floods in southeast asiaTraditionally, the people of Southeast Asia benefitted from small floods that enriched the soil and prevented bigger floods. However, human interference with the rivers has disrupted their natural ecological processes and increased long-term damage. The disruption of crops, destruction of land and the displacement of people due to flooding increases poverty, especially during Southeast Asia’s current economic crisis. Mitigating steps are necessary to prevent the harmful effects of floods in Southeast Asia.

Destructive Floods in Vietnam

In October 2020, heavy rains in Vietnam caused massive flooding that destroyed homes, land and agriculture. A massive 178,000 homes were destroyed and nearly 700,000 livestock fell victim to the floodwaters.

Described by the president of the Vietnam Red Cross Society as “some of the worst we’ve seen in decades”, the floods in Vietnam have affected around five million Vietnamese people, which will push more people toward poverty.

Urban Flooding in Cambodia

In Cambodia, cities such as Phnom Penh suffer from the effects of urban flooding. Urban flooding is unpredictable and has wide-ranging consequences, from the disruption of everyday life to the spreading of waterborne diseases. As is commonly associated with climate change, the poor are hurt the most by urban flooding, for their ability to prepare and recover from damages is significantly weaker than other classes.

Roughly 250,000 people living in Phnom Penh are living in informal settlements and deal with inadequate waste management and infrastructure. Stagnant bacteria-ridden water from floods can linger for eight months after floods, spreading a host of waterborne diseases to those in proximity. Furthermore, as the economy is projected to decrease by 4% in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, poor people are increasingly likely to be trapped in cyclical poverty.

COVID-19 Stalls Decades of Growth

Despite decades of deadly civil war, Cambodia has made consistent progress towards reducing poverty before COVID-19. Over the past two decades, life expectancy has increased 10 years, poverty has been reduced from 47% to 13%, and growth in the country averaged out to 8%.  Additionally, the country lowered infant mortality rates from 10% to 2%.

While Cambodia’s COVID-19 cases are very low, with zero deaths thus far, the contraction of the global economic market has led to financial struggles for its citizens. The poverty rate is expected to balloon back up to 20% as a result of the economic crisis. The sectors hit hardest include the tourism and garment industries, where demand from its Western consumer base has drastically fallen.

Measures Against Floods in Southeast Asia

Although the nature of monsoons is unpredictable, the extent of the damage and destruction of floods can be mitigated. One recommendation is for Southeast Asian nations to commit to curbing emissions in order to combat climate change, which can increase the volatility of weather. Climate change reduces the ability for scientists to estimate long-term trends and build dams to control flood levels.

Additionally, the concept of leaving room for the river has become popular. This concept essentially promotes soft engineering, or removing human technology from rivers and allowing their ecological processes to be carried out naturally. Furthermore, allowing and managing small floods can benefit the land and those cultivating it while preventing big floods.

Though natural disasters cannot be controlled, efforts from organizations and governments may help the country’s resilience in the aftermath of floods in Southeast Asia. Such efforts can provide instant relief to affected people and may also help to alleviate overall poverty in the countries.

– Adrian Rufo
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Cambodia
Period poverty affects women and girls around the globe who cannot afford safe, sanitary products or are unable to receive information about safe period practices due to stigma. Poor period hygiene can lead to many health risks, such as urinary tract infections and reproductive infections. About 50% of the people in Cambodia are women, but people do not talk about period poverty as they deem it a taboo subject.

As of 2019, the poverty rate in Cambodia was 12.9%. However, this number is expected to increase to around 20% due to the coronavirus pandemic. This rise in the poverty rate will leave millions of women and girls vulnerable. Here are five facts regarding period poverty in Cambodia.

