TPO CambodiaThe Khmer Rouge was a genocide in Cambodia that resulted from a civil war, leaving 4 million dead and millions more traumatized. The destruction of Cambodia’s infrastructure during the Khmer Rouge has greatly contributed to poverty levels in the country and the struggle to rebuild the country. Since the Khmer Rouge specifically targeted doctors and educated people (leaving the country devoid of healthcare professionals), it took decades for mental health treatment to be available. Thankfully, organizations like the Transcultural Psychological Organization (TPO Cambodia) have emerged to help combat the negative mental health impacts of the Khmer Rouge and poverty. Here are 4 ways TPO Cambodia provides mental health aid.

4 Ways TPO Cambodia Provides Mental Health Aid

  1. Raising Awareness of Mental Health Among Locals: TPO Cambodia builds upon already established relationships to develop new mental health leaders in communities. It does this by training already established leaders in Cambodian communities in the basics of psychosocial education and how to refer those in need. This strategy is respectful of Cambodian social structures while, at the same time, raises awareness of mental health. TPO Cambodia conducts various mental health awareness programs in schools, pagodas and on the radio. These programs have been proven to increase understanding of psychosocial issues in families and leave people empowered to know how to take action to aid their mental health.Raising awareness of the importance of mental health also helps prevent mental health issues by increasing mental wellness practices. One story highlighted a man who was traumatized when attacked by robbers. The event left the man incredibly violent and, eventually, his family had to chain him up in fear of their own lives. Once the family learned of TPO Cambodia, they were able to provide him the treatment he needed, allowing him to heal and be free from chains.
  2. Building Communities: One positive impact TPO Cambodia sees from increased mental health awareness has been stronger communities. These two aspects build upon one another, the larger community raises more awareness and raised awareness strengthens the community. Trained individuals facilitate self-help groups, providing a community space for people to problem solve on shared struggles, share personal experiences and feel more socially connected. Some community programs currently available through TPO Cambodia are healing for victims of the Khmer Rouge, mental health for sexual assault victims, promoting gender equality and working for the protection of children.
  3. Providing Psychological Treatment Services: TPO Cambodia is staffed with experienced clinical professionals that offer a variety of mental health services for psychosocial, psychological and psychiatric conditions. Services available are decided based on an individual’s needs. Some of the services available at TPO Cambodia are trauma treatment, psychiatric assessment and treatment and counseling and therapy. It also provides help for issues such as insomnia, alcoholism and depression.
  4. Research Projects: All research projects TPO Cambodia conducts specifically focus on the cultural context of Cambodia. Through research projects, TPO Cambodia has developed a culturally aware version of “Testimonial Therapy” for traumatized victims of the Khmer Rouge. This therapy aids in helping victims find closure and to associate traumas with a more positive state of mind.  The various research projects TPO Cambodia is involved in aims to gain a better understanding of how traumatic events have impacted its people as well as understand better how this information can improve TPO Cambodia’s current therapeutic practices.

With a majority of mental health issues worldwide residing in impoverished communities, mental health issues need to be actively considered in the eradication of poverty. Living in poverty presents itself as a huge risk factor for many mental health struggles. TPO Cambodia’s method of incorporating the Cambodian cultural context into every part of their work has shown to positively impact communities while maintaining a crucial understanding and respect of cultural norms. These 4 ways TPO Cambodia provides mental health aid show how organizations can work to end the vicious cycle of poverty and mental health in their own communities.

Amy Dickens

Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Cambodia
Currently, Cambodia has the 122nd highest ranking in the world in terms of life expectancy. The men in the country are projected to live an average of 67.3 years and the women are projected to live 71.2 years. The following top 10 facts about life expectancy in Cambodia will provide a better understanding and insight into how the Cambodian people live and what mostly affects their lives.

