Friday, and it’s our last day in Cambodia!
Today we met with the Commune Committee for Women and Children of Balang in the Parsat Bakong district. This committee was started in 2012 at the beginning of the IKEA Foundation-funded projects in Cambodia.
The first objectives of the committee were to identify children who were either disabled, marginalised or in severe poverty and to get all of these children enrolled into school. Other key objectives include providing learning materials and practical items such as uniforms, bikes and writing material for schools in these remote areas.
The committees also provide scholarships to marginalised children from extremely poor families, who live below the poverty line and often can’t afford to send children to school.
Eradicating domestic violence is also a critical objective, as this is one of the key reasons for children not attending school.
The committee themselves are made up of village chiefs, teachers, women from the community and other strategic partners of Save the Children in Cambodia. This committee supports nine villages with a combined population of 7,000 people.
Previously, there was little support for parents to encourage or educate them on the importance of children attending school. In many cases, it was unsafe to travel and parents were scared that disabled children would be discriminated against in school. Parents also needed children to help them with farming, especially when the rice harvest was due.
Now that the committees are in place, things are looking much more positive, even though the projects have been running for just over a year. We heard how children have been provided with educational materials, and how 84 children with disabilities have been referred to the medical centres and specialists.
The head of the committee, Heb Sieng, described how historically the male of the household was dominant and often resorted to physical violence. She had personal experience of this at the hands of her father. The work of the committee, support by Save the Children, has resulted in a dramatic 50% decrease in domestic violence cases reported last year.
Yet again, we were incredibly impressed with the community’s determination to ensure that ALL children have access to education.
As we reflect on the trip and the end of our week, we have been amazed on how whole communities have managed to pull together despite such a chequered and horrific past. Cambodia is still recovering emotionally from the atrocities that took place, which is why the frameworks in place between the communities, Save the Children and the IKEA Foundation support the determination of the Cambodian people whom we have met this week.