Direct Report from Keisha Gani, Journeys Within Our Community Development Manager
As of the writing of this report, Cambodia had 225 confirmed cases (increasing every day) of COVID-19, but the greater crisis is its economic impact and the collapse of Siem Reap’s lifeline – the tourism industry.
In mid-April, just one month after school closures in Cambodia, one of our students reached out to us for support. Her family had been eating fish paste and rice, and they were concerned that they wouldn’t have enough food to eat the following month. JWOC contacted all 74 of our scholarship students individually, checking on their health, wellbeing and financial situation. We identified 12 high risk students, 24 medium risk and 38 low risk, determined by their employment status, existing debts and whether their family was able to support them if they were unemployed and needed to move back to their hometown.
These high risk students requested an emergency food package, including rice, eggs, canned fish, noodles, toothpaste, soap, a phone top-up card, and a small stipend for fresh vegetables. 2 others asked for phone top up cards as they were unable to afford data to access online classes provided by JWOC and their University, or to contact JWOC if they needed more support.
In June, 7 of the initial 12 students were able to secure employment. As such, GoPhil Rapid Response Funding was used to purchase 5 emergency food relief packages and 4 phone top up cards for Scholarship students. Many students expected their jobs to resume in early July, as this was the date most hotels planned to re-open.
“Originally we had expected to support 24 families in June, but our students were lulled into a false sense of security by the tourism industry’s optimism that COVID19 would be over. As such, the funding was used in June and July to support 20 students with emergency relief and a further 12 students with phone top up cards.”
• Keisha Gani | Development Manager •
Fast forward to July, and tourism still hasn’t picked up as our students and the hotels had hoped. Over 50% of students are now unemployed, creating a greater financial burden on themselves and their families. The remainder of the Rapid Response Grant was used to provide emergency assistance to 15 students and a further 12 phone top up cards as this is something these students could no longer afford to prioritise, given their changing financial situations.
During this time, JWOC has been able to learn more about student’s needs, which is agency and choice; to purchase food, medicine, and rental costs if their family does not have their own land. For example, the mother of one of our students passed away, resulting in funeral costs, one student suddenly became ill and spent what money she had left on a visit to the health clinic, and another had to sell her only means of transportation in order to pay rent. Given the ongoing situation, JWOC has made the decision to move towards a cash transfer program from August onwards.
Case Study: Sokunthy
Sokunthy is enrolled in our University Scholarship Program, and is in her final year of study. She was the first student to alert us to the impact of COVID19 on her financial situation. “I am happy to be a part of the JWOC family since they always support me with everything, especially when I have some problems. They encourage me even now when we cannot study and work like before the spread of COVID19. They are the reason why I can still learn new things. Recently I lost the job, I have no income and I feel so disappointed, but I have no choice. I would like to say thank you so much to JWOC for supporting me a lot in terms of foods, rice, money and so on.”
As the Government makes plans to reopen schools in a series of phases, the biggest concern is how many students will be able to afford returning to Siem Reap for their studies. As rent and transportation costs will determine their ability to move back from the comfort of their hometowns, JWOC will continue to monitor the situation and prepare to support students as best we can.
“Thank you to GoPhilanthropic and donors for helping JWOC provide 30 emergency relief packages and 24 phone top up cards to our students in May, June and July. We cannot thank you enough for providing us with the rapid financial assistance we needed to support our students.” -Keisha Gani, JWOC Development Manager