5 Facts About Period Poverty in Cambodia

  1. Girls are often in shock when they get their first period. Periods in Cambodia are known as “mokrodou” or the coming season. Notably, many public schools do not teach health education or menstrual hygiene. Cambodians view periods as dirty, which makes menstruation a taboo subject within the country. Consequently, mothers pass down information to daughters, which causes the following of cultural, instead of medical norms. Girls may not shower during their period to keep their skin clean. Parents also forbid girls from swimming for fear they will dirty the water. Finally, parents forbid these girls from eating certain foods believed to disrupt the menstrual cycle.
  2. Of schools in Cambodia, 50% do not have a reliable water supply. In addition to not having reliable water, 33% of schools do not have latrines. Period poverty in Cambodia greatly affects girls in school. Even if girls learn about sanitary period practices, it is difficult to maintain sanitation when schools do not have water or toilets. UNICEF has found that a lack of sanitation facilities can increase a girl’s likelihood to skip school during their period. While at school, girls do not have access to clean, sanitary pads or private facilities to properly dispose of products. Therefore, they prefer to use a toilet and have privacy at home.
  3. Most people cannot afford proper sanitary pads. The national poverty line is $0.93 per person, per day. In Cambodia, a pack of six sanitary pads costs around $3 and they are often difficult to find. Consequently, girls and women often use rags for days at a time instead of sanitary products. This, in turn, often leads to infections, which left untreated can cause permanent health problems, like infertility.
  4. Some schools have implemented menstruation education programs. Snor Khley primary school has recognized the issue of period poverty in Cambodia. It has begun to implement menstrual health management classes to help students better manage their periods. The class encourages both boys and girls to talk openly about menstrual health to destigmatize the subject. The school has also introduced new, hygienic school facilities for girls to practice safe hygiene. Additionally, the school distributes the “Growth and Changes Booklet,” which discusses puberty, to all students. The book has helped more than 122,000 students gain a better understanding of the physical and emotional changes that occur during puberty.
  5. Reusable Maxi Pads are emerging as sanitary alternatives. Sovanvotey Hok started a business called Green Lady, which makes environmentally friendly and affordable menstrual products. Apart from making affordable products, the business also employs local housewives to make the products. The reusable pads last up to three years and 1,850 pads have been sold. Green Lady’s product prevents the use of about 96,000 disposable pads, most of which contain noxious materials such as bleach.

An End to Period Poverty

Period poverty in Cambodia is a threat to women’s health as unsanitary period practices lead to infections. Period poverty also affects women’s ability to receive an education as many schools do not have the proper facilities to support menstruating girls. However, as the use of reusable period products becomes more mainstream and continued education and programs in schools develop — hopefully, the stigma surrounding periods will come to an end.

Rae Brozovich
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in Cambodia
A shocking 30% of the Cambodian population lives under the poverty line, affecting children most of all. The under-5 mortality rate in Cambodia sits at 25% due to the extreme poverty they live in. Here is some information about child poverty in Cambodia.

Malnutrition and Education

Children in Cambodia face malnutrition from conception due to many women experiencing malnourishment while pregnant. Malnutrition occurs when women do not have the right care during their pregnancy. Limited resources in Cambodia contribute to the issue of women not being able to obtain the necessary care to stay healthy during pregnancy. This absence of nutrition does not end once children are born either. If a baby does not receive post-natal care or proper nutrition in their first couple of months, it can lead to stunting in growth or even death.

On top of that, more than 10% of Cambodian children currently do not go to school. Instead of getting a substantial education, around 45% of children age 5 to 14 partake in labor instead. Though the situation appears dismal for the children of Cambodia, people across the globe are working on solving common problems circling child poverty in Cambodia.

Human Trafficking

Human trafficking has intimate ties to poverty in Cambodia. The four main factors that lead to human trafficking today include mass displacement, conflict, extreme poverty and lack of access to education and jobs. It is extremely common for parents to sell their children to human traffickers or for traffickers to lure children with the prospect of a legitimate job, only for them to enter prostitution. When short on money to provide for their families, parents may sell their daughters’ virginity, as it can give them up to 20 times their household average income a week.

The Rapha House is an organization dedicated to rehabilitating young girls after rescuing them from human trafficking. It started in 2003 after the founder spoke to Cambodian leaders about the threat of human trafficking to Cambodian girls. The organization opened two houses in Cambodia: Battambang and Siem Rep. Each aftercare campus gives child survivors of slavery and sexual exploitation the chance to reclaim their lost childhood. Survivors are treated with love and value instead of abuse and neglect. Volunteers at the houses teach morals and self-love to these girls daily, in hopes of healing them from their trauma.

Educating Children

Though the initial percentages of student enrollment in Cambodia were low, presence in the classroom is rising significantly. The number of children enrolling in primary education increased to over 97% during the 2017-2018 school year. Enrollment had limitations prior due to the need for manual labor in family businesses. Children worked with, or for, their parents to help earn a livable income.

ChildFund has been working on improving education in Cambodia through fundraising since 2007 and has no plans to stop any time soon. Its official website says that helping children living in poverty fulfill their potential through education is one of its top priorities in the country of Cambodia. The funds raised go directly to helping eliminate child poverty in Cambodia allowing donors to sponsor a child and help pay for their education. Education is key in ending the cycle of poverty. Once people learn essential skills, they can go on to get better jobs and make more money.

