Friday, April 29, 2016

In difficult circumstances, a commune council responds

By Sovadhanak Hun

Samnang, his mother and Commune Focal Point La Phay (in pink)
at the health centre
© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Hun Sovadhanak

On a dry, hot Tuesday morning in the village of Damnak Sdey in western Battambang Province, 11-year-old Ien Samnang waits outside a health centre. He has come to receive treatment for sores on his legs resulting from a spinal cord injury. His mother and the commune focal point for women and children carry him inside. The mother and son have travelled more than five kilometres from their village for the appointment, which is being provided for free by their commune.

Samnang’s parents moved to Battambang in 2001 to work the province’s cassava fields, moving from place to place, sometimes even across the border to Thailand. They were barely able to get by.

They continued to live this way after Samnang’s birth in 2004. When Samnang was 5 years old, his parents found work for a year in Thailand, enabling them to come back with enough money to buy a small plot of land. Samnang was finally able to enrol in school and began Grade 1 at age 6 in 2010. But due to the migratory nature of his parents’ work, he eventually dropped out. Then in 2013, near tragedy struck: Samnang fell from a high building while his parents were working and injured his spine. The boy was referred to a local hospital and then sent to Siem Reap for treatment supported by a local NGO, where an iron rod was attached to his spinal cord to aid recovery.

The rod was removed last April, and luckily Samnang’s spinal cord is fine. But he remains weak and must walk slowly in order not to fall. To help, the commune is working with UNICEF partner NGO the Association of Persons Living with Spinal Cord Injuries to follow up on the boy’s health; the local health centre is also providing free services.

UNICEF’s Seth Koma programme has been supporting Bour commune, where Samnang lives, since 2011, focusing on improving community preschools and the Commune Committee for Women and Children, a consultative committee that ensures women’s and children’s needs are reflected in local governance. Special attention has been paid to vulnerable children like Samnang.

There are eight villages scattered across the commune, which is about 80 kilometers from the provincial capital. As a newly deforested area, the commune has fertile soil that is good for growing cassava and attracts many Cambodians in search of work. These new residents tend to be among Cambodia’s poorest and, as migrant workers, face a host of challenges: children not consistently attending school; inadequate levels of vaccination; poor maternal health and child care; improper water and sanitation; and low levels of birth registration, to name a few.

Under UNICEF guidance and with the assistance of local NGOs, the commune has been delivering essential social services to its most-at-risk community members, especially women and children. Activities include supporting women during delivery at health facilities, equipping community preschools with essential instructional materials, providing water filters for clean drinking water and supplying rice. Over 200 families have been helped. With provincial and district government staff, UNICEF has also been working with the Commune Council to build understanding of the importance of social services and how to implement them.

Samnang’s family was identified as vulnerable during social service mapping of Bour. In response, the commune supplied the family with food twice this year, along with a bicycle, books and a uniform so Samnang can go to school. With help from the Commune Committee for Women and Children, the boy enrolled in Grade 2 for the 2015/2016 school year. This vital assistance has not only helped his health, but also brought him back to school.

The parents are overwhelmed with the assistance they have received. “The commune has built a safe community for children with disabilities like my son,” Samnang’s mother says. “Everybody cares about him and I observed no discrimination at all against him”.

Samnang with his new bicycle, school uniform and materials
© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Hun Sovadhanak

Villagers are encouraging of Samnang, teachers enthusiastically welcome him to school and the health centre staff give him close attention and care. The parents will no longer migrate so that they have more time to take care of Samnang. They want to see him finish high school so that he can find a good job.

“When I grow up, I want to be a nurse. I want to care for other people’s health,” Samnang says with pride.

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