As the world rallies together during the global pandemic of COVID-19, never has a sense of community and solidarity seemed more important. Here, at Aide et Action, are at the forefront of this call for solidarity, identifying new ways to use education to respond to the crisis.
Across the world, educational institutions have shut their doors, leaving more than one billion children currently out of school. In Southeast Asia, where we have been working for 17 years, the most vulnerable and marginalised children, such as those living in poverty and in rural and remote areas, stand to lose the most. In response, Aide et Action is launching a two-prong approach; immediate hygiene education through the dissemination of audio and printed material and distance learning through digital technologies.
Tuk-tuks to be transformed into information stations
In the coming days and weeks, we will convert our tuk-tuk mobile libraries in Cambodia into information stations. Each of our 12 tuk-tuks will be emptied of their usual library books and filled with soap, clean water, and information pamphlets/posters on safe practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In addition to this, we will leave a stockpile of storybooks for children so they have a chance to read while out of school. An estimated 200 villages will be reached in this way over the next two months.
On Friday, 27 March 2020, all of Aide et Action’s volunteers operating the tuk-tuks will receive safety training online before commencing the project. A pilot phase will be conducted for approximately one week in Phnom Penh’s slum communities before being rolled out in the neighboring province of Kandal and then further afield. We are partnering with village chiefs and commune members to train them so they can assist their communities. As always, we are guided by a do-no-harm principle, and will not be permitting our staff to travel during this time, instead training our existing partners and volunteers to respond to the needs of the communities they are living in.
To ensure the safety of the community and of volunteers, volunteers will wear protective clothing and the materials will only be given to one community member who will, in turn, step up to ensure the whole community has access to it. Each tuk-tuk will also be kitted out with a speaker system so messages can be broadcast with an emphasis on social distancing.
In Cambodia, entrenched poverty and high levels of illiteracy mean that access to accurate information on the crisis and preventative measures to take in response is limited. Aide et Action contends that education is the best way to tackle this emergency and will be disseminating printed and audio material in Khmer, Cambodia’s national language, to share messages from trusted sources WHO and UNICEF.
Solidarity remains a key objective
“Solidarity is the key to defeating COVID-19”Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO
Speaking at a press conference in Geneva on 20 March 2020, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO stated that “solidarity is the key to defeating COVID-19”. For over almost forty years, Aide et Action has been calling for solidarity to address the threats posed to children’s rights across the world.
Mobile applications for distance learning
In addition to providing essential supplies, we are working on advancing our existing education apps to develop distance learning and more flexible learning strategies. In Cambodia, our learning app is available for free on iOs and Android platforms and offers children access to books and educational games in Khmer and ethnic minority languages. In the coming weeks, we will look at how to create more online resources for teachers and parents to enable learning from home in Cambodia and in Lao PDR.
In Vietnam, where schools also remain shut, we work, in the remote and mountainous provinces of Lai Chau, Lao Cai and Hoa Binh, with marginalised groups. Aide et Action is in regular contact with schools to support them in providing guidance to children and families to promote learning at home. At the primary school level, teachers are sharing lesson plans with children and regularly checking in through phone calls and social networks. We are pleased to have partnered with Taiwan Fund for Children and Families (TFCF), to support 5,657 students during this crisis through the provision of soap, masks, and sanitizer.
This is an uncertain time for us all and one where we must adapt quickly. Aide et Action believe that now, more than ever, education has the potential to change the world. As we reinvent ways of learning and figure out the best ways to reach the world’s most vulnerable populations, solidarity remains a key focus whereby individuals, communities, organizations, governments and more must support one another in the shared goal of creating a better world, post-pandemic.