Top 10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Cambodia

  1. According to the World Health Organization, Cambodia is one of the six countries that has made the greatest progress when it comes to raising the country’s life expectancy. Cambodia came forth on the list, behind Maldives, Ethiopia and Liberia. Since 1990, Cambodia has increased its life expectancy rate from the previous average of 54 years to 72 years in 2012.
  2. Cambodia has also managed to lower its mortality rate. In 1990, Cambodia had a mortality rate of 116 per 1,000 live births. This rate was lowered to 40 per 1,000 live births by 2012.
  3. Cambodia’s increase of funding of health organizations from GDP has aided the rise of the country’s life expectancy. In previous years, Cambodian people have had limited access to quality health care, which was primarily due to the country’s political instability. This led to an increase in major health problems, such as malnutrition, malaria, tuberculosis and diarrheal diseases.
  4. Cambodia has struggled with an unbalance in the country’s age structure, due to a genocide that occurred in the country from 1975 to 1979 during the Khmer Rouge years. Because of this, about 63 percent of Cambodia’s population was under 30 years old, with around half of the country’s population younger than 15 years old.
  5. Cambodia has never had a McDonald’s. While there have been many countries, such as Iceland and Bolivia, that have managed to drive McDonald’s out of their countries, Cambodia remains one of the few countries that McDonald’s has never had a presence in. Cambodians have plenty of other popular American fast-food chain restaurants, such as Burger King and KFC. They even have their own version of McDonald’s, known as “Lucky Burger.” However, this lack of presence from such a major fast-food chain restaurant has helped Cambodian citizens to maintain their commendable national diet.
  6. The insects featured in many Cambodian dishes may have better health benefits than was previously thought. Studies have proven that eating bugs could combat obesity, which plays a significant role in determining how long a person might live. Insects are also reported to be low in carbohydrates and fat content while being rich in protein, healthy fats, iron and calcium. This strange eating habit has indirectly influenced life expectancy in the country.
  7. Cambodian diet mostly consists of fish, vegetables and rice. This type of diet provides people with many kinds of vitamins and minerals as well as doubling down on healthy fats and lean protein. For these reasons, researchers have referred to this type of diet as being one of the healthiest diets to follow.
  8. In 2014, Cambodia’s increased growth in its rice market led to a massive decrease in its poverty rate. For the country that previously had a poverty rate of 47.8 percent in 2007, Cambodia managed to significantly lower this rate to an astounding 13.5 percent in 2014, mainly due to the rice exports.
  9. Cambodia increased its productivity in rice markets through raised prices and a better transportation system. This provides a good example of how Cambodia managed to improve its economic structure, particularly for its rural population. Cambodia has been recorded to have one of the fastest-growing rates for its economy in Asia. For the past decade, Cambodia has had an average growth rate of more than 6 percent.
  10. More than 90 percent of Cambodians were reported to live in impoverished rural areas. These people are heavily dependent on agriculture and are directly affected, as seen with the improved rice market productivity, by changes made in Cambodia’s economic system. Improved conditions in the country can have a huge effect on life expectancy in Cambodia, as this can lead to a separation from the current status of a low-income country.

In many ways, these top 10 facts about life expectancy in Cambodia show how far the nation has come in an attempt to recover from the severe consequences it has suffered because of the instability and corruption of its past political regimes. At the same token, some of these facts are an example of opportunities that the country can use to continue its growth and to achieve the goal of alleviating poverty.

– Jordan Melinda Washington

Photo: Flickr

The Connection Between Sand Mining and Poverty in Cambodia
The practice of sand mining has spelt disaster for fishing communities in Cambodia. For more than a decade, sand mining in Cambodia has contributed to the collective poverty of fishing communities as well as displacement. Although Cambodia officially banned the export of sand in 2017, the connection between sand mining and poverty in Cambodia is a lasting one.

Southeast Asian Expansion

Singapore has enlarged its landmass by almost a quarter its size since its independence in 1965, going from 224 to 277 square miles. Singapore considers reclamation a key strategy for accommodating its growing urban population. In fact, the country has artificially expanded the size of its land mass with sand, thus making the Southeast Asian nation one of the world’s largest sand importers.

After Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam grew tired of feeding Singapore’s insatiable appetite for sand; sand mining in Cambodia then took off in 2007 after Indonesia banned sand exports in the same year.

Cambodia, Poverty and Sand Mining

In 2007, the government of Cambodia begun granting private companies concessions to mine rivers for sand. From 2007 to 2017, the U.N. reports that Singapore imported more than 72 million tons of sand from Cambodia. In 2015, Cambodia was number 7 on the top 20 list of sand exporting countries, to the tune of more than $53 million.

A practice called ‘dredging’ sucks up sand a few feet below the marine floor, disturbing the water. Even temporary increases in turbidity interfere with spawning and suffocate coral reefs. Over-dredging in waterways can lower stream bottoms and disrupt the natural sedimentary processes, leading to the erosion of riverbanks.

Environmental Impacts

Environmental groups report that the dredging industry has threatened several species of endangered dolphins, turtles, otters and mangrove forests. Sand mining in Cambodia has also led to the destruction of Cambodia’s only natural protection against riverbank erosion, rising sea levels, tsunamis and hurricanes.

The connection between sand mining and poverty in Cambodia is seamless. The known dredging concessions were in Koh Kong and Preah Sihanoak provinces on Cambodia’s western shore. People in the fishing villages were not consulted by the companies or informed by local authorities before operations began. In the village of Koh Sralau, sand dredging has ravaged the ecosystem that thousands of families depend on for their livelihood.

Detrimental Dredging

According to Global Witness, every month in 2010 dredgers extracted more than 850,000 tons of sand from Koh Kong province alone. In 2010, residents of Koh Sralau told Global Witness that the fish catch had declined by 50 percent since the dredging ships arrived. In 2016, residents of Koh Sralau told the Thomas Reuters Foundations that the sand dredging industry had sent their once prosperous fishing community into poverty. One man said that before the Vietnamese sand dredgers occupied the area, he could expect to earn $50 a day fishing for crab; alternatlely, in 2016 he was only seeing $10 and was unable to afford to send his children to school.

