Cambodia has an extremely turbulent history. It was almost completely swallowed up by its encroaching neighbours – Vietnam and Thailand - before this process was halted by the imposition of French colonial rule. The French colonial period lasted from 1863 – 1953. Following the fall of this, a nasty civil war broke out, resulting in the Chinese and Hanoi-backed Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot coming to power in 1975. This spurred the darkest period in Cambodia’s history with the government turning on its people and 1 million dying in the process. Their reign lasted until 1993 after the UN intervened with the Paris Agreement Peace Plan. Today, the government remains unstable in Cambodia with human rights abuses continuing.
In recent years, since the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime and Pol Pot’s capture in 1998, tourism has been on the increase in Cambodia as it has many interesting historical sites and great beaches to offer. More than 2 million visitors arrived in 2013 alone, making tourism becoming the second largest industry in Cambodia. The garment and textile industry is the largest industry in Cambodian cities, accounting for 80% of the country’s exports. Agriculture remains the main source of income for rural families. However, the landscape and climate can have negative effects on these industries as Cambodia is severely flood-prone. ActionAid works with communities to prepare for disasters such as chronic flooding.
Although Cambodia is experiencing high growth in recent times, the education system was almost non-existent during the Pol Pot years. Educational reform eventually took place in 1996. Today, almost half of Cambodia’s population are under the age of 22, however only 1.6% of GDP is spent on education by the government. This ranks them at 170th in the world in terms of education spend.
The main focus of the education system, at all levels, is on basic literacy. Illiteracy rates remain high with 76% of women and 45% of men unable to read or write. State schools are under-equipped, and very often classes are run without textbooks or pens and pads for the students. Teachers are not paid well, with wages around €40 per month. Many teachers end up taking cash gifts in return for after school tuition, and other skilled teachers “go private” to earn more money. This undermines the State system, and also widens the gap between rich and poor. ActionAid works to ensure that all children in the villages we work in have access to education.
Access to healthcare
Most health facilities in Cambodia were destroyed during the decades of conflict. The government is now taking steps to reconstruct and revitalize the public health system with the assistance of development partners. It is hugely important for Cambodians to have access to effective health care, especially when considering the periods of turmoil many of the citizens went through during the civil war and Pol Pot era. Many now suffer from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Other health issues are related to water and sanitation. As with other public sector industries, health workers salaries remain low and the health care facilities are lacking sufficient resources.
The role of women
According to the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Gender Gap Index, Cambodia has made little progress in gender equality and ranks lowest in the region as a whole (104 out of 136 countries). Overall there are more women than men in Cambodia, however the traditional notion that it makes more sense for boys to go to school rather than girls prevails. Therefore, men are usually better educated and can find work more easily. Women can often find jobs in garment factories for very little pay and horrendous working conditions. This hierarchical social structure becomes cyclical as the men obtain better jobs, and are then valued more than women in society. Consequentially, the role of women in power and decision-making is not nationally recognized.
Kaccheb, 38 with her daughter (right), Lan Longraing, Pursat Province. Until recently kacheb was experiencing domestic violence. Now she attends women’s health awareness sessions. She and her husband are also working with a locally trained community facilitator to end the violence in her family.
Pho (pictured above) Kam Pong Lor, Krakor District. ActionAid trained Pho to be women's health healer. In this image she tests the blood pressure her patient Tol. Tol is seven months pregnant with her seventh child and visits regularly for a check up. Tol explains that the healer helped her deliver her last child, when her children get sick now treatment is available.
The healer has helped me check my blood pressure and also my pregnancy. I have learned about important herbs, vegetables and nutrition.
ActionAid International set up in Cambodia in 1999, and Ireland began partnering with ActionAid Cambodia in 2007. We now sponsor children in the districts of Battambang and Pursat which are both located in the north of the country.
An important part of our work is helping poor people discover their rights and entitlements after years of oppression and poverty. We work with local partners to fight both rural and urban poverty. The projects you are helping to support focus on education, women and health, HIV & AIDS, Food security and land rights, strengthening rural grassroots organisations and advocacy training.
Child sponsorship in Cambodia
Sopheak (12 years old), Chambok Village, Svey Rieng Province. Thousands of people in Ireland sponsor children like Sopheak. Sopheak writes to her sponsor, the letters and photos she receives in return, are really important to her. She keeps them in a plastic bag with her birth certificate. ActionAid is teaching her about dengue fever. She now understands that the fever which killed her 4 brothers and sisters, is caused by the tiger mosquito. ActionAid is teaching Sopheak and many other how to prevent denge fever.
Sopheak’s mother Som Hon explains how her friends attend monthly meetings organised by ADIFE (ActionAid partner).
We received mosquito nets and learned that we need to fill in pot holes and get rid of dry leaves and coconut shells to prevent mosquito’s breeding. I also make sure my daughter wears long sleeves in the evenings. The training helps us protect our children. Prevention is better, the treatments are too expensive and don't always work.