An open letter to Cambodia's parents

As we celebrate International Children's Day and Parenting Month, our Representative recognises the efforts of Cambodian parents during COVID-19

Foroogh Foyouzat
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UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Giacomo Pirozzi
28 May 2021

PARENTS – THE UNSUNG HEROES OF THE PANDEMIC

The last few months have been very hard on Cambodian families, especially for the thousands who have been in strict lockdown, trying to cope with restrictions and limited resources. Many parents went to sleep each night worrying about loss of income or the dangers of the virus itself. Yet they still got up every morning and set aside those fears to look after their children and shield them from the worst effects of the pandemic. With Children’s Day falling on June 1st, followed by Parenting Month, now seems the right time to shine a spotlight on the parents and caregivers who have done so much to keep children protected and safe.

We are fortunate to meet many such inspiring people in our work, and to get to share their stories with each other and with the wider world. For example, we met two parents in Ratanakiri who took their daughter to their market stall each day when schools were closed and helped her with her studies in between serving customers. They reminded us of the motorbike mechanic in the heart of Phnom Penh who cleared out a space for a desk and chair in the back of his repair shop, just so his granddaughter could do homework somewhere he could make sure she was safe.

We met a mother in Battambang who gave up the new dress she was planning to buy and instead bought data packages so her children could access the Internet, learn, and join online study groups with their friends. We’ve been there when parents in Steung Meanchey arrived on bicycles from many kilometres away to pick up printed homework for their children because they didn’t have Internet access at their home.

We’ve witnessed the pride of a young father in Kampot who had taught his young son to wash his hands so well that he no longer needed reminding, and in fact pestered his parents to wash their own hands more. In Svay Rieng we met a young mother who drove her motorbike for ten kilometres to a health centre to make sure her baby got her measles vaccine, putting aside her own fears about going to a hospital during this period and taking extra care to make sure they were safe.

We’ve met so many parents who prioritised good food for their children over their own comforts, giving up their own preferred treats in favour of nutritious food to keep their children strong. On our social media channels, we’ve been thankful to hear from followers how many parents paid close attention to their children’s mental health, taking time to sit with their children and patiently explain what COVID-19 meant and what the risks were, easing their fears.

Nothing put parents more to the test than the moment their worst fears came true and COVID really did reach their families. Yet again and again they managed to put their children first in difficult circumstances, like the mother we met in a red zone in Phnom Penh who went to great lengths to ensure her daughter was safe and protected, even while she and her husband were in a hospital with serious, life-threatening COVID-19 symptoms.

Hearing and telling each other these stories has reminded us every day of just how much parents and other caregivers have contributed to steering Cambodia through this ongoing crisis. They haven’t just helped their own children, though they have certainly done that, but they have helped the whole of the country. By teaching their children to be careful so that they didn’t spread the virus and by keeping children and family members healthy so that hospitals weren’t overwhelmed they have been Cambodia’s secret strength.

We have been inspired by these stories but – more importantly – we have learnt from them. We know more about the challenges parents face and are determined to continue providing  all the support we can. UNICEF will  continue supporting the Cambodian Governent’s vaccination roll-out including for parents, we will keep working hard to enable distance learning while making sure schools can re-open safely soon, and we will keep giving parents more tools to keep their children safe. The crisis isn’t over, of course, but every day we get closer to a time when children are at last safe from this virus. We want to celebrate all the parents who have got them this far. You are our heroes.