Sand mining in Koh Sralau has incurred a wave of displacement. Since the sand dredging began, every family in Koh Sralau has lost a family member, which forces such people to migrate to other places and other countries to find work. People are quite literally losing the land they live on — banks along the rivers in both provinces have become so eroded that people have lost their homes, farms and shops due to landslides.

River Reclamation & Ban on Sand

After years of community organizing and protests by environmental groups, the fishing communities of Cambodia have their rivers back. In July 2017, Cambodia placed a permanent ban on sand for construction and sand mud exports. In addition to this good news for the fishing communities of Koh Kong and Preah Sihanoak, sand from Cambodia will also no longer be sold to Singapore, putting Southeast Asia in a stronger position for environmental and economic sustainability.

– Sasha Kramer

Photo: Flickr

Private Sector Key to Eliminating Malaria in Cambodia
Having already made substantial progress in the effort to eradicate malaria, Cambodia is one of the 17 countries in Southeast Asia looking to continue finding solutions to this problem and putting an end to this disease by 2025. The strategy of eliminating malaria in Cambodia hinges on a joint effort between the public sector and the private sector. With proposed solutions made by this collaboration, Cambodia is on the road to eliminating the disease by its projected period.

Malaria in Cambodia Numbers

In Cambodia, 1 million people become infected with malaria every year. Despite this high number of infections, there has been substantial progress made in working to find solutions to eradicating malaria. For example, in 2015, Youyou Tu received The Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for her discovery of artemisinin, a type of anti-malarial medicine that is being used today.

While efforts have been made in eradicating malaria in Cambodia, there is still a lot that needs to be done in order to achieve this goal. Of the 1 million people who become affected by malaria, around 1.5 percent and 10 percent of people that are located in distant provinces die. The parasite responsible for these deaths is the Plasmodium falciparum. To prevent the occurrence and spread of this disease, early intervention with artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) is the key. Yet, distribution of antimalarial medicines remains a challenge. While there are immediate and positive effects of ACT therapy, many people are not able to receive this medicine.


One organization that working on ending malaria in Cambodia is Population Services International/Cambodia (PSI/Cambodia). The purpose of this initiative is to work on health issues caused by HIV/AIDS, malaria and reproductive health of women who are going to give birth. In 2003, a program of PSI/Cambodia started to offer malaria treatment with the help of private clinics, pharmacies and shops in many parts of rural Cambodia. Of total Cambodia’s population, the poor are particularly at risk of getting the disease. As shown by this initiative, the private sector remains crucial for ending malaria in Cambodia.

Solutions to Ending Malaria in Cambodia

To meet the need for antimalarial medicines, the Global Fund, an international partnership organization, has proposed some essential solutions by the public sector working with the private sector for eradicating malaria in Cambodia. The first is to make sure there is access to effective antimalarial medicines that the private sector provides. This proposal also means the dispose of fake antimalarial drugs that are currently in the market. In addition, this means also the disposal of antimalarial drugs that do not meet the national guidelines.

Secondly, the report of the Global Fund urges organizations in the private sector to make sure they provide effective diagnostic testing. Lastly, the Global Fund recommends that there is widespread access to affordable antimalarial medicines for eradicating malaria in Cambodia, in order to allow for those living on less than $1.25 a day to purchase afford this life-saving treatment.

One way to achieve these proposals is subsidizing antimalarial medicines in order to allow consumers to be able to buy them. Another way to increase distribution of antimalarial medicine is through social marketing. In addition to making sure there is an effective treatment at a cost that people can afford, these same two strategies can be used for diagnostic testing.

With much progress having been made to end malaria in Cambodia, there is room for more improvement in order to reach the goal of eradicating the disease by 2025. With more joint effort between the public sector and private sector through subsidizing prices of antimalarial medicine, Cambodia can move one step closer to eradicating malaria.

– Daniel McAndrew-Greiner
Photo: Flickr

Student Organizations Can Improve Global Health
Many of the health crises in the world today are not only preventable but often man-made. However, disease outbreaks, conflict-created health emergencies and inefficient healthcare systems continue into 2019. Though there are very real threats to global health, there are also organizations working tirelessly to tackle these global health challenges. The efforts of internationally-focused college clubs, like GlobeMed at the University of Denver and Global Medical Training at the University of California, Berkeley, demonstrate that student organizations can improve global health.

GlobeMed at the University of Denver

GlobeMed at the University of Denver started in 2011 and is one of 50 college chapters across the U.S. The broader organization focuses on health disparities across the world by encouraging each chapter to partner with a grassroots health organization to work on local community health projects. GlobeMed at DU partners with Buddhism for Social Development Action (BSDA) in Kampong Cham, Cambodia, an organization started by Buddhist monks with the intention of bettering their community.

Jakob Allen, a Global Health Unit Coordinator for GlobeMed at DU, told The Borgen Project that their co-founders, Victor Roy and Peter Luckow, “realized that the key to sustainable project implementation was to listen and form a relationship with the local community. Too many NGOs today do not assume the population they are working with knows what is best for their community; GlobeMed at DU works to shatter this fallacy by working with our partners to find out what the community believes to be the best solution,” said Allen. “We then work to help make their visions a reality.”