Helping the Hungry

The national prevalence of under-5 stunting is 32.4%, which is greater than the developing country average of 25% according to the Global Nutrition Report. Cambodia also struggles with an under-5 wasting prevalence of 9.8%, which surpasses the normal developing country average significantly. Malnutrition in children and their mothers during pregnancy causes this stunting. Child poverty in Cambodia often occurs when children lack the proper amount of food per day to remain healthy. If their bodies have no nutrition, they will not have the energy to grow, causing growth stunts.

Action Against Hunger, an activist group aiming to improve all-around nutrition on a global level, has been taking strides to lower Cambodia’s under-5 statistics. Over the course of 2019, the organization created 5,310 community groups focused on increasing food security through rice banks, farming and home gardens. It also helped 7,139 people reach nutrition and health programs and 6,278 people gain access to food security programs. Action Against Hunger says that it has helped 15,744 people total in Cambodia during 2019.

Alleviating child poverty in Cambodia requires more work, but these organizations show that it is possible to improve the situation. Rapha House, ChildFund and Action Against Hunger are all taking huge steps to help eliminate child poverty in Cambodia whether it be through donations, fieldwork or volunteering.

– Kendall Little
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in CambodiaOfficially, Cambodia is a democratic nation with legislation in place to protect women from domestic violence and trafficking. Cambodia’s economic development and restructuring of its government that creates such protections for women cannot be ignored considering its very recent history of a devastating genocide that destroyed almost all state and private institutions. Despite this transformation and progress for Cambodian women, they still do not receive the same rights, access and protections as their male counterparts. Here are seven of the most important things to know about the current state of women’s rights in Cambodia.

7 Things to Know about Women’s Rights in Cambodia

  1. The Positives: The literacy rate for adult women increased from 57% to 75% between 1998 and 2015. Women also own 61% of businesses in Cambodia even though they make up only about 51% of the population.

  2. Representation: The percentage of women in politics has increased dramatically since Cambodia rebuilt itself in the 1990s, but women still hold less than 20% of positions. Women only make up about 14% of Cambodia’s judges and 20% of its lawyers.

  3. Sex Trafficking: A 2018 Global slavery index reported that Cambodia has over 260,000 victims of human and sex trafficking. The capital city of Phnom Penh is home to almost 20,000 prostitutes, many of whom are underage. One rescue organization claims that 40% of victims they worked with were minors. Virginity is sold for $800, which is more than 20 times the weekly wage, according to UNICEF, leaving poor families with impossible choices. Lack of enforcement for this practice is suspected to be a result of law enforcement’s connections with brothels.

  4. Domestic Violence: According to U.N. reports, one in five women ages 15 to 49 in Cambodia experiences physical violence. Migrant workers and sex workers are especially vulnerable to gender-based violence. Women with disabilities are also more at risk of emotional, physical and sexual violence. Despite this systemic issue, one national human rights group reported in 2017 that because domestic violence isn’t considered a criminal offense in many Cambodian courts most women drop complaints or do not press charges at all. From 2014 to 2016 only about 20% of national domestic violence cases were being monitored. Also, although acid attacks are illegal now, Cambodian women still fall victim annually and the Human Rights Watch calls for more protections.

  5. The Chbap Srey: The “law for women” or a set of rules taught to girls by their female family members, or even in schools, is based on a poem by male poet Krom Ngoy that has been recited for hundreds of years. The poem, which includes instructions for how to respect one’s husband and places boys’ education over girls’, is still regarded as the basic foundation of gender roles in Cambodia. Until 2007 it was part of the national curriculum, but many schools, having only removed some of the rules, continue to teach it to boys and girls. One critical aspect of this rulebook is it encourages women to not speak about the inner workings of a home and a marriage to the outside world. Both the U.N. and other women’s’ rights groups have spoken out against the Chbap Srey for perpetrating domestic violence.

  6.  The Law on Public Order: In 2019 a national legislation draft was introduced that could allow police to fine or arrest women who are dressed “inappropriately” in public spaces. The law would police how modest or “see-through” women’s’ clothes are and prevent men from going merely without a shirt. The law is responding to state officials complaining that women are using sexy clothes to sell products online. The prime minister said this goes against traditional Cambodian values and traditions. One minister spoke in favor of the legislature to media outlets and claimed that “it is good to wear something no shorter than the middle of the thigh” and that the law is “not entirely a matter of public order, it’s a matter of tradition and custom”. While provincial officials have responded with support for this law, women’s rights groups vehemently reject it. They challenge the oppressive aspects of traditional dress and culture and argue that legalizing the policing of women’s outfits will normalizing the blaming of domestic and sexual violence victims rather than the perpetrators.

