Faces of Cambodia: Phnom Penh

By Luka D’Amato

Welcome to Faces of Cambodia, a series in which we show you the faces of Cambodians dedicated to overcoming adversity. We will be sharing with you how others are fighting towards a better future for Cambodia, and finding happiness in their battle.

Many people in Phnom Penh are confronted by disadvantages that they must combat every day. They face economic hardships and lack access to valuable social services, such as education and health care. Many Cambodians have migrated to Phnom Penh looking for work and a better life, however, in the process, they are left on society’s fringes. Issues like these impact children and adolescents the most. This week, we present the faces of Phnom Penh’s youth that are defying the odds, working to improve their lives and the lives of others.

Phorn Sreymao

© UNICEF Cambodia/2016/Lim Sokchanlina

Say hello to Phorn Sreymao, an outstanding student. For most of her life, Sreymao’s family struggled to send her to school because they could not always afford to buy her school supplies and uniform. Now, through hard work, Sreymao earned a life changing government scholarship, made possible by a programme called the Capacity Development Partnership Fund (CDPF). The scholarship does not pay for everything, but it provides students in need with a small amount of money to attend school, giving them the opportunities they deserve.

“I was very happy to get the scholarship because now I have enough money to study and to buy a uniform, books, pens and a bag,” Sreymao said. “…It eases the money problems which caused me so much trouble before,” she added.

The scholarship does not fix all of her problems, but it gives her access to education. In fact, it even encourages Sreymao, and others like her, to study hard and succeed in school. “She always goes to school and studies hard, even if we are poor and don’t have enough food to eat sometimes,” Sreymao’s mother said.

A Boy from Svay Pak Village Receiving A Deworming Tablet

© UNICEF Cambodia/2017/Fani Llaurado

Above, a boy in an urban settlement happily takes a pill to help fight worms in his stomach. In Svay Pak Village, an overcrowded settlement just north of Phnom Penh, diarrhoea, pneumonia, dengue fever, skin infections, and malnutrition are some challenges which children might find themselves facing. Due to the settlement’s informal status, there are little public services available. The fact that many residents are migrants only deepens the community’s exclusion. This lack of support leaves residents marginalized, regularly exposed to dangerous, unsanitary conditions. Support in Phnom Penh’s settlement communities are vital to their residents’ health. UNICEF is supporting local health authorities to provide and improve services, such as vaccinations to life threatening illnesses and education about proper nutrition. These efforts improve lives, yet more work must be done to ensure that these communities are brought into the societal fold, and can have better access to critical services, like clean drinking water and health care. Until then, boys like this one put a smile on their face while fighting for their health on a daily basis.

Yeang Prathna

© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Bona K

Meet Yeang Prathna, a young Cambodian dedicated to protecting children from violence and helping them access education. While attending university, Prathna was a member of a UNICEF-supported Youth Representative group, giving voice to many unheard youth. Working with friends, he started his own nonprofit organization, Joy Cambodia, focusing on children’s education in rural areas.

“I am also a child from a rural area. My family were farmers, so I know the feeling. If children do not get an education, they can’t improve their family situation,” Prathna said.

Prathna is a passionate young man, using his care to help children and Cambodia, “…violence against children is still a big concern. I want to see violence reducing, children should not have to suffer. Ending violence is not just for experts or older people. It’s important to get youth input to be more effective.” Prathna is an example of a dedicated young man, using innovative ideas to not only better his own life, but the lives of those around him.

“Opportunities don’t always come to you. You have to go to it. Cambodia is a country with a young population and young people have big potential,” Prathna said, advising young Cambodians.

Young Boy From Phum 5 village, South of Phnom Penh

© UNICEF Cambodia/2016/Antoine Raab

Meet a young resident of Phum 5 village in South Phnom Penh, a poor community near Beong Tra Baek river. The river carries all the waste and dirty water from the city, with most residents of the neighborhood living in stilted houses constructed over the river. This child is just one beneficiary of health and nutrition screenings supported by UNICEF. More than one-third of the children under age five in Cambodia’s urban, poor communities are underweight. These screenings allow for health workers to ensure that malnourished children receive the care they need and have the right to. After testing, the children are given nutrient rich biscuits.

“I see it as an act of caring. I feel like people like us, living in this area, haven’t been forgotten,” said the child’s mother.

The screenings, conducted by the Ministry of Health with support from UNICEF, are a critical step to reducing malnutrition and the accompanying side effects including impaired physical and cognitive growth. Despite visible progress, improving the health of children in urban poor is still an uphill battle, a battle that we all must continue to fight.