How GlobeMed at DU Helps

Currently, GlobeMed at DU has two active microloan income generation projects, Chicken Raising Project (CRP) and Financing Futures (FF). The money generated by GlobeMed at DU goes towards financing these current projects, which were decided upon by BSDA with input from the community, according to Allen.

The beneficiaries of CRP are families with at least one member living with HIV/AIDS. Allen told The Borgen Project that the goal is to provide each family with a loan to purchase chickens and supplies, “thus enabling sick beneficiaries to cover their own medical transportation costs and receive appropriate treatment.” For the Financing Futures project, the beneficiaries are families with school-aged children. The intention of this project is to provide families with a microloan to start or expand a current business. The reduced cost to run the business encourages families to send the children to school.

Daniel Rinner, a Global Health Unit Coordinator for GlobeMed at DU, told The Borgen Project it is extremely important for GlobeMed at DU that health is not thought of solely in terms of medicine and healthcare institutions. “We also have to consider the social determinants of health: why certain health problems exist in the locations and communities that they do,” said Rinner. “We’ve had chapter meetings on how we can analyze gun violence as a public health issue and how Puerto Rico’s economic and political circumstances coincided with Hurricane Maria to create a public health disaster in our own country, for example,” Rinner added.

The ability to think critically regarding the larger dynamics of globalization and poverty and then utilize this knowledge in local communities is one of the reasons student organizations can improve global health.

Global Medical Training: University of California, Berkeley

Another example of how student organizations can improve global health is Global Medical Training (GMT) at the University of California, Berkeley. GMT is a national organization offering the opportunity to go to Latin American countries and experience “hands-on” clinical work for college students interested in policy or health care careers, according to Angela H. Kwon, President of U.C. Berkeley’s GMT chapter.

Andrew Paul Rosenzweig, Vice President of U.C. Berkeley’s GMT chapter, told The Borgen Project their goal is to reach communities with little access to healthcare. “Many Latin American countries’ health care is focused in populated cities, so we provide more rural communities with these resources,” said Rosenzweig.

In addition to providing healthcare resources to rural Latin American countries, GMT at U.C. Berkeley focuses on implementing public health and sustainability projects. “We recognize the limitations of being in a host country for only a week at a time…[so] the goal of these [public health] projects is prevention rather than treatment,” said Rosenzweig. “Educating individuals on how to live healthier lives can have tremendous impacts on not only their own life but the lives of their family and community.” GMT has worked with rural Latin American communities to teach the significance of healthy eating, reproductive health, dental hygiene and hypertension.

GMT: A Piece of a Larger Movement

When asked whether the “hands-on” approach of GMT at U.C. Berkeley has been successful in creating change in Latin American countries, Kwon told The Borgen Project that this “would be an overstatement. It’s only a very tiny step and the beginning [of] a bigger movement, which is sustainability and health equity.” Though Kwon stated that week-long trips to rural areas do not create immediate or lasting effects, she claimed “it’s a start and any contribution can help. It’s like a ripple effect.”

Kwon added, “Of course, as college students, our knowledge of medicine is limited but…we’re educating future practitioners or professionals about global health and sustainability. Although cliché, we’re making a difference in the patient’s day by providing them with answers, medication and showing them that we care.”

GlobeMed at DU and GMT at U.C. Berkeley’s efforts, with their dedication to education and prevention, understanding of the larger dynamics of poverty, and care for international communities, are a perfect example on how student organizations can improve global health.

– Kara Roberts
Photo: Flickr

poverty and dictatorship
Among the 10 dictatorship countries profiled, poverty is endemic. Poverty alleviation in these 10 dictatorship countries is in some cases associated with human rights abuses, violent crackdowns on the political opposition and indigenous people. In the last two decades, however, some of these countries have moved towards embracing democracy, which has brought an influx of government institutions, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and foreign investment working to promulgate poverty alleviation.

