Greg Jewell looks at stories of children in the province of Ratanakiri. Ratanakiri is about a nine-hour drive northeast of the capital city Phnom Penh, and is located near the Cambodian and Vietnamese/Laos border. Ratanakiri is best known for its beautiful waterfalls, diverse ethnic communities, a lake in the middle of a mountain formed by an ancient volcano, and as the destination from which trekkers leave for their jungle excursions.
Kak commune, Ratanakiri
Chen Rachana is ten years old and studies in the third grade. She lives in Kak commune, in the Borkeo district of Ratanakiri. Rachana’s community is composed of elevated wooden houses, built on stilts. Rachana’s father runs a small convenience store out of their home. Rachana routinely helps her family with chores around the house and with her father’s business.
Rachana’s parents are illiterate, but she has a tremendous passion for reading and loves to help other children in her village learn to read as well. Rachana says that she enjoys teaching others to read because: “Reading is my favourite thing to do.”
In fact, Rachana will read just about any book she can get her hands on when attending NGO Sipar’s mobile library sessions, though she especially enjoys books with snakes or fairytales involving a princess. Rachana’s parents love to hear her read to them in the evenings after they have finished work.
Rachana wants to become a teacher when she grows up so that she can teach others in her village the joy of learning. She takes her studies very seriously and attends school daily. Her favourite subject is mathematics.
Yeak Lom commune, Ratanakiri
Yin Ratana and his mother, Leav Channy
Two-year-old Yin Ratana and his mother Leav Channy, a rice farmer, are on their way to a health and nutrition data collection site in the Yeak Lom commune in the province of Ratanakiri. It is the monsoon season in Cambodia, and every day brings the threat of a torrential downpour.
Like many of their neighbours, two-year-old Yin and his mother brave the elements to attend the data collection site, filled with eager and hopeful parents and their children.
Families in Yeak Lom are taking part in a UNICEF supported “longitudinal study” conducted by RACHA (Reproductive and Child Health Alliance) looking into the health and nutritional status of pregnant women, newborns, and young children in Ratanakiri, Kratie, and Phnom Penh.
When Yin was one year old, his mother learned from the study that he was malnourished. Channy explains that she is very grateful for the longitudinal research because without it: “I would have no way to know the status of my child’s health, or whether he is nourished or malnourished. “A year ago, my baby was malnourished but because of RACHA and UNICEF’s intervention, now he is healthy.”
Lung Kung commune, Ratanakiri
Sarika and her mother, Ros Maspan
Three-year-old Sarika is from the Lung Kung commune in Ratanakiri. Sarika is from an ethnic minority group called Tampun, who speak an indigenous language which is different from Khmer – the language predominantly used in Cambodia.
Sarika was three months old when researchers from the longitudinal study came to her village. They quickly realised that she had a severe abscess on her left forearm arm that she couldn’t stop scratching. After interviewing her mother, Ros Maspan, they discovered that it had been there since her birth, but it was getting worse by the day. The more she scratched, the more infected it became – she was also in visible distress and was continuously crying.
Sarika had never been to a hospital before because her mother had no money to spend on treatment. This is a common concern among individuals in rural communities where the residents often lack monetary resources or knowledge about Government supported programmes which can assist them.
Using UNICEF’s knowledge and partnership with local authorities, the researchers from the longitudinal study were able to get the appropriate government documents for Sarika so that her abscess could be treated.
After completing her most recent checkup, Sarika was deemed to be in excellent health. Her mother describes how “she used to cry all the time,” but “now she is happy and smiles a lot, and she likes to play with the other village children.”
Kak commune, Ratanakiri
Bajamson is 12 years old and studies in the fifth grade. He lives in Kak commune in the Borkeo District of Ratanakiri. Today, he joins more than 50 children, aged 8-17, in viewing a UNICEF produced TV series called Prai Krala. There have been 4 episodes produced so far, with 10 more under development, which are meant to teach children – in a fun and engaging way – about issues related to health, nutrition, WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene), and more.
When the episode is over, the facilitators from NGO Sipar invite the children to come to the front of the room and answer questions about what they learned. Bajamson was one of the first to volunteer. He explained that initially, he was very nervous to go to the front and answer questions. But after he did it, he was happy he had the opportunity to speak in front of the other children because it gave him a lot of confidence.
He thought the video was very funny; it was also helpful since it taught him “how to be healthy by drinking clean water” as well as learning about muscles and bones. Bajamson’s favourite subject in school is Khmer literature, and he hopes to write books in this genre when he grows up. UNICEF Cambodia