by Corinne Yank, GoPhil Communications Manager
This week we continued our series of Virtual GoPhil Gatherings when partners HUSK and Free To Shine spoke with the GoPhil Community about the local impact of the pandemic and challenges yet to come.
In Cambodia, with only 122 recovered cases and no cases currently confirmed, the virus itself seems to be relatively under control. However, much like other parts of the world, the socioeconomic impact is severe and sure to be long felt. Tourism makes up a staggering 32.8% of the Cambodian economy, and this percentage is even higher in Siem Reap, the tourism capital of the country. HUSK and Free To Shine shared that there is essentially zero tourism at the moment and they expect this will be the case for the foreseeable future. Additionally, many families in the villages around Siem Reap rely on foreign-earned income from family members working in Thailand. Now, all those migrant laborers have returned home and are out of work as well. Furthermore, the Prime Minister announced that schools will remain closed until at least November 1st.
Economic pressure is at an all time high for families and HUSK and Free To Shine are working to ensure parents prioritize children’s education and safety.
First up, we heard from the HUSK team. As the crisis unfolded in Cambodia, the most urgent area of focus for HUSK quickly became the Softies Program ladies and their families. With no tourism, no work, and no daily wages, they were struggling to meet their basic needs. Fortunately, with support from the GoPhil Rapid Response Fund, HUSK has been able to provide the Softies ladies with emergency food support and other essential supplies, and will continue to do so while the program is on hold.
Sokheurm Man, a Social Worker at HUSK, updated us on the situation on the ground and the current state of HUSK’s education program: “At the moment our teachers are working every day — we clean our school, we prepare our lessons, and also our teachers go around the village to meet our students and teach them a little bit… so they don’t forget everything they have learned in the past… And we found that their parents are really happy with what we are doing at the moment, because all of their children are free at home with nothing to do… so when they see us come to visit their children they are really happy and they want us to come every day.”
With other HUSK programs – Softies, Dental Clinics, Work Experience – on hold for the time being, their primary focus is maintaining contact with children and families to monitor their wellbeing. With more down time, the HUSK team is also taking time to learn and prepare for the coming school year.
HUSK Co-Founder Anthony shared: “We’re trying to look at what we can do now to take advantage of this time in any way shape or form, so we’ve been speaking to some providers to come out and teach out teachers basic computing… We’re going to start that in June, with the view that we can then: 1) teach our teachers; and 2) use those resources as the basis of furthering our computing program… So we’re just really trying to make the most of a difficult situation and get some good learning to our teachers and get ourselves really ready and organized as best we can for when [school] does come back in November, if that’s the date.”
Free To Shine
We then heard from Nicky Mih, Co-Founder and Managing Director at GoPhil partner Free To Shine: “I’d like to start by saying thank you to GoPhil and the donor partners of GoPhil, and particularly in relation to two things… That you’ve been so quick to respond and make your processes quick and easy, which is so important in a time like this, so I thank you for that. And also for the feedback we’ve had from your donors about them being ‘in it for the long term’ with us, so that really helps us feeling supported in a time like this.”
For Free To Shine, one of the major challenges has been that entire villages were closed down in addition to schools, so Education Officers and Social Workers have not been able to visit the girls as they normally would. They had to switch their social work and safety visits to phone calls, which was very challenging at first. With most of the families on their program deemed the 10% poorest within the poorest villages in the communes, most did not own phones. However, they’ve persisted and managed to stay in contact with families, whether that be through phone calls to neighbors, the village leader or the Commune Council for Women & Children. In order to prevent trafficking and exploitation of girls in the short, medium and long-term, the social work component of the Free To Shine program is more important than ever.
“It comes down to just being there to support them and listen to them, and I guess emotionally support them, and show them that there is actually someone going through this with them, that when they are locked down in an isolated village they can still call us and talk to us about things, and we are still calling them and talking through things. One of the big things is family violence for many of the families we work with… and when families go through economic stress like they’re under now, then around the world family violence has increased. So we are really keen to be able to keep our phone lines open and support people through those types of issues and how they’re managing and struggling with being out of work,” shared Nicky.
The impacts have been internal as well. Nicky shared that they’ve taken a hit in funding at just over 30% and were forced to reduce their team by 38%, but no matter what happens, they are committed to continuing to support the same number of girls and families on their program. This means workloads are at an all-time high. As the crisis continues to unfold and countries enter the next stage, we will be turning some of the focus of the RRF to GoPhil partners themselves, to help ensure the retention of core staff, funding of essential running costs, and overall sustainability.
Lastly, we heard from Sotheareak, Communications Assistant at Free To Shine and former PEPY student. He shared that with students learning online, they are worried about new risks such as online exploitation or sexual abuse in addition to increased risks of family violence. Food is also still a primary concern for many families. With support from the GoPhil RRF, the Free To Shine team has been able to support 15 high-risk families with emergency food support, and will support another 15 soon.