Keep Children Safe From Preventable Disease

Six-year-old Sokha and his family live in the most impoverished region of Cambodia where many families are forced to migrate or make their children work to earn extra income. But now, with help from Holt and the Child and Life Association, they have hope. Equipped with resources, education and support, Sokha and his family can now escape poverty and transform their future.

When it rains in rural Cambodia, 6-year-old Sokha* and his family have little hope of staying dry. The wind and water easily make it through the palm leaf walls and deteriorating steel roof of their small home. They do their best to dodge the drips and drops, but eventually end up drenched.

Although the rain is uncomfortable, it helps with the family’s rice crop, which they ration in meager portions so that every member of their family has at least something to eat every day. Sokha has a little brother named Sokhai* who is 4 years old. When our partners in Cambodia met this family, both of these brothers were visibly unhealthy. Small and skinny for their age, they were often sick from malnutrition and unclean water. They ran barefoot around their village and didn’t know how to brush their teeth or do their schoolwork on their own. They were often left alone, without their parents nearby to care for them. 

It wasn’t that Sokha and Sokhai’s parents didn’t care or weren’t trying… Their father, Kosal*, left their village to work construction in the capital city of Phnom Penh, where he earned a small wage to send home to his struggling family. Their mother, Phuong*,worked hard farming their small rice crop. And when not laboring her own crop, she worked over-time in other families’ rice crops — bringing in any extra income she could to support her two children. Like so many families in the poverty-stricken region of Cambodia where they live, both parents tried desperately to provide for their children. But they were never home — leaving Sokha and Sokhai without the care and attention they needed.

For Sokha and his family, poverty affected every aspect of their lives — and there seemed to be no solution.

A couple of months ago, we shared about our partnership with the Child and Life Association (CLA) in Cambodia. With funding from Holt’s child sponsors, the project provides educational support to children, self-help groups for struggling mothers, microloans to help families build a sustainable business, and child peer education training — all with the purpose of strengthening and empowering families to prevent unnecessary migration, child labor and poverty.

The Prey Veng province in Cambodia is the most impoverished region in the whole country, with 53 percent of families living below the poverty line. Sokha and his family live in Prey Veng and at the time they came to the attention of CLA, they were determined by the Cambodian government to be in the lowest level of poverty. But this program through Holt and the CLA has offered a solution to the problem of poverty for many in Prey Veng — including Sokha’s family.

Kosal, Phuong and their children joined our program in January 2015. This was the beginning of a new life for Sokha and his family.

A CLA community development officer talks with Phuong about cooking nutritious meals for her children made from vegetables grown in their family garden.
A CLA community development officer talks with Phuong about cooking nutritious meals for her children made from vegetables grown in their family garden.

As education and empowerment are key to helping families lift themselves from poverty, the family’s transformation began when Phuong joined a CLA-led self-help group for women in their village. In this group, she began to understand savings and financial management. And after Phuong received financial and agricultural training from the self-help group, the family received a microloan from Holt to start two small businesses — one growing mushrooms and one raising chickens, which she sells within her community.

Phuong has had great success with her mushroom-growing business with start-up help from a Holt microloan.
Phuong has had great success with her mushroom-growing business with start-up help from a Holt microloan.

Months later, Phuong is now not only a participant, but a leader of her self-help group! She loves to teach other women and mothers in the village about how they can generate regular income to support their families. And as more and more women join the self-help groups and come together to share about their lives, they grow as a community as well. Phuong and the women in her self-help group are changing the culture of their village as they support each other to better provide and care for their children.

Kosal and Phuong also attend CLA-led training sessions on hygiene, sanitation and nutrition. While Sokha loves running around without his shoes — leaving him more susceptible to disease — Phuong is heeding the sanitation training and doing her best to urge Sokha to wear shoes, bathe and brush his teeth all by himself. While he needs lots of reminders, Sokha listens well to his parents and is making great progress. He even helps his parents by feeding the chickens, collecting firewood and picking up trash around their house. His little brother, Sokhai, is trying to help too, following in his big brother’s footsteps.

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Phuong helps Sokha and Sokhai learn the Khmer alphabet.

Sokha and Sokhai now go to school regularly and Kosal encourages them in their education by helping them as they learn math, reading and writing in their native Khmer language.

Even the difference in Sokha and Sokhai’s health is noticeable! They are sick less often and are growing healthy and strong — all due to better nutrition and proper hygiene.

While the family is still paying off debt from past food and medical bills, they now have financial and savings plans that are being supervised by CLA. As part of their financial plan, they are working towards paying of these debts and even saving up money to make some much-needed repairs to their home.

With help from Holt and the CLA, little Sokha now has hope of growing strong and healthy, hope of receiving an education and hope of staying dry when it rains.

Megan Herriott | Staff Writer

*All names have been changed

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