The State of Poverty in 10 Dictatorship Countries

  1. Cambodia – In June of 2018, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen was officially qualified as a military dictator by Human Rights Watch. Through an environment of fear, Cambodia has been littered with human rights abuses, crackdowns on the opposition, coercion and repression of the media. In September of 2018, the United Nations Development Program stated that 35 percent of all Cambodians are still poor regardless of the decline in the Multidimensional Poverty Index. In 2006, the Ministry of Planning established the IDPoor Programme to guide government services and NGOs to provide target services and assistance to the poorest households. As of December 2017, The IDPoor Programme has assisted 13 million people and has covered 90 percent of Cambodians.
  2. Cameroon – Current Prime Minister, Paul Biya, seized control of Cameroon from his fellow despotic predecessor in 1982. Biya has since ruled the central African country with an iron fist. In 2014, 37.5 percent of the people were living in poverty. However, a development NGO called Heifer Cameroon has been playing a positive role in alleviating the strains of poverty for Cameroon’s most poor and vulnerable communities. Heifer Cameroon has assisted 30,000 families by spurring job creation among the rural poor through focusing on the dairy industry along with other livestock.
  3. Eritrea – Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1993. The President of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, took power after its independence and has since entrapped his citizens in a cloud of fear. Furthermore, the nation was rocked by internal war, drought and famine. According to estimates of The World Bank, 69 percent of Eritrea’s population lives below the poverty line. Despite these conditions, Eritrea has drastically improved its public health conditions. Indeed since its liberation, life expectancy has increased by 14 years to 63 years. And over 70 percent of the population now has access to clean water, compared to just 15 percent in 1993.
  4. Ethiopia – In 2000, Ethiopia had one of the highest rates of poverty in the world, but by 2011, the poverty rate had fallen by 14 percent. In 2018, Ethiopia became Africa’s fastest growing economy in the sub-Saharan African region. However, some of the country’s development schemes have been wildly unpopular, such as the mass land-grab that is displacing Ethiopians so the government can lease out the land to foreign investors. On the other hand, some developments have actually made improvements in average household health, education and living standards.
  5. Madagascar – Madagascar has experienced a long period of political instability since its independence in the 1960s. Current President Hery Rajaonarimampianina was democratically elected in 2014. Rajaonarimampianina has prioritized recovering Madagascar’s relationship with foreign investment agencies, like The World Bank, IMF and The African Union. Unfortunately, in 2018, 75 percent of Madagascar’s population are still living under the poverty line.
  6. Myanmar – From 1966 to 2016, Myanmar existed under a military dictatorship that bore multiple wars spurred out of hatred and persecution of Rohingya Muslims and Christians. The crackdown and ethnic cleansing created a major refugee crisis. Today, Myanmar is reportedly inching towards democracy, but the military, headed by Gen. Than Shwe, still has major sway. In 2015, 35 percent of the population of Myanmar lived in poverty.
  7. Rwanda – Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s regime is often associated with maintaining peace and stability since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. However, critics of Kagame cite numerous human rights abuses and fear that the President is leading the country towards dictatorship. Still, Rwanda has taken major strides in addressing and decreasing the poverty rate. Between 2000 and 2010, the poverty rate declined by 23.8 percent. Recent economic growth within the country has been evenly distributed and pro-poor, with the majority of the Rwandan population benefiting from this economic growth.
  8. Sudan – President al-Bashir came to power in 1989 and reigned with a brutal dictatorship in Sudan until his exile in 2015. Poverty in Sudan is endemic. In 2018, 2.8 million were in need of humanitarian aid and 4.8 million were food insecure. Such high rates of poverty engender low literacy levels, crumbling infrastructure, little to no access to health services and high rates of food insecurity.
  9. Tunisia – President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali headed Tunisia’s dictatorship until 2011 when he was ousted by a people’s revolution. However, that stability was maintained by the military, which performed countless human rights abuses. However, poverty reduction strategies have rung successful as the poverty rate in Tunisia fell by 10 percent from 2000 to 2015.
  10. Zimbabwe – Robert Mugabe, who was the President of Zimbabwe for 37 years until 2017, had long been seen as a dictator and is attributed by The Economist as “ruining” Zimbabwe. Mugabe’s policies led to hyperinflation and an infrastructure system in disrepair. Build Zimbabwe Alliance claims that 72 percent of the population still lives under the poverty line. The main causes of poverty in Zimbabwe are the economic recession of 2008 and global warming’s impact on agriculture.

These 10 dictatorship countries have taken strides in increasing access to education, healthcare and economic growth. Such programs have been most successful in regards to pro-poor poverty reduction. The political outlook of some of these countries is improving, but there is still a lot of work needed to improve poverty in all of the countries listed.

– Sasha Kramer

Photo: Flickr

Marginalized Women in CambodiaThe opportunities for marginalized women in Cambodia, specifically in the workforce, are limited due to discrimination and traditional patriarchal attitudes that persist in the country. Women are less likely to receive an education than their male counterparts, putting them at an even greater disadvantage in the job market.

Problems Faced by Marginalized Women in Cambodia

So for girls leaving rural villages to try to earn money for themselves and their families, garment work and sex work are the only major employment possibilities. The two trades are often linked. For example, if a girl from the countryside migrates to the city to work in a garment factory, then loses her job because the manufacturer closes up and “runs away” to another location, she may be forced to work as a prostitute in order to survive. Meanwhile, prostitutes who are arrested are often re-trained to work in the garment industry, where they face similar abuses as they did as sex workers, including sexual, physical and verbal abuse.

It is difficult to change the status quo in a country where protest is basically illegal and very dangerous. Dissenters face arrest, torture and murder. Cambodia has been ruled by Prime Minister Hun Sen of the Cambodian People’s Party since 1985. He and the party have been criticized for an increasingly authoritarian rule and silencing any dissenters. Sen just won re-election on July 29 (after banning the opposition party) and will be in power for at least another five years.

United Sisterhood Alliance (Us)

However, this repression has not been totally successful in silencing activists. The United Sisterhood Alliance (Us) is an organization that has been helping marginalized women in Cambodia recognize their rights and makes their voices heard.

