Petersfield Branch – Fundraising Events

Cambodia: a first-hand account

on Dec 20 in News tagged by

Save the Children in CambodiaAs a long-serving volunteer with Save the Children, I was delighted to be selected to go on a fact-finding visit to one of our field operations in Cambodia. But I did wonder why Cambodia? It’s a holiday destination, I hadn’t seen emergency relief reports or hurricanes on the TV but I knew we had an office there and worked in partnership with Norad from Norway and AusAID from Australia.

We arrived on Sunday 10th November and as we drove through Phnom Penh past the BMW and Mercedes showroom, impressive government offices and mobile phone/computer shops, I found myself asking again, “Why Cambodia?”

On Monday we had a briefing at the office and a visit to the Toul Sleng school which was turned into a prison and execution centre by the Khmer Rouge. Learning about the awful events in the 1970s when over a million people were killed, sons turned against fathers and families were constantly moved on and displaced, we began to understand some of the problems in a country where 50% of the population is under 25 years old.

We were told that 28% of the population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day, 40% of under-5s suffer stunting through poor diet and both infant mortality and maternal mortality rates are high. Added to this, Cambodia’s government ranks 164 out of 182 in Transparency International’s government league table below such places as Gambia, Uganda and Iran. They insist garment factory workers are paid a minimum wage of $60 a month whilst teachers are paid only $40.

We had a lot to think about that night.

Save the Children volunteers in CambodiaThe projects we were going to see are funded by Ikea, Prudential Insurance, AusAID, EC and Norad. Save the Children applies for funding and grants, then manages the funds, oversees monitoring and targets and reports back to the investors. The actual hands-on work is given to local people and charities. The projects are well-tested schemes that can be rolled out throughout the country. Save the Children is really a facilitator helping the Cambodians to help themselves.

On Tuesday we set off early to Prey Veng and Kampong Cham to see for ourselves the work Save the Children is helping with in Cambodia.

First we went to an early childhood care pre-school set up in a primary school class room. Mothers pay a small sum—25 cents per month—to send their children to pre-school so that they can go and work in the fields to earn extra income. The small sum of 25 cents means they are being encouraged to support themselves.

Next we went to youth group led by an inspirational young boy of 17 (note from photograph how short he is—this is stunted growth from poor nutrition) and his deputy who was a girl. They talk about the village finances and plans which encourages the youngsters to take part in debate and learn together. They also make flash cards for use at the pre-school—again all part of the self help ethos.

On Wednesday we visited a health centre and met volunteer health workers who monitor tuberculosis (TB) in the villages. TB is a big problem in Cambodia and these volunteers have been trained in basic skills to look out for TB victims, encourage them to visit the clinic and monitor their progress. It was wonderful speaking volunteer to volunteer! Like me, these women want to put something back into their community. Like me, their husbands sometimes say they are doing too much for others. In their case, if they cough, their husbands worry they are bringing TB into the home but they continue because they want a better future for their children.

Next we went to an early childhood care and development scheme funded by Prudential. Again staffed by volunteers, all who had children under the age of five, they were tasked with encouraging young women in their villages to attend four ante-natal classes and to have their babies in the clinic. The death of mothers after childbirth is very high as is infant mortality. The village midwives tell new mums that the first baby milk (which contains all the best antibodies for a new baby) is bad for the infant. For the first three days they encourage the mums to feed their babies water which is often unclean. Each volunteer has a simple flip chart teaching aid which she keeps at home and uses with the expectant mums in her village.

Save the Children volunteers in Cambodia

In the afternoon we went to a basic education project funded by IKEA where simple reading material was provided for mothers to use with their children. During the Khmer Rouge era, children were beaten by their parents, moved around continually and given a very low place in society. This history still lingers today and many Cambodian mothers don’t play or interact with their children, perpetuating family problems. The IKEA programme is all about mothers interacting with their children and again it is run by volunteers trained by local women’s groups supervised by Save the Children.

On Thursday we drove to Kratie province and made a long and difficult journey to a remote village where other charities will not work. Save the Children seeks out the most deprived areas to work with first and the clinic we saw was certainly “forgotten”. Despite having a concrete building, it had no running water, electricity or equipment.

A single bulb was powered by a car battery and the vaccines were kept cool with icepacks which had to be changed twice a day. This is a new project for Save the Children and power and water will be top of their priority list. The government has had a paid nurse practitioner working there for six years with these meagre provisions! The nurse practitioner was an inspiration; despite the lack of provisions, he had spent six years improving the health of the community and he was very excited about working with Save the Children. The health centre covered 11 villages with a population of over 6,000 and villagers have to pay a small sum to access those services funded by the government.

Save the Children wants to train skilled birth attendants to work in the villages who will then refer women to the clinic for vaccines and extra care.

If you would like Pauline Kneen to speak about Save the Children and her trip to Cambodia at your event, then please contact us on

Comments are closed.

site by titus