Keeping Focused on Solutions and Positive Outcomes
By Emily Williamson
As of today, it’s been exactly 3 years, 2 months, and 24 days since we stood before more than 200 children and their families, making the long-term commitment that we would stand by their side, in their fight against poverty.
I’m extremely proud to say that despite every challenge that’s been thrown our way (of which there have been many), with your support, this is exactly what our dedicated local team have done.
Our approach is holistic and like poverty, solutions for each family can be complex, which is why our services are community based and our programs are integrated.
Our immediate focus is on keeping families together by providing access to the basic human needs of education, nutrition, and health care. We believe that education is key to breaking the poverty cycle, but that without access to food or basic health care, attending school is not an option for the world’s poorest children.
At REACH volunteer work in Cambodia, we choose to work with the poorest families in our area. It is because of this choice, that the cases our social workers are presented with, can be at times, totally and utterly devastating.
For many of the resilient families our team work with, our holistic offerings and basic social services are able to meet their immediate needs, and when these families are presented with equal opportunities they are able to thrive.
A REACH guardian works from home, weaving hand-made rattan mats to sell as a source of income for her family.
However, for a small minority of families in our program, the repercussions of the genocide have left such extreme levels of pain and suffering, that sometimes, after exhausting all options within our means, our team cannot find suitable solutions to keep their children in school.
As a result, once in a while, our team is confronted by an unavoidable family drop out case...these days, albeit rare, are always the most difficult days to accept.
On several occasions when I’ve discussed the challenges our team face surrounding upsetting child protection cases, or family dropouts, I’ve been asked by other professionals in this sector, “have you considered supporting beneficiaries who are less poor?” Their argument being that children that come from families that live above the poverty line, but who are still in poor, will be much easier to serve and in turn, will have a higher chance of “success”.
While I know that amending our approach and working with ‘less poor’ families would make our social workers jobs easier, my answer always remains, “If we did that, what would happen to the children from the types of families we’ve enrolled…Where would they end up?”
Sadly, I know all too well the answer to this question.
According to the ILO's 2021 Global Estimates on Child Labour, there are an estimated 1.6 million child laborers in Cambodia aged 5-17. This number accounts for 23.5% of the country's child population, and of these children laboring, the ILO found that 12.7% are involved in hazardous work.
To prevent families from dropping out and their children succumbing to child labour, we closely monitor and evaluate the results of each program and the engagement levels from our beneficiaries.
We then regularly assess our dropout rates, which we believe are a clear indication of if what we are doing is working. And while we know that this is an upsetting topic to talk about, to give a true representation of our work, we feel it’s important that our supporters clearly understand our biggest challenge on the ground here in Cambodia.
During the first 2 years of the pandemic, we saw 18.75% of our families leave Siem Reap to seek employment in other provinces or across borders to work illegally in Thailand. Many of these drop-out cases took place at the beginning of the pandemic and although it was extremely upsetting, we put this down to having only just met our beneficiaries a few weeks prior to the lockdowns being imposed.
During this challenging period, our social workers were unable to closely consult REACH guardians face to face or take them to healthcare centers due to restrictions.
As you can imagine, this time brought with it devastating challenges and for some families, unemployment resulted in their inability to pay off their debts, leaving them with no other choice than to leave the tourist reliant town of Siem Reap and seek employment elsewhere.
In 2022, as our school was finally able to re-open in full capacity, and our social workers were able to carry out their services as intended, this percentage decreased to 8.45%, and in 2023, so far, our family dropout rate sits at just 2.52%.
We are so proud that this statistic is improving.
To us, this statistic shows that REACH’s families are becoming increasingly aware of our purpose and over time, are becoming more dedicated to their children’s education.
A dedicated mother from the REACH community supports de-licing of her daughter and other students at REACH in May, 2023.
Thanks to the support of donors and volunteers, paired with our collaborative approach of working with other NGO’s, we have been not only able to educate our beneficiaries these last 3 years, but have also been able to see some life-changing outcomes unfold.