Us receives funding from organizations such as Oxfam, American Jewish World Service, and the Global Fund for Women. It consists of an alliance of four linked organizations:

  1. Social Action for Community and Development (SACD) which helps strengthen grassroots and women’s movements.
  2. The Messenger Band (MB) which is an all-girl band consisting of former garment workers who use music to bring awareness to the public.
  3. Women’s Network for Unity (WNU) enables sex workers to have greater agency in their lives.
  4. Worker Information Centers (WIC) are a series of drop-in centers across Phnom Pen that work to empower female garment workers through education, discussion groups and advocacy.

These are explained in more detail below.

Social Action for Community and Development

The SACD  is a resource organization whose end goal is a “critical people’s movement for social and economic justice, to call for an end of all forms of discrimination and to have equal access to fundamental human rights.” They work mostly with women in the sex and garment industries, but also with farmers and people of low-economic status, with a particular focus on improving the health care system for the most impoverished members of society. They host community forums and essay competitions to encourage public participation.

The Messenger Band

The Messenger Band is one of the Us’s most creative projects. The musical group was started by Vun Em, who moved to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, as a teenager to work in the garment industry. Like other women in that trade, she faced sexual harassment, low wages and long hours. These topics come up in the Messenger Band’s music. Among her well-known songs are The Tears of a Garment Worker and Suffer from Privatization. Em also records female garment workers telling their stories. These stories are then turned into songs, music videos and plays that help to educate the public about what marginalized women in Cambodia are facing.

Performing issue-based songs and plays is dangerous in Hun Sen’s Cambodia, but when confronted about her activism, “I tell police and soldiers I am just a musician,” Vun said. The group has, therefore, managed to avoid persecution.

Women’s Network for Unity

Women’s Network for Unity started in 2002 and consists of a network of 6,400 sex workers of various sexual and gender orientations. WNU fights for access to social services, liberation from discrimination and violence, and the empowerment of sex workers to make their voices heard and advocate for their rights.

In 2008, due to outside foreign pressure, the Cambodian government launched an anti-trafficking campaign with the supposed intention of saving victims of sex trafficking. However, members of the WNU say that the campaign has actually hurt the cause more than helping it.

Police go on raids where they arrest prostitutes and often berate them physically and verbally. They are then “encouraged” (with the only alternative being to sit in jail)  to be re-trained to work in the garment factories. But sex workers who go through the training say they received minimal instruction, had their pay docked during training and have also endured physical and sexual abuse at the factories. Many former sex-workers-turned-seamstresses have told interviewers that they actually preferred life on the streets to the terrible conditions and low pay in garment factories.

Worker Information Centers

WIC works primarily with young women in the Cambodian garment industry. While women working in the garment industry contribute substantially to the Cambodian economy, they have little voice or self-representation.  WIC wants to educate these young women about their rights and opportunities.

One of WIC’s most effective strategies are the drop-in centers operating in worker neighborhoods on the outskirts of Phnom Penh near garment factories. These drop-in centers provide legal assistance and train women to understand their legal rights both under Cambodian law and the regulations of the International Labor Organization.

Women are counseled in cases of domestic violence and offered access to peer networks. They join regular discussion groups, cooking classes and workshops to learn how to prevent conceiving children and seek help in cases of domestic violence and what kinds of herbs to use to treat illnesses that garment workers are prone to such as urinary tract infections, yeast infections and repetitive stress injuries.

WIC also promotes women’s leadership in garment unions. Their overall goal is to create an environment of greater gender equality in the labor movement and the Cambodian government.


These four social groups that make up the United Sisterhood Alliance are changing lives and creating community among the marginalized women in Cambodia. 

– Evann Orleck-Jetter
Photo: Flickr

Cambodia hairAccording to the World Bank, although the poverty rate in Cambodia dropped from 47.8 percent in 2007 to 13.5 percent in 2014, 4.5 million people are dangerously close to falling back into poverty. Luckily, Hair Aid, an Australian humanitarian group, is working to help decrease and end poverty in Cambodia.

Hair Aid sends teams of volunteer hairdressers to places like Cambodia in order to teach many of people living in poverty how to cut hair, giving them an opportunity to learn a skill and reduce poverty in that area. Not only does Hair Aid recruit volunteer hairdressers and send them to locations all over the world but they have also been recruiting volunteer hairdressers to work with other local community organizations that help those in need.

Hair Aid’s Currently Changing Cambodia with Hair Cuts

In August 2018, Hair Aid partnered with Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF) to teach a course in Steung Meanchey for five days. Hair Aid volunteers describe one function of this humanitarian group as a way to empower the Cambodian people, teaching them skills as a way to start micro businesses in order to support themselves and feed their families. It’s a way to end poverty in Cambodia by providing opportunities to help fight against this epidemic.

Hair Aid also provided essential tools for a popular CCF hairdresser, Granny Thim. This 73-year-old hairdresser used only a pair of kitchen scissors to cut hair within the community. Impressed by Thim, Hair Aid provided the correct and needed tools for her so she can continue her passion, work and skill for cutting hair.