As Cambodia makes major development strides and women contribute to its emerging economy and reject their imposed inferiority, they face pushback from a culture grappling with its own traditions. A lack of support and transparency also prevents women from speaking out about abuse. But more and more women are being educated and fighting for each other each year. Representation in politics for Cambodian women is higher than ever. Alongside international organizations, they are working to make women’s rights in Cambodia a priority and end the predatory systems of sex trafficking.

– Elizabeth Stankovits
Photo: Flickr

Women Leaders in Cambodia
Cambodia is a Southeastern Asian country bordering Laos and Thailand with a population of over 16 million. The people of Cambodia have struggled in recovering from immense losses caused by the rule of the Khmer Rouge government from 1975-1979. Despite its challenges, Cambodia has made incredible strides in decreasing poverty rates and enhancing its economy. From 2007-2014, the percentage of the population living under the national poverty line decreased by 34.3%. Despite the country’s successes, the people of Cambodia realize they must unite and put in their best efforts to achieve national prosperity. Behind the scenes, remarkable women leaders in Cambodia are continuing their country’s fight against poverty.

Khong Sokin and Oxfam America

Rural areas in Cambodia account for the majority of populations living in the highest rates of poverty. One of these areas is near the Mekong River in Rogniev Island, where two long-time friends and neighbors are making a difference in their community. In 2019, Chris, an Oxfam America member, interviewed the two women – Tep Srey Neang and Khong Sokin. Srey Neang leads a youth group with the primary goal of promoting efficient utilization of her community’s limited natural resources. By supporting decent management of their resources, the farming and fishing industry in her neighboring areas will greatly improve. With success, Neang and her group can boost the socioeconomic status of families and the agriculture industry of the rural areas surrounding the Mekong River.

Khong Sokin has worked closely with Oxfam America, a nonprofit organization with the goal of alleviating global poverty. Together, they have aided women in Sokin’s surrounding areas by providing educational sessions on cultivation and agriculture. Sokin is aware agricultural knowledge is valuable for Cambodia’s economy and for the prosperity of their future generations. Furthermore, Oxfam and Sokin have empowered the women of their community to find their voices and to speak out, and the men are listening. Members of the community have recognized they could not fully thrive without supporting their women as well. This inclusivity has led to a female holding the position of the village assistant chief and four other female members on the community fishery committee. Srey Neang and Khong Sokin are just two fine examples of women leaders in Cambodia cultivating the future for their country.

Women-Led Organization in Battambang and Siem Reap

In the Battambang and Siem Reap provinces in Cambodia, there is a women-led organization supporting the most impoverished, vulnerable women across five rural districts. The program received support from the UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality and started in 2016. The local NGO offers valuable training sessions for women to gain skills in agricultural techniques. For example, members have learned how to use non-chemical fertilizers, raise chickens and pigs, properly grow vegetables and use other farming techniques. As of 2017, out of the 100 women that have worked with the organization, about a third increased their incomes by 50%. In addition to personal financial benefits, the organization is empowering and supporting women, which promotes Cambodia’s resources and enhances the country’s economy.

Vannary San and Lotus Silk

Expanding outside of the farming sphere, Vannary San is a Cambodian fashion designer and the founder of the company Lotus Silk. After the Khmer Rouge, the culture’s fine silk industry was almost entirely destroyed. Vannary has worked towards reintroducing and promoting Cambodia’s silk, while also supporting impoverished communities in Cambodia. In every single step of production, Vannary ensures to support the most marginalized women of Cambodia. She supports rural Cambodian silk farmers by utilizing their silk for her clothing production. Vannary is committed to employing only impoverished Cambodian women and provides benefits, accommodations, decent working hours and safe working conditions. In addition, Vannary offers internships for local college students and encourages student members of Global Children Cambodia to apply for jobs with her company. Vannary San has single-handedly revived Cambodia’s silk culture and has inspired others to become women leaders in Cambodia through her preservation and entrepreneurship.

These are only a few stories of the amazing work several women in Cambodia are accomplishing. It is important to celebrate these stories and to acknowledge that there are people quietly working in the background to help others. Cambodia has faced major turmoil and devastation, but these women provide hope and inspiration for the country’s future. Not only are they fighting poverty and improving the economy, but they are also empowering people to join women leaders in Cambodia.

