Aide et Action uses education to address the COVID-19 crisis in Southeast Asia

Photo credits: Christine Redmond/Aide et Action

As the world comes together in the face of the global HIV pandemic, the notions of community and solidarity have never seemed more important. The international development organisation Aide et Action is at the forefront of this call for solidarity, identifying new ways to use education to respond to the crisis.

All over the world, educational institutions have closed down, leaving more than one billion children out of school. In Southeast Asia, where Aide et Action has been working for 17 years, the most vulnerable and marginalized children, living in poverty and in remote rural areas, are likely to be the most affected. In response to this situation, Aide et Action is launching a two-pronged program: immediate hygiene education through audio and print messages and distance learning through digital technologies.

Tuk-tuk transformed into health stations

Over the next few days and weeks, Aide et Action will be converting its tuk-tuk - previously used as mobile libraries - into information stations. Each of the organization's 12 tuk-tuks will be emptied of its usual books and filled with stocks of soap, clean water and information leaflets and posters on practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In addition, Aide et Action will leave a stock of story books for children so that they can read outside school. It is estimated that 130 villages will be reached in the coming weeks.

On Wednesday 25 March 2020, all Aide et Action volunteers operating the tuk tuks will receive online safety training before starting the project. A pilot phase will be conducted for 1-2 weeks in Kandal province before rolling out to other provinces. To ensure the safety of the community and volunteers, volunteers will wear protective clothing and the materials will be handed over to one community member who will in turn mobilise to ensure that the whole community has access to them. Each tuk-tuk will be equipped with a speaker system so that messages can be broadcast with an emphasis on social distancing.

Mobile applications for distance learning

In Cambodia, persistent poverty and high levels of illiteracy limit access to accurate information about the crisis and preventive measures. Aide et Action believes that education is the best way to deal with this emergency and will disseminate printed and audio material in Khmer, the national language of Cambodia, to share messages from reliable sources such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF.

Speaking at a press conference in Geneva on 20 March 2020, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, said that "Solidarity is the key to overcoming COVID-19". For almost forty years, Aide et Action has been calling for solidarity to face the threats to children's rights in the world. 

In addition to providing essential supplies, our association is working to advance existing educational applications to develop distance learning and more flexible strategies. In Cambodia, the app created by Aide et Action is available for free on iOs and Android platforms and offers children access to educational books and games in Khmer and ethnic minority languages. In the coming weeks, the organisation will be looking at how to create more online resources for teachers and parents to enable home-based learning in Cambodia and Laos.

Solidarity remains a key objective

In Vietnam, where schools also remain closed, we work with marginalized communities in the remote and mountainous provinces of Lai Chau, Lao Cai and Hoa Binh. Aide et Action is in regular contact with schools to support them in accompanying children and families and in promoting home-based learning. At the primary school level, teachers share lesson plans with the children and regularly check via phone calls or social networks. Our organisation is pleased to have partnered with the Taiwan Fund for Children and Families (TFCF) to support 5,657 students during this crisis with soap, masks and disinfectant.

In these uncertain times for all, we need to adapt quickly. Aide et Action believes that now, more than ever, education has the potential to change the world. As the organization reinvents the means of learning and finds the best ways to reach the world's most vulnerable populations, solidarity remains a key objective where individuals, communities, organizations and governments must support each other in the common goal of creating a better, post-pandemic world.

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