A Hair Aid hairdresser from Brisbane, Bronwyn Ball, also volunteered in Cambodia to help fight against poverty, after seeing the impact hairdressing can have in creating new opportunities for many women and children who are in the sex trade industry.

According to the Australian Broadcast Corporation or ABC News, Ball states that it’s not just about teaching them how to cut hair for the purpose of creating a sustainable income, but it also “gives them hope.” Hair Aid not only gives these women and young girls a certificate and graduation ceremony but they also give them hope for the future.

She also praised Australian celebrity and hair salon owner Tabatha Coffey, star of her own American TV series called Tabatha Takes Over. Coffey has joined and supported Hair Aid, and since Coffey’s series is about helping reinvent failing hair salon businesses, she was able to put to use other skills than just hair cutting tips. She was able to provide business advice for the trainees, helping rid poverty in Cambodia by teaching the Cambodian people a trade and a way to sustain it.

Other Organizations Continue to Help Fight Poverty in Cambodia

While CCF and Hair Aid continue to offer support and training to the Cambodian people, other organizations are doing the same. Helping Hands, for example, aims to provide training opportunities for the people in the country,  building pride and dignity for many families and communities to end poverty in Cambodia.

Helping Hands works with village chiefs, community elders, parents and teachers with the purpose of changing priorities in the Cambodian people. This includes operating schools, providing breakfast, running agriculture training and educational programs and teaching mothers and caretakers about nutrition as well as household hygiene issues.

The Group for Research and Technology Exchanges (GRET) works to provide access to services and water systems, including access to piped water and sanitation, by creating programs to help improve conditions in the area. They also increase small-scale farmers’ income and protect the environment as well as indigenous communities, not only helping to find solutions to land conflicts but also improve crop yield and give access to agricultural water.

Hairdressing is an opportunity for the people of Cambodia to not only feed their families and themselves but also help end poverty in Cambodia. Hair Aid, CCF and other organizations are continuing to support and assist the Cambodian people, hoping to end the poverty epidemic and to improve conditions throughout the country.

– Charlene Frett
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Poverty in CambodiaCambodia has made phenomenal progress against poverty in the past few decades. The country surpassed the Millennium Development Goals and expanded their road system, irrigation and agriculture market. The following are the top 10 facts about poverty in Cambodia.

Top 10 Facts About Poverty in Cambodia

  1. Around 32 percent of children under 5 in Cambodia are stunted. Despite economic growth, Cambodia still struggles with healthcare and education. Decreasing nutritional deficiency in children is essential to mitigating child stunting.
  2. 12.3 million people, or around 70 percent of the population in Cambodia, do not have access to a piped water supply. Access to clean drinking water is crucial to alleviate disease in impoverished communities. Limiting the spread of disease is an important aspect of decreasing poverty in Cambodia.
  3. As of 2015, the life expectancy rate in Cambodia was reported at 68.4 years. This rate is significantly influenced by poverty. Lack of sanitation, education and healthcare are all symptoms of poverty that contribute to limited life expectancy.
  4. Approximately 90 percent of Cambodia’s impoverished population lives in rural areas. Much of them depend upon agriculture for their means of survival. This is good while crop prices are doing well, but these communities are also vulnerable to changes in weather and fluctuating crop yields.
  5. Two-thirds of the households in Cambodia experience seasonal food shortages every year. This is one example of a consequence of living in a rural area that depends on living off the land. Food supply can change with the seasons, leaving it as an unreliable source of sustenance.
  6. A history of political instability contributes to poverty in Cambodia. In the 1970’s, a Marxist leader named Pol Pot began the Khmer Rouge regime that ultimately led to the death of 2 million people in Cambodia. Pol Pot wanted Cambodia to be an agrarian country that did not depend on anything modern. As a result, Cambodia was surpassed by other countries in medical and technological advancements.
  7. There is limited access to quality healthcare, especially in rural areas. Cambodia is a mountainous region, and people living in rural communities are often isolated and have to travel a long way to get to a clinic. While the geography cannot be changed, expanding and opening more clinics would help to reach more people. Also, eliminating fees for services and supplies would help those who are not fortunate enough to afford them on their own, especially considering that healthcare in Cambodia is supposed to be free.
  8. The poverty rate has decreased from 47.8 percent in 2007 to 13.5 percent in 2014. This massive decrease was largely driven by growth in Cambodia’s rice market. Rising prices for rice and a better transportation system for the product has created a more prosperous economy for rural dwellers.
  9. Habitat for Humanity is working to rebuild slums in urban Cambodia. HFH is focusing on building durable homes with access to water and sanitation to replace the fragile shacks in which many impoverished Cambodians are living. They are also training families in HIV/AIDS prevention and financial literacy.
  10. The maternal mortality rate has decreased considerably in recent decades. In 2005, the ratio per 1,000 births was 472. In 2014, it had decreased to 170. Additionally, the under-five mortality rate declined from 83 per 1,000 in 2005 to 35 in 2014.