– Bolorzul Dorjsuren
Photo: Flickr

jewelry rebuilds economy in cambodiaCambodian artisans are turning the same brass once used to murder into a symbol of peace and resilience, a stand against the violence that once overtook their country. Artisanry and design have deep roots in Cambodian history. However, the Khmer Rouge destroyed centuries of creative artifacts and left Cambodia’s economy in shambles. Cambodia is now littered with bombshell casings from the Khmer Rouge-led Cambodian genocide, the Vietnam War and a bombing ordered by former U.S. president Richard Nixon. But jewelers are reclaiming their nation through craft, turning these casings into beautiful pieces of jewelry as a stand against the violence that overtook their country. Their jewelry rebuilds the economy in Cambodia and reduces poverty along with it.

What Was the Cambodian Genocide?

April 17, 1975 marks the dark day that Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge began destroying the Cambodian people. Pot’s goal was to rebuild Cambodia in the image of Mao’s communist model in China. However, this led to the murder of an estimated two to three million people in the historic Killing Fields. Between the murders and thousands of starvation deaths, 25% of the Cambodian population died in three years.

This loss devastated the country’s creativity culture, leaving a mere 10% of artists alive. The Khmer Rouge also banned all creative art forms that did not politically benefit them. In addition, the regime destroyed all of Cambodia’s cultural traditions. In order to rebuild the country, its people have looked to the arts.

Rajana Association of Cambodia: Jewelry Rebuilds the Economy in Cambodia

Local jewelers collect pieces of mines, bombs and bullets and upcycle them into beautifully cut brass rings, necklaces and bracelets. They also work with a Cambodian organization that trains people how to properly remove old landmines so that the jewelers can use the material. Rajana jewelers pride themselves on preserving Cambodian style and culture by staying away from Western designs. This not only demonstrates the artisans’ pride in their country’s culture but also their attempt to replenish the art destroyed by the Khmer Rouge.

The Rajana Association of Cambodia began in 1995 as a project under a UK-based NGO, Cambodia Action, which employed young Cambodian refugees at a camp in Thailand. It became its own independent company in 2003 and has since grown into a prominent and successful organization in Cambodia and worldwide. As such, its jewelry rebuilds the economy in Cambodia while preserving its culture.

By successfully expanding their company, the leaders of Rajana have also transformed the lives of their jeweler partners. With an outlet to work from home, the artisans make a living wage while caring for their families. Rajana also established several shops across the country solely run by Cambodian staff in order to sell the products. This income has helped send children to school, provide food for their families and purchase transportation.

Artisans Help Economies Grow

Artisan work has played a crucial role in opening the economy in post-conflict Cambodia to the global market. This rise in jewelry work has not only helped revive Cambodian tradition but also promoted commerce, trade and employment. Cambodia’s GDP has grown to $27 billion in 2019 from $588 million just before in the genocide in 1974. Jewelry manufacturing has contributed $4.8 million to the country’s GDP and employed over 3,500 people, making it a leading factor in the economy’s sustainable development. What began as a way to revive cultural traditions after the genocide has proven to be a driving component in changing the course of Cambodia’s history: the country’s poverty rate has continued to fall as employment rates rise, and is now at about 13% as of 2014 compared to almost 50% in 2007. Thus, jewelry both rebuilds the economy in Cambodia and reduces the poverty its citizens face.

Beautiful Jewelry Reduces Poverty

Several fair trade shops sell Rajana products online, including Ten Thousand Villages and Oxfam. These shops pay their artisans fair prices for their products, thus helping them establish better lives for themselves and their families. It is incredibly important to support international artisans. This fair trade keeps not only their economies alive but also their culture and history. In all, this jewelry rebuilds the economy in Cambodia through cultural preservation, resilience and creativity.

– Stephanie Russo
Photo: Flickr

Cricket Farming
Vendors in bustling Cambodian markets often advertise their wares including dragonfruit, vegetables, freshwater fish and crickets. Since the 1970s, crickets have evolved from being a nutritious but cheap “hunger food” to a Cambodian diet staple. Cambodia traditionally suffers from high levels of malnutrition, with almost 80% of children lacking sufficient nutrients. However, as a result of cricket farming, crickets offer a surprising remedy containing protein, amino acids and micronutrients in each crunchy bite.

The Steps to Farming Crickets

Cricket farms consist of large concrete block pens. They contain large populations of crickets and even produce about 25 to 30 kilograms of insects per cell. Depending on farm size, there can be as many as 100 block pens on one farm. Pens are usually covered with mosquito netting to contain and protect the insect livestock. Inside the cells is the cricket’s bedding of layered rice husks or egg cartons.

The most expensive cost of cricket farming is feed. Crickets require high protein animal feed, commonly chicken feed. However, before harvesting the crickets, their diet changes from feed to fruits and vegetables. This is a less expensive feeding option and also improves the taste of the insects.

