Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Alternative Care Training: Keeping Families Together

By Rin Ream

SVAY RIENG, Cambodia, 10 March 2015 – Eleven-year-old Vattey* lives in a small bamboo home in Porthivong village, Svay Rieng province, Cambodia, taking care of her 33-year-old divorced mother, Kheum Channa*. Like many in the community, Vattey’s family has faced many challenges in life. Soon after giving birth to Vattey, Ms. Channa became disabled. With limited mobility, she was unable to continue work at the garment factory and when her husband also left her one year later, she found it difficult to provide her daughter with nutritious food. Despite these hardships, Vattey has big ambitions and wants to be a doctor.

Mrs. Kheum Channa (right) at home with her daughter, Vattey.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2014/Sophea Phok

Preventing family separation

In Cambodia, children like Vattey often end up living in residential care: the last stop for those whose families have been devastated by poverty. Many parents believe they have no other option than to put children in residential care if they cannot afford to provide adequate food, shelter or education. With little knowledge of alternatives, they think their children would be better off in such care, unaware of the risks involved.

To prevent Vattey being placed in residential care, the deputy district governor, Ms Rach Sean, and the commune chief, Mr. Ouk Pak, mobilized resources to support the family.

UNICEF-supported training received by the district and commune officials in June 2013 made them aware of the importance of family-based care and the need to prevent unnecessary family separation. The training, made possible with funding from the Australian Committee for UNICEF, emphasised the negative consequences of residential care. “I want [Vattey] her to be with her mother,” said Ms Sean. “Centres will only be used as the very last option.”

The social service envelope

Vattey’s village is in one of 20 communes in the province whose annual budget from the Royal Government of Cambodia is supplemented by the UNICEF-supported ‘social service envelope.’ Funded by the Australian Committee for UNICEF and other partners, the ‘social service envelope’ addresses critical social service issues affecting vulnerable children and women.

Thanks to the social service envelope Vattey’s family was able to access to safe drinking water through a pump constructed by the Provincial Department of Rural Development, school supplies provided by the Department of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, along with cash and food supplies.

Vattey now goes to school on a bicycle provided by the Prasoth commune from its UNICEF-supported social service budget.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2014/Rin Ream
“I am thankful to the commune council and the community for helping my family to be able to send my children to school,” said Channa. “I was worried that I might fail to send my children to school as I could not walk and make no income to feed them [and] they might end up with a difficult life like mine.”

“Just last week, I received rice and learning materials for my daughter from the commune. This means much for my family,” said Channa. “The commune gave me this bicycle and I will ride it to my school,” added Vattey.

Vattey, who likes Khmer literature and mathematics, is one of the top three students in her grade 6 class and hopes to stay in school until grade 12. The social service envelope has transformed Vattey’s life and is already helping her achieve her career goal.

* Names changed to protect identities.

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