Water in the village where Helping Hands Cambodia works is sourced for the majority of families from a well or water pump. Whilst this can supply a good amount year-round, there is nothing done to filter out harmful bacteria and parasites. People in the village are faced with a difficult choice – to drink the local water and risk falling sick (Cambodia has an estimated 9 million diarrhea cases per year for its 14 million residents) or drink as little as possible, staying dehydrated. Many chose the later. The results of daily, long-term dehydration are multiple. Mothers struggle to breastfeed, our kindergarten kids get poor digestion and painful tummies because they’re not drinking enough. Elders in the village frequently complain of headaches and tiredness, two classic signs of long-term dehydration. In all of Cambodia there’s still an estimated 66% of people without access to clean drinking water – this is not unique to Prasat Chas, the village where Helping Hands works, but in this village, through the school we run, we can make a positive difference.
On site we have been using a traditional method of water purification. Water from our well is poured by students every morning into one of 12 clay pots that are sited around the school. These pots slowly filter the dirty water with the clay absorbing any negative elements, leaving the students with clean drinking water in the plastic bucket below.
These clay pots have worked hard for our site for several years now and unfortunately they no longer perform at their best. Despite cleaning them frequently we’ve found that their filtration speed is slowing down and the lever of purity is dropping as the clay has aged. It’s time to upgrade! We need a new water system.
A partner project in Siem Reap, Trailblazer, has had huge success making sustainable bio-sand water filters in Cambodia for 10 years now. Their simple sand and gravel system effectively filters out 99% of bacteria and pathogens. It filters water very quickly, meaning that we’ll have a better supply for all our students on site as currently we run out of clean, filtered water during peak times. We want to guarantee our students a ready supply of clean, safe drinking water all day long, ensuring that they stay healthy and hydrated, strengthened to reach their potential with the education that we provide.
80$ will buy one bio-sand water filter for the school site. This will supply up to 150 children with clean, safe drinking water for up to ten years. With a school of nearly 300 students we need two filters, and 2 generous donors to support this. Are you able to be one of them? If you’d like to become a donor your name / sponsorship logo will be placed on the filter as a thank you. It’s simple to donate either through Virgin Money Giving or through Paypal, or visit our website for more information.
In light of two Helping Hands Cambodia (HHC) students spending this week in hospital undergoing complicated eye operations, this blog addresses what we see as 3 essential criteria in reducing child and adult blindness in rural Cambodia.
Basic education for the younger generation is essential for several reasons
1. To be aware of the warning signs of basic poor health.
2. To be receptive to science and modern medicine
Both students who HHC supported to have their operations have poor attendance at Iqbal School, the education centre in the village, run by Helping Hands Cambodia. They are brother and sister, coming from a large family (11 members, 6 of whom are fully blind) who are peasant rice farmers and often need the children (aged 8 and 12) to help in the rice field.
2. Access to healthcare
It is essential in rural Cambodia for all villagers to have access to check-ups from trained professionals; nothing can replace this medical knowledge.
Traditional medicine is still the go-to in the village for nearly all complaints; whilst this may be effective for headaches and stomach aches, a serious condition such as infantile blindness needs specialist care and scientific knowledge.
In the village where Helping Hands Cambodia is based there is no health clinic; the nearest basic clinic is 7km away down a difficult, muddy road, impossible for a blind family to traverse. The children’s eye-sight has worsened (irreversibly) as the family have not been able to access a hospital.
HHC supports our students (approximately 300) and their families with any medical emergencies by providing transport to Siem Reap town centre (25km away) where there are two free children’s hospitals. We also teach good health and hygiene at the school and provide basic first aid in order to set a strong example for our students. In addition, we currently sponsor one scholarship student to study a Nursing and Midwifery diploma so that in the future the village will have access to the medical support that they deserve.
- Whilst the condition causing both children’s near-blindness is hereditary (glaucoma) the doctor explained after the operation that in both cases it had been seriously aggravated and advanced due to a poor diet.
- Village diets, particularly for the rural-poor in Cambodia, are heavily starch based (white rice) with minimal protein (small amounts of fish, pork, egg or chicken). Fruit and vegetables rich in vitamins and minerals rarely feature on the dinner plate.
- The doctor explained how Vitamin A will be essential to assisting these student’s recovery and is already heavily deficient in their diet. Vitamin A is an essential nutrient for vision, a healthy immune system and cell growth and is present in yellow, orange and green foods. Mangoes, papayas, jack-fruits, pumpkins, carrots and green-leafy veg are all great sources. The family members at the hospital simply pursed their lips, breathed in and shook their heads at the impossibility of buying the fruit which the doctors recommended, priced at $1 per kg.
