Monday, November 6, 2017

Helping a child grow: How cash transfers are helping children reach their full potential

By Maria Svensson

Yam Sok and her family have benefitted from the cash transfer.
From left: Nan San, 4, Nan Somnang, 10 months, mother Yam Sok and Nan Vanni, 8.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2017/Maria Svensson

Siem Reap, 5 November 2017:  Yam Sok and her family live in a small village in Meanchey Commune, a 30-minute drive from Siem Reap provincial town. Their home is traditional rural Khmer style, with wooden floors and walls made from palm leaves. Three out of her four children surround Yam Sok on the little porch as the UNICEF team arrives at the house.

Nan San, a 4-year-old boy, is playful but clings to his mother’s arm at the arrival of us strangers, while Nan Somnang, a 10-month-old boy, rests comfortably in his mother’s lap. They are the two youngest family members and the reason for our visit, as they are enrolled in a cash transfer pilot project which aims to improve health and nutrition among children under 5 years old and pregnant women in Cambodia.

Yam Sok lives with her family in a village in Siem Reap province.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2017/Maria Svensson

Yam Sok’s husband, Mot Nan, is a fisherman and Yam Sok sells the fish he catches at the local market. This generates around USD 2.50-3.75 per day, but is not enough to provide sufficient food and health care for their children. Some days the family does not have enough rice to eat, even though the neighbours often give them some of theirs.
“I tried to go to the market and sell the fish my husband catches”, Yam Sok tells us. “But I couldn’t earn enough money. We are many people in my family and I couldn’t fix the situation. My children always get sick and I don’t have enough money to pay for transport to the hospital.”

Due to poor health, 4-year-old Nan San has not been able to enrol in pre-school, missing the opportunity of benefitting from early childhood education, which is essential for establishing a solid foundation for children’s life-long learning potential.

Malnutrition is a serious issue in Cambodia, accounting for approximately one third of child deaths in the country. About a third of all children under 5 years are stunted (too short for their age), and one in four are underweight. Stunting can severely harm a child’s intellectual, mental and physical growth, preventing them from developing fully into thriving individuals.

To fight malnutrition, regular check-ups for children are imperative. Providing children and pregnant mothers with nutritious food and quality healthcare can have a profound impact on the capacity of children to grow and lead healthy lives. However, due to barriers such as low income, the utilisation of health and nutrition services has remained low among poor households in Cambodia.

In response, the Cambodia Cash Transfer Pilot Project was launched in eight communes within Prasat Bakong District, Siem Reap Province. The aim of the project is to increase the utilisation of basic health and nutrition services by pregnant women and children under 5 years old living in identified poor households (IDPoor). This involves unconditionally giving small amounts of money to each participant and providing educational sessions in relation to health and nutrition. They also receive additional small financial assistance by completing check-ups during and after pregnancy, and bringing their children to get vaccinations or to monitor their growth, or by attending the educational sessions.

The project is being implemented by the Council for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD), with technical support from UNICEF.

In May 2016, the first cash distributions took place and by October 2017, close to 700 families were benefitting from the programme: 834 children under the age of 5 and 61 pregnant women in total. The hope is that the experience of the pilot project will lead to and inform the design of a larger, national cash transfer programme.

For Yam Sok and her family, the cash transfer has had a positive impact on their lives: “Now the health of my children has improved”, Yam Sok announces. “The money from the cash transfer goes to their treatment.”

Yam Sok also uses the money to buy food for her family, such as rice, beef and egg. Some of the money also goes to paying for the older children’s school books and uniforms. She explained that the cash transfer programme has also increased her knowledge of health. Before each cash distribution, there is an educational session providing information on topics such as child nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene, maternal and child health and positive parenting.

“After I got knowledge from the meetings, it changed my behaviour. Now, I always take the children to get vaccinations and to the health centre when they are sick. I also changed our food. Before I would always fry beef or fish. Now we eat soups with vegetables that have nutrition.” Yam Sok also tells us that she was encouraged to get birth registrations for her children and that she and her children learned to always wash their hands with soap before cooking and eating.

Sori is a Commune Focal Person in Meanchey Commune,
working with the cash transfer pilot project.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2017/Maria Svensson

Sori is one of three Commune Focal Persons for the cash transfer pilot project in Meanchey Commune. She tells us that the pilot project has been beneficial for the community. Now, more parents have knowledge about and ensure that their children get vaccinations, as Yam Sok has done. They also take their children to the health centre to monitor their growth and development. Through the cash transfer and educational sessions, pregnant women are encouraged to visit health facilities for delivery, antenatal and post-natal check-ups.

Yam Sok also mentions another impact that the extra income has had on her family’s life: as she herself has not had a chance to go to school as a child, she is thankful for being able to cover the costs associated with her children going to school, such as small snacks, uniforms and school material.

“If there was no cash transfer, some of the children in my family wouldn’t have the opportunity to go to school.”

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