Working on the ground in Cambodia surrounded by a team of dedicated humanitarians fully immersed in responding to the pandemic, does not leave you much time to stop, think and reflect. During the past 2 years at REACH, there has been soaring highs, and devastating lows (as well as everything in between), and riding this metaphorical rollercoaster has made it difficult to sit back and analyse just how much has actually been achieved in the face of adversity.
My reflection on the past 2 years happened after an 18 hour flight home, 10 day quarantine and a very big, deep breath.
… And wow, what a 2 years it has been!
When REACH was founded, there was a criteria detailing what the programs “should” do to maximise impact, but I think that it is also important to acknowledge the impact and development of our circumstantially remodelled programs.
What should have been classroom learning turned into the establishment of an online learning platform and offline homework supplies to make sure over 200 children remained in the education system. What should have been daily school meals turned into a budget reallocation to emergency food packages for entire families to prevent starvation. In addition, the installation of water filters for every single REACH family to ensure they had accessible clean drinking water during the harsh lockdowns. What should have been weekly club rides for selected youths turned into the formation of the incredible REACH Riders club which served as physical and emotional respite for 30 teenagers and the invention of the Side by Side fundraising event that kept REACH going. What should have been quarterly family workshops turned into continuous engagement and monthly distribution meetings.
But to take it a step further, these are real life cases, of real children and families that have been given the chance to change their unfair narrative thanks to REACH’s free programs.
Due to the diligent communication between our Outreach and Education departments and REACH families, our team have been able to identify many instances where additional help has been desperately needed.
The education dropout prevention strategy resulted in the social workers understanding that 16 year old *Panha had been working 12 hour days on the Siem Reap road construction with his father and was not attending his online classes. The team intervened and Panha* is now safely interning at REACH and learning mechanical skills in the REACH Repairs Shop.
*Sreyneath’s family lost all of their income when the borders closed and her parents both became unemployed. They stated point blank to our Outreach team that without the emergency food relief, her family of 7 would be starving.
*Visal’s family were planning on crossing the border illegally into Thailand to find work and withdrawing their children from school, but due to his involvement in the REACH Riders club and after meetings with social workers, they made the decision to stay in Siem Reap as they knew through REACH, their children would have more opportunities to improve their future lives.
When *Pisey’s one room tin hut set on fire and all of her family’s belongings were destroyed, Pisey told her parents to contact the outreach department at REACH. The team were able to provide Pisey’s family with donated clothes, bedding and a new tarpaulin to cover the damaged roof for the rainy season and prevent their home becoming flooded.
*Names changed for child protection purposes.
Witnessing REACH evolve from a block of empty land in the middle of a community in desperate need to a thriving community centre, benefitting the lives of over 100 families and over 200 children is by far the most rewarding privilege I have ever experienced.
I wholeheartedly believe that REACH’s strategy to empower and educate entire families has the ability to change lives. I want to reiterate that none of this would be possible without the incredible team on the ground who work day in, and day out under the management of the most dedicated Program Manager, Emily, to successfully operate REACH’s programs. Without their hard work in implementing what usually begins as enthusiastic ideas challenged by logistical nightmares of trials and error – we would not see the amazing results that we do today.
During the past 2 unprecedented years that hosted undeniable global trauma, we have been lucky enough to witness so much kindness. Donors, supporters, partners, collaborators, and volunteers around the world have been a beautiful reminder of how much good there is in the world and this global collective is what has kept our team going during the dark times. As I step away from my role of Communications Manager at REACH, I want to say to those of you that have been with REACH since day 1, thank you. To those that joined along the way, thank you, and to those that are new to the journey, thank you and a warm welcome to our REACH community! Although I will no longer be on the ground with the rest of the team, I will continue to stay involved from England in other capacities.
Knowing what opportunities lie ahead of REACH students, I can’t wait to see them return to school, build their confidence and achieve everything that they dream of.