The breeding process within the pens is also relatively simple. As soon as the male crickets can stridulate, or make the characteristic chirp associated with the insect, they can breed. Cricket farmers then place bowls of sandy mixtures in the pen where females lay their eggs. Farmers patiently wait for one to two weeks to give females adequate time to lay their eggs before removing the bowls and transferring them to a new pen. They wait for the crickets to hatch and mature, which takes about 45 days, before starting the process over again. Cricket farming is a simple process with low overhead costs. Farmers can begin production with limited resources and grow from their profits.

Angka Changrit Kampuchea

Angka Changrit Kampuchea (ACK), which translates to Cambodian Cricket Farming Organization, sees cricket farming as a crucial solution to Cambodia’s poverty and hunger problems. ACK’s headquarters are in Cambodia’s capital, where they support micro livestock farmers in need. The organization provides education about insect agriculture. It also provides supplies to help farmers start insect herds.

Giving struggling farmers the tools and knowledge to farm crickets provides two crucial elements to the end of their poverty. These elements are sustainable food and sustainable income. The farmers can feed their families with their livestock and then sell the remaining product for profit. Furthermore, ACK recognizes the environmental benefits of cricket farming. It requires fewer resources, takes up less space, and emits fewer greenhouse gases than other protein production like poultry.

A Tasty Solution

To make fried crickets, one needs a tablespoon of salt, two tablespoons of sugar and some umami followed by a dash of water. Then, add flour and mix to create a frying batter. Dip the crickets in the batter then throw them in the frying pan to sizzle. The resulting cricket retains its crunchy shell with a smooth texture on the inside. Fried crickets line the streets of Cambodian markets and offer the perfect protein to any dish. The food provides more than just taste. It is stuffed with nutrients to improve the health of Cambodia’s malnourished population and provides employment and income to impoverished farmers. The six-legged creatures are becoming the new face of poverty reduction in the nation.

– Abigail Gray
Photo: Wikipedia

Cambodian art
Worldwide, COVID-19 has impacted many countries and peoples’ daily lives. While not all countries have been affected in the same manner due to their respective population demographics, economies, etc. — places with a contained outbreak are far from lucky. As of the beginning of July 2020, Cambodia has had 141 confirmed cases of the new virus and zero deaths; possessing one of the world’s most desirable records for disease containment. However, citizens canceled many gatherings and traditions due to the constant spread of the new virus, in order to stave off the increasing numbers of infected. In a country filled with culture and art, postponing annual festivals poses a significant threat to society — both from an emotional and economic standpoint. As a result, many long-standing art troupes are facing closures and this, in turn, is negatively affecting the Cambodian art industry.

A Brief History

In the past, Cambodia faced a difficult battle with its culture. The country underwent a prolonged civil war and genocidal regime, forcing many traditional forms of Cambodian culture to the brink of vanishing. In addition to the political stress on the art industry, many artists faced financial struggles and gave up their passions in return for a stable outcome. Although the Cambodian arts encountered numerous obstacles, certain traditions have outlasted these struggles. Albeit, the impact of COVID-19 stands to be the most difficult obstacle for these troupes yet.

Kok Thlok Association of Artists

One of the most popular forms of Cambodian art is through traditional shadow puppet plays. Kok Thlok Association of Artists is a group of artists that includes a majority of French nationals performing this art form. Since March of 2019, this troupe has been entertaining the public by putting on shadow puppet plays (also known as a Sbek Touch) and Yike (a Cambodian art form of Khmer musical theatre). They perform these traditional art forms to showcase and instill their culture into the younger generation and earn income for the artists. With theatre being their primary source of income and the new virus spreading, no performances occur, which in turn prevents these artists from earning their wages.

A Drastic Decrease in Income

Soon after the discovery of Cambodia’s first COVID-19 case in January of 2020, the government ordered the temporary shutdown of places such as schools, museums and cinemas. The government canceled public events, including art performances and heavily encouraged people to refrain from gathering in crowds. As a result, the Kok Thlok Association of Artists was unable to perform and gain income. With this drastic decrease in income, these artists are finding it difficult to feed themselves and pay for expenses like rent. Even in these severe circumstances, however, the association is still committed to preserving the art form.

Siem Reap’s Phare Cambodian Circus

In addition to collecting revenue from Cambodian residents, many art performances have a large following of tourists. Due to the new virus, tourism has halted — which has consequently impacted many other industries and companies as well. The Siem Reap’s Phare Cambodian circus is popular for its ability to combine the Cambodian art of storytelling effectively and artistically with dance, music and other forms of performing arts; the circus is a very popular tourist attraction. With almost no tourist arrivals, establishments like the Phare circus have been deeply affected. The effects of COVID-19 will have a long-lasting impact on the economy and the tourism industry, meaning that entertainers and artists will remain in this situation for some time.