Here are just a few of our highlights in the last 12 months...
Our alumni standing proudly in her Bayon Pastry Trainee Uniform.
OUR YOUTH IS TRAINING TO BECOME A BAKER
In December 2022: Our oldest student completed Grade 12 and after failing her national exam, was very concerned about her future. Our Education Manager Mardy immediately worked to support her with her scholarship application to Bayon Pastry School. Soon after, she received the news that she was successful, and was enrolled into a fully-funded 1 year placement at the Vocational Training Center in Siem Reap. There she currently lives on campus, learning how to become a pastry chef, while also learning key business skills and furthering her knowledge in English and Computer.
Our beneficiary's sister teaching our youth pathway kids how soap is made at the Eco-Soap Bank factory.
AN OLDER REACH SIBLING FINDS FAIR EMPLOYMENT
In September 2022, Eco-Soap Bank reached out to all of their local community partners to recruit new employees for their warehouse. Our Social Worker Sert immediately responded by working with all of our interested families to create their CV’s and help them apply for the position. As a result of his efforts, one of our student's older sisters gained fair full-time employment at their ethical soap factory just 5.5kms from Thlok Andoung.
Our Youth Pathways Supervisor Seangheng stands with her ambitious Youth Pathways student at a team building football match.
OUR STUDENT IS GOING ABROAD
In April 2023, we receive the incredible news that one of our Youth Pathways students, aged 17, who is currently studying in the Better Futures program our partner NGO 'Journey’s Within Our Community’, was among 3 of the top students selected to travel to Vietnam on a cultural exchange program in June this year. He is so excited to soon being receiving his passport and embarking on an overseas adventure to represent his community abroad.
It’s these positive impacts, and wins, both big and small, that get us through each of the more challenging cases.
But it’s not just positivity that gets our team through; with the support of our Australian Directors, and our international Advisory Board, we take a structured approach to planning. And while we have clear program goals mapped out years ahead of time, we openly adapt these plans as the needs of the community change – and in an environment that is rapidly evolving, our willingness to change has been paramount.
Commencing our operations in 2020 required us to immediately learn how to rethink, replan and respond without hesitation. As a result, an extreme level of flexibility and acceptance of change has since become ingrained in our work culture.
It’s thanks to our teams’ increasing ability to respond to external challenges, that we are continually building on our ability to handle crises as they unfold. And although we're through the pandemic, unfortunately, it seems there’s never a long break between the next big challenge.
To make way for new roads, we recently found out that 5 families enrolled at REACH are set to have their houses demolished in early June. Each of them, having lived on government land for more than a decade, have been offered new land, and while it is great news that they are being compensated, their new plot of land is a 28km return trip from REACH.
When we initially heard this, 1 family (with 1 teenager enrolled who already had very poor engagement) quickly dropped out of our school and moved to their new land. Our hearts immediately sank and we momentarily worried that all 4 other families were going to follow suit.
But upon further research and discussions with these families, it became clear that the rest of them were committed to education and were already working on their individual plans to keep their children enrolled in Thlok Andoung’s Public school and REACH.
Meet Saron, aged 38, a resilient mother, hardworking mother of 6 girls, who despite relocation, is refusing to give up on the opportunities that have been provided to her 8 year old daughter at our NGO.
Saron smiling holding her youngest child.
So far, life has not been easy for Saron; due to illiteracy, she has not been able to secure fair employment, and out of desperation, has spent many years roaming the streets as a rubbish collector.
In June 2022, her 8 year old daughter was enrolled into our kindergarten program and as soon as this happened, Saron was committed to attending all meetings at REACH, she talked to our social workers with the utmost respect and showcased a noticeable drive to take advantage of every opportunity presented to her.
Saron’s daughter who is enrolled in our current Kindy class.
Soon after her daughter's enrolment, our Social Worker Sreynoch identified that Saron was pregnant so she quickly enlisted her for pregnancy support and additional care. In the 4 months leading up to the birth of Saron’s newborn baby, Sreynoch accompanied her to healthcare centers to facilitate regular check-ups, supported her during periods of low health and ensured that she had additional food support in the form of daily meals from our kitchen, and increased Rice Rewards.
