Monday, August 26, 2013

Life as a Commune Focal Point for Women and Children

By Hun Sovadhanak

KAMPONG THOM, Cambodia, July 2013 - On a dry, hot Monday morning in Kampong Thom province, central Cambodia, 62-year-old Va Kimleath meets with a group of women and their children under the shade of large tree in a remote village named Roka in Sangkat (commune) Srayov. As the commune committee focal point for women and children, Kimleath, is conducting one of her monthly discussions with vulnerable women. 

Kimleath adv
ocates for women and children’s issues in the commune’s 13 villages and contributes to the decision-making process on the commune council to improve basic living conditions and create awareness of vital social services including birth registration and preschool education. 

Another of Kimleath’s priorities is to help expectant women to access essential health care for safe deliveries. With assistance from the health centre, she conducts outreach sessions throughout the commune and shares important health messages. 

©UNICEF Cambodia/2012/Hun Sovadhanak Lorn Roeurn (right) 
and her husband Khim Ban with son Ban Chenda aged 3 
and 5-month-old daughter, Ban Lita. 
One mother attending the meeting in Roka village is Lorn Roeurn, a 42-year-old mother of seven children. She explains to the group how she benefited from Kimleath’s advice when she gave birth to her youngest child five months ago. “It was my very first time delivering at the health centre,” said Roeun, “We did not know much about the advantage of delivery at health centre, and also did not have money to pay for the transport to go there and fee for the service. Therefore, we never thought about going [there]. It is only after Ms. Va Kimleath [told us] about the importance of health care and safe delivery, I became more interested about going. I have learnt new and important things for my children and myself.  She told us that the pregnant mother at an advanced age like me might face more risks for both mother and the baby if not checked regularly and if not delivered at health centre. I also took example of my cousin, who delivered her baby at health centre safely. The health centre did not charge any fee and even the district gave me 60,000 Riel (US$15) for my transportation and food cost for the delivery. I am very thankful for all the help”.

The social service envelope

©UNICEF Cambodia/2013/Hun Sovadhanak. 
Va Kimleath is the focal point for women and children in
 Sangkat (commune) Srayov, Kampong Thom province.
Roeurn received financial assistance from the UNICEF-supported commune ‘social service envelope.’ This allocation - provided with funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation - complements the annual commune budget from the Royal Government of Cambodia. Managed by Kimleath, the ‘social service envelope’ in Sangkat Srayov is used to address critical social service issues affecting children and women in the community. As focal point for women and children, Kimleath monitors the situation of the most vulnerable children and women and contributes to the decision-making, preparation and implementation of the commune’s annual work plan and budget.

As a former primary school teacher Kimleath was encouraged by the community to participate in training events organized by Provincial Department of Women’s Affairs in which she acquired additional knowledge and skills in gender issues, development, and women’s leadership. Subsequently, in 2007, she was elected as a commune councillor and appointed as a member of the Commune Committee for women and children. The committee is chaired by the commune chief and assisted by a deputy. Other committee members include the head of the health centre, school directors and the chief of the commune police.

Prioritising social issues on the commune council agenda

“Since I started community work, I learned a lot about the rights of woman and children, and gained skills to transfer my knowledge to my community on gender and development, women leadership, prevention from domestic violence, sexual abuses and trafficking and other [issues]”, said Kimleath, “Commune priorities [used to be] mainly on physical infrastructure such as roads and…the community and commune councillors were not well aware of importance of many social issues affecting women and children. I have tried hard to convince the commune council to pay more attention to social issues.”

Chhay Mom with her youngest child 
who was delivered at a health centre.
In the past year, Kimleath’s work as focal point ensured that several vulnerable children were able to obtain uniforms and educational materials in order to attend school, 22 pregnant mothers received financial support for safe delivery at health centres, 70 children received birth certificates, and 26 vulnerable families each received 100,000 Riel (US$25) to meet essential needs.

Chhay Mom, 25, who had her first baby at home with the help of a Traditional Birth Attendant (TBA), delivered her second child at the health centre as a result of Kimleath’s outreach. “[My first delivery] was scary. I was in a panic and so was my husband and everyone in the family…the TBA did not have any good [delivery equipment]. What she had was not clean at all, compared to what I’ve experienced in the health centre recently.  Now I think my baby and I could have died if something bad happened. My second baby girl was delivered at the health centre. It was scary too but I had strong confidence in the nurses and the doctors at the health centre. I had the trust that if something bad happened they would be able to save me and my baby.  They had modern and clean equipment. They were so kind and caring. You know, I did not pay any money to the health centre…I received 60,000 Riel (US$15) from the district. I will go to the health centre for the next baby.”

Thanks to the support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, UNICEF is empowering people like Va Kimleath to improve the lives of children and their families in communes throughout Cambodia. 

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