Monday, October 7, 2013

Employment opportunities for parents reduces the number of children at risk in Siem Reap

Ung Theany*, a 37-year-old mother of five, sits at her sewing machine meticulously stitching new zips onto large decorative wallets. The rhythmic thud of the machine needle punching through thick fabric, contrasts with the random squawking of chickens as they chase each other outside her small zinc and timber home.

Ung Theany carefully stiches a zip onto a wallet in her home.  Sangkat Slorkram, Siem Reap.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2013/Reid

Theany’s regular income from making handicraft items ensures that her children have enough to eat and regularly attend school. However, her life used to be very different.  In 2003 Theany and her family migrated from a rural village to Siem Reap town, northern Cambodia. They found it difficult to obtain employment and lived on roughly 7000 riels (US1.75) which Theany would earn from a day of washing clothes or selling cakes and fried crickets door to door.  “My husband worked as a construction worker but he always had problems getting paid by his employer,” said Theany. “Some days we would eat porridge instead of rice and when we were really desperate, we’d buy emergency food from the local seller which I had to pay back when I earned some money.”

Ung Theany listens to her 13-year-old daughter reading from her school book with her 12-year-old son and 4 –year-old daughter. Sangkat Slorkram, Siem Reap
© UNICEF Cambodia/2013/Reid

Outreach activities for at-risk families

In 2011, an outreach session in Siem Reap organised by the UNICEF-supported non-governmental organisation ‘Kaliyan Mith’ (which means “good friends” in Khmer), identified Theany’s family as vulnerable. With a view to preventing children being put at risk and exposed to dangerous behaviours, such as violence and drug abuse, Kaliyan Mith social workers regularly conduct outreach sessions on the lookout for vulnerable families. These families include those with children out of school, returnees from illegal migration to Thailand, those experiencing domestic violence, or families with unemployed parents under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Kaliyan Mith offers these families a lifeline.

Kaliyan Mith is one of nine non-governmental organisations included in the Partnership Programme for the Protection of the Children known as ‘3PC,’ which aims to strengthen and coordinate civil society’s involvement in the child protection system. The partnership advocates for national policies to protect children, and raises awareness on child protection issues at local level in an effort to improve the quality of child protection services. The partnership is made possible with funding from donors including the German and Japan Committees for UNICEF, the German International Cooperation Agency (GIZ) and the United States Agency for International Development Displaced Children and Orphans Fund (USAID).

With UNICEF support and funding from donors, Kaliyan Mith social workers visit their homes to assess their situation. They provide the families with psycho-social support, counselling, life skills and information on good hygiene and sanitation practices. Parents and guardians are asked about their employment interests and in return, receive a range of feasible options including job placements, small business start-ups and vocational training courses. Each day at Kaliyan Mith’s vocational training centre, more than 1,500 children, young people and their parents can learn valuable vocational skills.

A student inspects a completed handicraft in the home based production class at the Kaliyan Mith vocational training centre in Siem Reap.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2013/Reid

Vocational training

Theany’s participation in the 3-month home based production course enabled her to provide for her family.  “I was interested in the home based production course because I could work from home and take care of my children at the same time,” said Theany. “When I first enrolled on the course, I had three children and was pregnant with another. After my first day of training I was very motivated to learn all the skills necessary,” she said enthusiastically.

Theany, a fast learner, completed the course in two and a half months having learned to make accessories for men and women in ten different designs using recycled paper, rice bags, newspapers, magazines and snack wrappers. On completion of the course, all students receive a starter-kit worth US$200 - including a second-hand sewing machine, sewing table, ruler, scissors, thread and materials - which enables them to begin producing mechandise at home.

Recalling her first order with excitement, Theany said, "I was to make several bags which were to be sold at market price for US$30-37 and I managed to meet the order earning US$25 each week."

Kaliyan Mith social worker, Mr. Chhim Vimol said, “Since 2007, 33 women per year have enrolled on the home based production course.  Nearly 100 per cent of those who participate in the training course are women aged from 30 to 40 years old. The women learn how to make small handicraft products and souvenirs which are sold in local markets and various stores.”

Some of the products Ung Theany makes at home are for sale in the local Friends International shop in Siem Reap.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2013/Reid

Life-changing support

At the start of her vocational training, Theany’s family also received from Kaliyan Mith, bags of rice and US$10 to purchase fresh fish and vegetables on a weekly basis. The Kaliyan Mith bus service enabled her to travel to the vocational centre on weekdays from 8.00am until 4.30pm. Once at the centre, her children received free healthy meals to improve their diet and prevent them from becoming malnourished. Her youngest child attended the preschool class whilst her two older children attended remedial classes until they could be reintegerated into state schools.  When the new academic year started, Theany’s children enrolled at the local state school and were provided with school materials including school uniforms from Kaliyan Mith.

Life for Theany and her family has been transformed by the support she has received from Kaliyan Mith. “I’ve improved my house and its condition. My old house was made from straw but now it’s made from zinc,” describes Theany. “I’m able to send my children to school and even give them pocket money for lunch which I couldn’t do before.”

“I use to worry about feeding my children but now I’m able to buy rice and even meat for them. I’ve also been able to manage a bank account where I save money every month. I saved up enough money to buy a cart which my husband uses to deliver and supply vegetables to hotels in Siem Reap,” said Theany.  “If I hadn’t enrolled on the training course, I fear my children would have continued to live a life with no education and no food to eat”. Speaking of the future, Theany says, “I plan to continue producing these handicrafts for as long as I can; learning new designs. I also want to raise chickens and duck. And I will continue to support my children’s education until they can work and support themselves.”

*Names changed to protect identities

By Angelique Reid

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