During this period, Saron began opening up to Sreynoch about her personal challenges and it became clear to our team that she was a very special mother, who despite her circumstances, would do anything to keep her daughters in school.
Saron receiving essential birthing supplies and baby basket from Sreynoch.
Following the safe delivery and birth of her beautiful and healthy baby, Saron expressed her interest in receiving subsequent contraceptive support. This was something she previously wanted but had not yet been able to afford. As her relationship with our team of social workers grew, with it grew her courage to speak up and seek support for the essentials.
The closer Saron got to understanding our purpose, the more involved she got at every level.
So when she came to our Outreach department last month to explain that she was being relocated, it came as no surprise to our team that she did not want to move to the new village, with her primary concern being that her children would not have the opportunity to learn at REACH anymore.
Our team of social workers are currently working on enrolling 4 more of Saron’s children into REACH for next Semester. At the same time, they are working with her family and the 3 other families who are facing relocation, to discuss and assess various possible solutions to ensure that all of their children can remain students at REACH.
To be able to keep their land given by the government, the families must reside on the block for 10 years to receive the hard titles, so for them to end up with this land as an asset, each plan needs to involve at least 1 family member living on site. One option we are looking into is providing a wage to a local tuk-tuk driver, to drive all of these kids from this new area to REACH and public school on a daily basis.
As the journey will take 25 minutes each way, it would involve them coming early morning to our NGO, studying around the corner at Thlok Andoung for 1 half the day and REACH for the other half of the day. These children would need to be able to stay at REACH during the break time to rest, eat and change their clothes, before returning home at 5.00pm.
This long-term solution for these 4 families, is not something that has been budgeted but is the most cost-effective solution we can think of to continue standing with them, in their fight against poverty. We estimate that it will cost approximately $100-$150 per month but believe that it would have far reaching benefits.
Not only would this solution enable these kids to continue benefiting from our programs, but it would also ensure that a local tuk-tuk driver would have a sustainable and reliable income stream to support their family too. Ideally, this will be a job that is picked up by a hard working family member from within our NGO.
As our social workers continue to develop a plan with Saron, we will be sure to update you on how it progresses. With major developments planned to take place in our area over the next 10 years, our senior leadership team will be spending a large part of 2023 developing our long-term strategy to tackle displacements in our area. Supporting each of our families so that their children can complete their education and break the cycle of poverty, will be a long road ahead, but we hope that after reading this case study, you have gained some insight into just how much effort goes on behind the scenes, and just how committed our team is to the cause.
As we continue to navigate through an ever changing environment, it's evident that no challenge has been too big for our team, but it's important to recognise that none of these solutions can be carried out without adequate funding to do so.
The reason our team continues push through the tough times and are able celebrate positive outcomes with our families, is thanks to our supporters who believe in them.
Without funding, none of what we do would be possible.
Thankfully, this year, we’ve had some incredible Match Grant Heroes step forward who believe in our approach and who want to see families’ like Saron’s succeed.
Thanks to the following individuals and companies, for the entire month of June, all donations will be being doubled:
- Craig Turnour in Loving Memory of Nancy & Jim
- Ian & Deb Hayllor
- Delta Capita
- Other Birds
- APS Benefits Group
- Woods & Co.
- Partners in Progress
Our campaign launches on June 1st, and with our wonderful Match Grant Heroes and their collective pledge of $50,000AUD – our goal for this year is to raise $100,000AUD.
The success of this major campaign will enable our local team to continue providing life-changing poverty alleviation programs and support for over 100 families.
Join us this June for our 2023 #doubleyourREACH campaign and double your impact and help us raise the much-needed funds to keep supporting families like Saron’s.
On June 1st, all donations will be doubled, please keep an eye out for our posts and share them to help us to spread the word!
If you want to get involved and become an ambassador of the campaign, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org today.