In early March, the first case of the novel coronavirus was confirmed in Cambodia. It triggered a cascading effect of school suspensions, special event cancellations, and border closures. Travel between towns was also restricted. These precautions taken by the government meant FH had to adapt their plans and programming swiftly to continue supporting FH communities through this global health crisis.
Over the past two and a half months, FH staff have been blown away by the courageous response of the families in our partnered communities. They have not backed down or fallen into old patterns of mistrust. Instead, leaders have arisen to selflessly meet the challenge head-on—using their creativity and kindness to pull their communities together.
In the village of Tomnob Dach (Tropeang Prasat E), 65-year-old Deub Savoeun embraced FH’s hygiene and sanitation lessons. In response to FH training and government awareness campaigns, she took the initiative to fashion a handwashing station outside her home. Savoeun ingeniously installed a raised pipe along the edge of her front flower garden fitted with multiple water-dispensing holes. She then taught her family, including her young grandchildren, how to properly scrub their hands free of contamination before entering the house. The design of the station means multiple people can use it at the same time without having to wait in line or wash over one another. And the grey water naturally trickles down to irrigate her ornamental plants.
|Deub's children, grandchildren, and even her flowers benefit from the new handwashing station!|
Not only is this station well-constructed, multi-purpose, and convenient for Savoeun’s family, its prominent location in front of her house makes it a natural teaching tool—everyone who passes by gets an education in handwashing. Savoeun took her preventative health measures a step further by also using posters to teach others in her community about the life-saving benefits of a good soap-and-water scrub. Thanks to Savoeun’s efforts—and the efforts of many others in Tomnob Dach—the village was able to slow the spread and prevent an outbreak.
While FH Cambodia had to postpone in-person training events, workshops, and meetings, field staff continued to work from home and communicate with partner communities by phone, like they did with Savoeun. In this way, they trained 179 Cascade group leaders with health information critical to fighting COVID-19. These leaders, in turn, faithfully trained their families, neighbours, and Cascade group members. In addition, health information handouts were adapted for cell phones and sent to community volunteers who shared them with their neighbours and wider networks.
And the communities responded. They exchanged old habits for new ones. They got creative. They took ownership over their health and the health of their families and communities. They thought of the future.
In the village of Beth Phka, their chief organized a group of volunteers to build a latrine at the village’s central meeting hall. It was built to help combat COVID-19 by providing a clean and safe place to wash hands. But even long after the pandemic is over, this latrine will continue to provide improved health and sanitation for everyone in the village. Such initiative from leadership and selfless cooperation from everyday community members is one of the benchmarks FH looks for when assessing a community for graduation.