Cambodia has made great strides since the start of the century in working to alleviate poverty and recover from the Khmer Rouge regime. Some of these top 10 facts about poverty in Cambodia still paint a more negative picture, but others provide hope for the future. If the good fortune that has befallen the agriculture industry continues and more awareness can be raised on the conditions that need improvement in Cambodia, one can expect to continue to see growth in the coming years.

– Amelia Merchant

Photo: Flickr

Infrastructure in CambodiaInfrastructure relies on quality, sustainability and cost to determine project investment and execution. Infrastructure in Cambodia, a nation geographically located in Southeast Asia, has drastically advanced over the last few decades, but its overall success and development still lag behind its neighbors. Not without reason, Cambodia infrastructure falls below standard as a result of its nasty civil war, consequently coinciding with the conflict in Vietnam.

A Civil War Disruption

In the 1960s and 1970s, Cambodia was rife with disturbance and disorder. Not only had civil war erupted, but the nation also lurched into the conflict in Vietnam. A small country, the wrath of the communist organization Khmer Rouge effortlessly spread like wildfire. Additionally, civil war wreaked havoc at all ends of Cambodia.

Neighbors to the Vietnam War, Cambodia experienced upwards of 700,000 Cambodian deaths in the American effort to protect themselves from Vietnam.

By 1975, Khmer Rouge took reign in Cambodia, which was headed by a communist by the name of Pol Pot. Believing intellectuals would threaten the communist nation he envisioned, all hospitals, colleges and factories were shut down, and all lawyers, doctors and teachers were either killed or forcibly evacuated from their country.

The freedoms and rights of remaining laborers were rendered nonexistent for the mere fact that the individual intellectual’s aptitude to question authority and create rebellion could pose threat. A paranoid Pol Pot used genocide and exodus to abolish any and all uncertainty.

Existing Infrastructure in Cambodia

There is a limited train network in modern day Cambodia. Railways connecting the rural to the urban, as well as Cambodia to its neighbors, are absent. The country boasts 22,227 miles of highways, of which only 11.6 percent are paved. Moreover, much of the population, especially in rural areas, have no access to electricity, and Internet access in Cambodia is extremely expensive relative to local income levels.

On a brighter note, the network of roads in Cambodia is improving as the country is in the midst of hyper-focusing on road construction. The goal remains to connect the outside with the in, the rural with the urban.

Currently, stretches of road outside the capital city of Phnom Penh are being financed by both the national government and foreign aid. Yet, the quality and sustainability of projects get called into question when external aid is involved. For instance, maintenance of such infrastructure is challenging with limited resources, ultimately leading to deterioration after just a couple of years.

Japan and China Chime In

In efforts to uplift Asian neighbors, Japan and China seem to be some of Cambodia’s largest and most involved foreign aid donors and contributors. Leaders amongst these nations seemingly agree on an advanced push for “quality infrastructure” investment in Asia.

Recently, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a $110 billion injection into Asian infrastructure funding over five years. However, according to VOA News, “in order for Cambodia to retain its growth momentum, which over the past decade has seen the economy grow at an average of 7 percent annually, infrastructure investment will need to be somewhere between $12 billion and $16 billion between 2013 and 2022.”

Even if infrastructure development simply begins at road construction, representatives at the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in Cambodia state that such an improvement will link Cambodia to its neighboring countries, ultimately advancing trade and boosting foreign investment.

In terms of China, they provide an even more immediate fix for infrastructure than can Japan, but the quality is often called into question.

According to VOA News, director of the Center for Policy Studies in Cambodia, Chan Sophal, states that some donors “require a long procedure before we can get a loan and develop the infrastructure, so maybe there is a time/cost [decision] in there. But for other donors, like China, we get the funds quickly and can do it quickly, but there could be an issue with cost and quality.”

Australia, too?

Yes, Australia’s investments in infrastructure in Cambodia are committed to constructing, improving and maintaining rural roads as well as infrastructure damaged in recent natural disasters.

Australia has set precedent to infrastructure projects. Its vision for 2015-2020 includes $45.4 million and collaboration with companies to help connect households and families to resources, services, amenities and utilities.

Its vision for 2014-2020 includes $22.6 million and the Rural Roads Improvement Project Phase II. Co-financed by the Asian Development Bank, the Cambodian government, Korea, France, the Nordic Development Fund and the Strategic Climate Fund, this lofty project will guarantee rehabilitated roads to be climate-resilient and provide 365-day access to schools, hospitals and markets.

Nationwide Improvements

Not only will improved roads increase commuter mobility, but the enhanced quality is predicted to reduce the crash rate by 20 percent. Moreover, labor for improving such infrastructure in Cambodia promises to allocate at least 20 percent of unskilled jobs to women.

According to The Cambodia Daily, secretary-general for the Council for the Development of Cambodia, Sok Chenda, believes that Cambodia does not simply “want growth around Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville…We need to improve rural infrastructure too to create balanced development.”

Such a perspective is both necessary and promising, and the world waits with bated breath to see how Cambodia continues to improve.

– Mary Grace Miller
Photo: Unsplash