Hoping for a bright future

The impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable children in Cambodia

Photos by Thomas Cristofoletti
Socheata playing with his sister outside
UNICEF/2020/Thomas Cristofoletti
16 August 2020

Sitting outside his makeshift home of corrugated iron sheets held up together by wooden polls and rope, Socheata Len, 14, sits receives a visit from Chandy Horm, a primary school teacher specialising in teaching children with disabilities. Since school closures due to COVID-19 in Cambodia, she has been visiting the homes of students for two days a week. It’s of some help, she says, but she worries about the long-term impacts on children like 14-year-old Socheata who has an intellectual disability.

“I feel scared that my students’ learning is getting worse,” she says. “I’m afraid they don’t get any general knowledge. For example, when they study at school they fully understand the meaning of the lesson. But, since COVID, they don’t understand the lesson because I met them just once or twice a week. It is not the same as studying at school when I see them every every day.”

Socheata studying with a visiting teacher
UNICEF/2020/Thomas Cristofoletti
Socheata studies with visiting teacher Chandy Horm, who specialises in teaching children with disabilities

Missing out on school can cause severe negative effects on children - from deterioration of mental and physical health to lack of sufficient food in some cases. This can often be further exacerbated for vulnerable children with disabilities like Socheata.

“Before COVID I was teaching them regularly,” says Chandy. “But now I can’t do it anymore. For example, I taught student 4 hours per day, but now I cannot do that. I went to teach few students at their house for 1-2 hours, and some students come to school to collect the lessons, home work or the tests by themselves.”

She worries about the long-term impacts on children like Socheata. “If the COVID-19 pandemic continues then the future of education for children will get worse because the teachers cannot teach well and it’s more difficult for students to follow classes out of school, and the student also difficult to understand the lesson compared to study in school”

Challenging time for children

Socheata's mother goes out to collect crabs
UNICEF/2020/Thomas Cristofoletti
Socheata's mother goes out to collect crabs in the rice fields

Socheata’s family lives in small, cramped conditions. His parents spend their days catching fish and crabs and then selling them at a nearby market, but the COVID-19 pandemic severely cut their already small income.

Before, they could expect to make up to $5 per day. Now, they can go days without making any money and this means they have less food, and maybe just the food they catch. 

“During COVID, we don’t have much to eat,” says his mother, Kiev En. “Now it’s simple: some days I earn a little bit and we can eat. But somedays If I don’t earn, and I don’t earn 2 or 3 consecutive days, we will have nothing to eat so I have to borrow some food from other sellers. I sometimes buy on credit from other fish seller, or grocery store for some fish or one or two kilos of rice. If I could earn money tomorrow, I would pay them tomorrow.”

There’s no doubt that the current situation aggravates the difficulties many families across the region already face in terms of access to affordable, healthy diets. For Socheata, a loss of time in school and access to a healthy diet can have long lasting impacts.

Socheata sits outside his home
UNICEF/2020/Thomas Cristofoletti

But, despite the family struggles, his mother has been heartened by his efforts to keep learning.

Aside from the bi-weekly visit from Chandy, he continues to regularly ride 5 kilometres on his bicycle to collect assignments from school. “My son does everything by himself,” says Kiev. “He goes to school to pick up the homework or lessons. After he finishes, he returns his work back to the teacher once a week.”

Socheata stands outside his home smiling
UNICEF/2020/Thomas Cristofoletti

Despite being unable to access online classes, Socheata has been working hard to regularly study and teach himself says his mother, who is unable to help as she cannot read or write. But, she says his efforts to keep studying are helping. “He is concentrating better now, he’s improving,” she says.

What is for sure is that every child needs support to continue receiving an education, no matter what, making sure the most vulnerable families and children with disabilities like Socheata don’t miss out.


With thanks to Rabbit School & Aide et Action.