With most of the artists’ primary and part-time jobs lost, many participants are attempting to stay above the poverty line by moving to cheaper areas and by selling goods. In addition to their dire circumstances, there is the aforementioned cultural battle in Cambodia which leaves local residents unable or unwilling to provide monetary support. Apart from monetary issues, these performances helped artists from challenging backgrounds to put aside their problems and focus on the art form. Now, with their primary outlet of expression gone, many artists are facing both financial and emotional problems.

An Adaptive Look to the Future

While these artists are managing to barely stay afloat, many theatres are unable to do so. The long-standing Sovanna Phum Theatre — a shadow puppet theatre that blends puppetry with traditional Khmer dance — closed down in May 2020. However, the ministry provides alternate ways for these artists to make money, e.g. through media outlets and other online platforms. In fact, The Sovanna Phum Theatre relocated to the School of Fine Arts. Although their performances are online and difficult for the performers to adjust to — the government has provided them with a temporary solution. It is unknown how long this solution will last, but the Cambodian artists hope for the best and pray that COVID-19 does not hurt their chances of performing in the future.

– Aditi Prasad
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Disability and Poverty in Cambodia
Located in Southeast Asia, Cambodia is a country with a troubled recent history. Just 50 years ago this small nation experienced a genocide estimated to have killed a quarter of its population. Neither the country nor its people emerged unscathed. Cambodia’s high poverty rate, poor healthcare infrastructure and landmine-laden countryside have spelled significant consequences for Cambodia’s disabled population. In order to better understand this issue, it’s essential to examine the intersection of disability and poverty in Cambodia.

Disability and Poverty in Cambodia

In general, individuals with disabilities are disproportionately likely to live in poverty. There are various reasons for this, the most significant a decreased earning capacity for this community. Another reason is the higher costs associated with achieving the same standard of living as non-disabled persons. In addition, the former problem is largely due to unequal access to education and discriminatory hiring practices. For example, practices like disability-specific expenses, medication and assistive devices.

In Cambodia, the rate of poverty among households with at least one disabled member is 18%. However, this number doesn’t account for the additional costs associated with disability. The incorporation of which experts say raises the rate to 34%. This is more than double the national rate of 13.5%. Furthermore, it’s estimated that only 44% of children with disabilities have completed primary school in Cambodia, compared to 73% of their non-disabled counterparts. This gap only widens as the level of education increases. Moreover, in 2010, the Cambodian government mandated that the workforce of public institutions should include 2% of disabled persons by 2013. However, even as late as 2016, this figure had only reached 1.3%.

Prevalence of Disability in Cambodia

Population surveys in Cambodia over the past decade have estimated the percent of disabled persons in the country to range from 2% to 9.5%. This can be compared with the rate of disability of the world at large, which the World Health Organization estimates to be 15%. Moreover, the variance in the percentages for Cambodia is largely due to differences in how disability is defined for census and data-gathering purposes. In general, it is difficult to acquire accurate population data in developing countries. Therefore, the figures that emerge are the best estimate. Data on disability rates among Cambodian children are somewhat more reliable. A study by UNICEF found that approximately 10% of children in the country have some form of disability, with speech and cognitive impairments being among the most common.

Factors Contributing to Prevalence

The conditions created by poverty and accidental landmine explosions are some of the most significant factors contributing to Cambodia’s disability rate. Poverty can be as much a determining factor of disability as a repercussion of it. Studies by the World Health Organization shows a strong relationship between malnutrition – a common consequence of poverty – and both disability and developmental delays. Given that one in three children in Cambodia is malnourished, the country’s high rate of childhood disability is unfortunately unsurprising. Furthermore, Cambodia has made truly remarkable strides in clearing the landmines that once littered its countryside. However, accidental detonations of these buried explosives have resulted in over 45,000 injuries and amputations in the years following 1980. Consequently, Cambodia has the highest number of amputees per capita in the world.

Obstacles to Improvement

Many of these obstacles seem to fall under one of two categories: physical infrastructure and policy enforcement. Even in urban centers, there are few physical accommodations for disabled people. Cambodia doesn’t provide accessibility measures for its most vulnerable citizens, from wheelchair ramps to auditory crosswalk signals. In the capital city of Phnom Penh, for example, there are reportedly only 15 public restrooms that are disability-friendly. Additionally, public transportation is difficult to use – if not actively dangerous – for disabled Cambodians. This is due to limited adherence to traffic laws and the poor state of public roads.

