To our wonderful community,
In March I wrote to you to announce Human and Hope Association’s temporary closure, as directed by the Ministry of Youth, Education and Sport (MoEYS).
MoEYS have now decided to extend the suspension of education services in Cambodia until the new public school year, which is in October. This is in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. We support this decision, as we know our country cannot handle the impact of this pandemic.
However, we are deeply concerned for our community members. Many have lost their jobs and are struggling to survive. With our students not able to attend public school or their supplementary classes at Human and Hope Association, their learning will be affected. We are worried that many won’t be returning to school come October, and their futures will be devastatingly impacted.
Our students don’t have access to computers to undertake online learning. Their public school classes will be broadcast via television, but not everyone has a television or can afford to keep their electricity on, if they have electricity in the first place.
We need to take care of everyone’s safety whilst also protecting our future. That’s why our team has developed a plan to get us through this.
After working from home for five weeks or in some cases, taking paid annual leave, our staff are going to head back to our community centre on the 27th of April. We will practice physical distancing and provide face masks, hand sanitizer and soap. The temperatures of our staff will be checked upon arrival.
As our team have been running hygiene workshops in the community for eight years, we are confident they will take the appropriate measures to stay safe.
Our sewing classes for adults will resume on the 27th of April. There are only six students in each class, so we are able to move our equipment around to ensure there is 1.5 metres between each student. We will provide personal protective equipment for our students, in addition to temperature checks.
Due to a drop in funding, we are unable to continue providing our sewing students with a stipend of rice, but they will still receive nutritious vegetables that are grown in our on-site garden.
Our seamstresses will begin producing 1,000 face masks at their homes with funds raised from our COVID-19 workshop crowdfunding campaign. These will be distributed to the students who currently study in our programs and the general community.
Our seamstresses’ income has dropped substantially as we are unable to provide them with work due to the temporary and permanent closure of many of our buyers in Siem Reap. We are currently trying to source grants so we can produce at least 5,000 face masks for distribution to the poorest families in our community.
For our older English-language students who can currently access the internet on their parents’ phones, we will teach daily classes via Facebook live.
For our English and Khmer language students and preschool students who do not have access to the internet (approximately 40% of our students), we will provide them with homework twice a week. This will be undertaken by having them visit our community centre at different times each fortnight so they can talk with their teacher, hand in their homework and receive new homework.
Our Khmer-language students can attend a drop-in session at our library once a fortnight whereby they borrow our Khmer library books, read them at home, and return them the next week.
We are going to phone the parents of our 250 students, or conduct home visits taking the appropriate safety precautions, to inform them about our plans to help their children whilst we are closed.
It is important that our students continue learning in any shape, way or form. This will increase the likelihood of them returning to school in October, ensuring they have the necessary knowledge to earn a stable income and move out of poverty in the future. We won’t just be helping them with accessing our classes, we will also work with them to access their online classes from MoEYS as well. Our teachers will follow up with the students once a fortnight through their homework feedback and talking with their parents. This individualised approach will be time-consuming, but it is the best option we can currently determine.
We are committed to helping our community during this tough time. Once our staff are back at our community centre next week, we are going to work with the community members and commune leaders to identify the issues they are facing and work with them on solutions. Our community members are hard workers who, through no fault of their own, are slipping back into poverty due to the impact this pandemic has had on our economy. We want to make sure they get through this. We don’t know yet what our support will look like; will it be food production, counselling, or emergency supplies? Only time will tell, because like with everything we do, we need to make sure we are doing what is best for our community members, in consultation with them.
Our funding has taken a hit because we can no longer generate an income from our handicraft sales or hold the local fundraisers we had planned for this year. Our partners in Australia, Human and Hope Association Inc, are working hard to get us the financial support we need, but with their economy taking a dive, and the exchange rate worsening, we are in a very volatile position. That’s why all our staff have taken a 20% salary cut, and we have cut our costs where possible. As we were already a very lean organisation, this was challenging to do. We are committed to coming through the other end with our team and community in tack.
With all of this going on, there is a positive. Because all of our staff are local, we have been able to respond in a timely manner to the constantly changing situation on the ground. We have always said that a local approach to development is the best approach, because we are the subject-matter experts, we know our community and culture well, and we are here for the long-term. Now we are able to lead the way, and hope other organisations will begin to follow our model.
Thank you for your ongoing support. If you are in a position to help our community get through this, please make a donation. There are many options for donating across the globe. You can do so here: https://www.humanandhopeassociation.org/donate/
Take care and stay safe.
Yours in solidarity,
Human and Hope Association