Keep healthy and keep working for our children
UNICEF Cambodia's risk communication and community engagement activities are ensuring the entire population has access to COVID-19 information
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, 16 April 2020 – On the outskirts of Phnom Penh, a tuk tuk driver sails through an unusually quiet neighborhood of garment factory workers. Normally the air is filled with the noise of heavy traffic and the hustle and bustle of Cambodian city life, but today there is only the sounds from this tuk tuk covered with colorful posters, which is broadcasting a quaint song about the life saving attributes of hand washing, for the people of the neighborhood.
The posters and the song are produced by UNICEF Cambodia, as part of the risk communication activities to ensure that the entire population, especially the most marginalized, including women and children, have access to reliable and tailored information on the risks of COVID-19, so they will know how to protect themselves and prevent the disease from spreading.
As a key partner of the Ministry of Health, UNICEF plays a leading role in Cambodia’s COVID-19 risk communication and community engagement response. Over 36 communication assets are produced, broadcast and distributed nationwide. Businesses from the chambers of commerce have partnered with UNICEF to reach out to places of work and their customer base. A partnership with the two largest telecommunication companies in the country (SMART and Cellcard) is providing Cambodians with daily tips on hygiene, social and physical distancing, stigma, mental health, helping children learn from home and keeping them safe on-line. Cambodia's highest-ranking monks, various dignitaries, including the Prime Minister, ministries and provincial authorities are using UNICEF produced materials to reach their constituencies. The results are remarkable: in less than two months, UNICEF messages on COVID-19 have reached two thirds of the population of Cambodia.
But still, there is a portion of the population that is missing out and they are precisely who this tuk-tuk is trying to reach this morning. In the village of Chamka Ovleuk, chief Im Sivorn is leading the activities.
Im has been the village chief for 12 years but this month has been her toughest. “Not all of our people know or understand what this virus can do to you,” she says, “that is why is important that we go door to door to spread information and stop the virus.” Well, almost door to door, as the tuk-tuk and loudspeakers allow for safe social distancing. Together with UNICEF’s partner ICS-SP, Im is going street to street to put up COVID-19 posters and broadcast messages so that people with no internet, TV or radio can learn how to protect themselves and help prevent the spread of the infection.
In response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Cambodia, the government has closed schools and banned large gatherings including sporting and religious events, but the country is not officially on lockdown. Bars, restaurants and businesses remain open. Currently, the number of infected people is 122 and there have been no deaths in the country, but the economic aftermath is already impacting many families. The travel ban has forced many businesses catering to tourists to close while those who manage to remain open have lost most of their revenue.
“This is a community of garment factory workers and tuk-tuk drivers”, says Im, “The tuk tuk drivers have lost most of their clients with foreigners leaving our country. The maximum they can afford to stay home is maybe two to three days, but after that, they need to go back to work, to be able to feed their families. A full lock-down situation will put many in dire straits. We need to do all we can now to keep the virus under control.”
Sok Phana, a thirty-year-old mother of four who lives in this village, confirms her family’s anxieties on surviving during COVID-19 times. “My husband was working in construction”, she says, “but he lost his job”, which has been the fate of many construction workers after many foreign investments pulled out of the country. “We are now working on a little food store which caters mostly people working in the factories, but if the garment factories fully close, we will be in a very tough situation”.
Im has brought some UNICEF-provided hygiene supplies for Phana’s family. Through governmental and civil society partners, UNICEF has been distributing soaps, hand sanitizers and laundry detergent to families in need. Phana is also a beneficiary of the Cash Transfer program, a UNICEF partnership with the government of Cambodia to provide cash allowances to pregnant women and children under two years old, living in poverty.
“We are getting by”, says Phana. “The most important thing right now is to keep healthy and keep working. We need to, for our children.”
Note: UNICEF Cambodia is grateful to the generous support of USAID and the Government of Japan for funding our work in risk communication and community engagement as well supplies provision in response to COVID-19 in Cambodia.