Photo credit: Christine Redmond
Just over a year ago, Ni Nith, a volunteer with our mobile library project in Cambodia, replaced the books he carried in his tuk-tuk with soap, hygiene materials and a loudspeaker to share the importance of hygiene practices and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Aide et Action's studies revealed that about 250,000 children were not in school in Cambodia and that many others were at risk of dropping out due to obstacles such as poverty and geographical distance. To encourage children and parents to value learning and the importance of school, as well as to improve literacy, we created 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 volunteer working on this project in Siem Reap province in November 2019, with the hope of helping children in his community improve their reading skills and get more out of school. Each day he took the books to the local villages, stopping for two hours in each village, at a rate of ten villages per week. He took great pride and joy in being able to explain difficult words to the children as they read and develop their vocabulary and reading skills.
However, as of March 2019, with schools closed and gatherings banned, Nith's daily life has changed dramatically. " Instead of equipping my tuk-tuk with books, I equipped it with a loudspeaker to broadcast the Ministry of Health's messages related to the prevention of VADC-19 "Nith explained.
According to Water.org, 77% of Cambodians living in rural areas have limited 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 hand washing and distributed soap to all communities. Aide et Action trained Nith to teach others how to wash their hands properly, to wear masks and to keep a social distance. Today, every day, he drives his tuk-tuk to disseminate information in ten villages per week and monitors their hygiene practices and their stock of soap.
Prioritising education for marginalised children
In addition to supporting the health and well-being of out-of-school children and their families through awareness and emergency actions such as this one, Aide et Action - in the framework of the Cambodian Out-of-School Children Consortium, in partnership with Educate A Child (EAC), a global program of the Education Above All Foundation, and supported by the Qatar Fund For Development - continues to prioritize the education of marginalized children, all the more so in the midst of the ongoing crisis
The provision of alternative and flexible learning strategies is crucial at this time and will remain a priority for the Cambodian Consortium for Out-of-School Children throughout the pandemic. Speaking on the subject, Mary Joy Pigozzi, Executive Director of Educate A Child, said: " Focusing on educational continuity for the most excluded children through alternative learning approaches and helping children, their families and communities to stay healthy and protected during this unprecedented health crisis is of critical importance. "
Our focus on distance learning and flexible learning strategies during the restrictions of the pandemic, to ensure that no child is left behind, has led us to support the local NGO Rabbit School Organization. Together, we are developing online learning resources for teachers and carers of children with disabilities, distributing over 4,000 radios to ethnic minority children without internet access to provide them with access to educational programming, and providing hard copy and electronic books and adapted supplies throughout the country.
A vital response for communities
As Nith travels through the villages, children sometimes approach him to ask when the mobile library can return. While he also regrets not reading with the children anymore, he knows that the information he is currently sharing as part of Aide et Action's crisis response is vital. "Most people in the communities I visit are not well educated and do not have a clear understanding of the issues surrounding the epidemic"he explains. This campaign is important because it allows people to better protect themselves from the virus. They used to wash their hands carelessly and not always wear masks, but now I see that they wash their hands frequently, wear masks regularly and keep their distance "Nith is happy to see that his work is having an impact in his local community.
Nith is one of our ten volunteers who have exchanged their tuk-tuk books for soap while continuing to raise awareness in rural communities. As part of this initiative, our volunteers distributed 3,200 educational leaflets, 1,738 hygiene kits and set up 562 handwashing stations in 281 villages in the second half of 2020.