Interestingly, a lack of legislation concerning the rights of disabled Cambodians isn’t among the country’s problems. The government of Cambodia has put out numerous mandates and decrees that help citizens with disabilities. This covers everything from the monthly pension that citizens with disabilities are due, to penalties for businesses that don’t hire enough disabled individuals. The problem is that these laws go largely unenforced. A study found that only 4% of disabled Cambodians received their government benefits. In addition, employees of the government agencies meant to enforce certain regulations don’t even know how to file a claim against violators.

Looking to the Future

Although there’s certainly much progress to be made, a number of NGOs and non-profits work to solve the issue of disability and poverty in Cambodia. The NGOs and non-profits are working to better the living standards and lives of Cambodians with disabilities. One, in particular, doing extraordinary work is the Phnom Penh Center for Independent Living (PPCIL).

In 2009, Cambodians with disabilities founded this NGO. This organization seeks to empower people with severe disabilities. In addition, PPCIL wants to empower people with disabilities to live independently by providing basic education and vocational training. It also assists in identifying housing units and employment opportunities with access for the disabled. The PPCIL promotes the rights of disabled Cambodians. In addition, the NGO works to provide them with the equipment, training and personal assistance they need to live independently and with dignity. The center’s most recent project is collecting donated masks and other protective-wear for members of its community in response to COVID-19.

The Cambodian government recently released a National Disability Strategic Plan for 2019-2023. This plan intends to further address such issues as those covered in this article. This plan will improve livelihoods for Cambodia’s disabled community.

Gennaveve Brizendine
Photo: Flickr

asian development bankThe Asian Development Bank (ADB), which was established in 1966, attempts to alleviate poverty in Asia by funding numerous welfare projects in the region. Many Asian countries are members of ADB, which provides them with loans and monetary assistance, as well as providing general technical help with different projects. ADB aims to achieve “a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific.” Here are four countries that ADB has benefited positively.

4 Countries the Asian Development Bank Has Helped

  1. China: The People’s Republic of China is a country that has experienced uneven development in the past century. Major cities are urbanized, while rural areas remain in extreme poverty. ADB has funded and overseen numerous projects to attempt to lift these areas out of poverty and improve the standard of living in the country. One project in Yunnan, for example, pays and trains women to maintain around 5,000 kilometers of rural roads. This offers economic opportunities to rural women while facilitating more transportation between rural towns. Another project funded the purchase of 1,860 clean buses to combat China’s pollution problem.
  2. Cambodia: While Cambodia has undergone positive development in recent years, poverty still exists in the country, and many of its residents live in adverse conditions. In 2017, for example, 21% of the Cambodian population did not have access to clean water. The Asian Development Bank has encouraged sustainable development in Cambodia through many large-scale projects. In 2003, the bank allotted $15.6 million to Cambodia as part of a project to attract tourists and benefit local economies. More recently, ADB approved a loan of $250 million to support Cambodia’s economy through the COVID-19 pandemic.
  3. Thailand: In recent years, poverty has unfortunately increased in Thailand, with the poverty rate growing from 7.8% in 2015 to 9.8% in 2018. According to the World Bank, this has been due to several “economic and environmental challenges,” particularly because individual Thai households are highly susceptible to variable economic conditions. Projects by ADB attempt to combat this—one 2017 program introduced around 500 farmers to the organic farming market. This connected them to a greater, more profitable market in order to attain a self-sufficient income. In 2012, a solar power plant funded by ADB was also completed, which generated enough power to provide clean electricity to 70,000 households. The plant also helps to keep greenhouse gases from being released into the atmosphere.
  4. Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka is a relatively small country, with a population of around 22 million. In 2016, 4.1% of the population was below the national poverty line. ADB has mainly funded rural development projects in Sri Lanka but has also focused on social justice and creating better living conditions for Sri Lankan residents. From 2000 to 2018, ADB helped connect more than 200,000 households to electricity and built or upgraded just under 4,000 kilometers of roads. The Asian Development Bank has also funded support for around one million residents affected by the Sri Lankan Civil War, which lasted from 1983 to 2009.

Since its conception, ADB has made incredible progress in fighting poverty and assisting development in Asia. In 2019 alone, ADB committed $21.64 billion in loans, grants and other investments to various countries and provided $237 million in technical assistance. Still, much poverty remains to be fought—while Asian countries have experienced massive development in the 21st century, many rural areas have been left behind. Poverty remains a pervasive issue in Asia. The Asian Development Bank has changed the lives of many Asian residents, but much remains to be done.

– Maggie Sun
Photo: Flickr