clearly about the outbreak”, he said.
“This campaign is important as it allows the people to better prevent and protect themselves from Covid-19. Before they were careless washing their hands and wearing masks but now I see that they are washing their hands frequently, wearing masks and keeping distance,” explained Nith, happy to see his work is continuing to have an impact in his local community.
Nith is one of our ten volunteers who have traded their children’s books for soap as they continue to generate awareness among rural communities. Under this initiative, our mobile library volunteers distributed 3,200 educational leaflets, 1,738 hygiene kits, and established 562 handwashing stations in 281 villages in the second half of 2020.