At Helping Hands Cambodia, we’re tackling this issue in two ways. Firstly, through education within the village. We run agriculture and nutrition training programs mainly attended by female home-makers. These courses demonstrate how to grow nutritious fruits and vegetables at a minimal cost and how to store and cook these products to preserve those all-essential nutrients. Secondly, we run a hugely-popular breakfast program which is attended by an average of 80-100 students on a daily basis at the school. Every day the menu features green leafy veg (the majority of which is grown in site). Every Friday is pumpkin soup day too!
Blindness and other serious health concerns in rural Cambodia are not going away despite recent economic developments in the larger towns and the wider region. The approach to addressing this and ensuring that the younger generation are in great health for their future is multi-fold. Helping Hands is aiming to support Prasat Chas residents with a broad education and access-based approach for their future.
You can donate now to support the work we do in Prasat Chas. $50 buys ten students breakfast for one full month: Helping Hands on Virgin Money Giving
For more information about our programs and how you can help please visit http://volunteercambodia.org.uk/
This blog is divided into 2 sections. 1: The educational situation in the rural village Prasat Chas where Helping Hands Cambodia (HHC) is based (25km North of Siem Reap); 2: The work HHC is undertaking to address the current shortfall.
- The situation: There are many challenges to education in rural Cambodia, here is an overview of the 6 most prominent in Prasat Chas village where HHC works.
- Half-day schooling: The government school system runs for only half days (approximately 3-4 hours, Mon-Fri). The reasons for this are linked to a limit of trained teacher, resources, finance and physical space to accommodate all students for a full day.
- Problematic timetable: Imagine one month your school hours at 7-11, the next month they are 1-5. Every month you may have a different teacher and be mixed into a different class of differing abilities. This would seriously slow-down your learning. This is the situation for government schools in Cambodia. It is generally understood to be due to the provision of breakfast at most government schools and the desire for half the students to have fair access to this month-by-month.
- Poor attendance: Rural children in Cambodia have many responsibilities which impacts their attendance at government school. When surveyed, Helping Hands students listed rice planting, caring for younger siblings, caring for elder family members, herding the family’s buffaloes or cows, washing and cleaning in the house, collecting firewood and cooking food amongst the reasons that they have missed days at school. This contributes to a high dropout rate.
- Poorly funded: Government schools in rural areas face serious funding challenges, with limited educational materials and teacher salaries so low that the teachers regularly resort to bribing students in exchange for extra (basic) lessons. At the government primary school in Prasat Chas there are 4 classrooms, 300 students and this year only 2 teachers as, according to one of our staff, “No one wants to work in a tough rural area for low pay when they can work in an easy private school in the city with better money and better conditions.”
- Limited access and high dropout rates: In Prasat Chas village there is a small primary school for Grades 1-6. The nearest secondary school is 6km further in the next village. The majority of students have 1 bicycle within their family in order to make the journey. Those without a bicycle are unlikely to enroll. According to the Cambodian Independent Teacher’s Association (CITA):
“If we look at children aged between 13 and 15, only 26 percent attend school,so 74 percent of children of this age have no access to schooling. This is a very serious problem for Cambodian society; if education cannot develop, a country cannot develop.”
- Limited opening hours: The final point is the prompt for this blog. It is currently early October and the local government primary school has been closed for the Cambodian-equivalent of the summer holidays since mid-July. Student’s attendance starts to wane after Khmer New Year in April, when the schools begin to ‘wind down’ for the next season. Due to various set-backs it will not re-open this year until November 1st. That’s a total of 3 ½ months (minimum) of no school for these students, not including other holidays and festivals throughout the year.
2. What we’re doing about it: With such a complicated situation, our first response has been to provide immediate education for the vast majority of students who would other receive a limited amount and risk growing up semi-illiterate and innumerate. Helping Hands Cambodia teaches young students basic Khmer language, writing and mathematics and has a well-stocked and well-used library with Khmer and English books of all levels – the only source of books in the whole village.
- We also work closely with the village to look at longer term solutions; this week met with the principal of the government school to discuss timetabling for the students and how to ensure minimal disruption for classes in the future. The school we run in the village is currently the only source of education these 300 children are receiving; when the government school re-opens we will reassess the situation again.