VSO Cambodia works in the areas of education, reproductive and child health, and secure livelihoods (forestry and fisheries). Although Cambodia is now enjoying peace after more than 30 years of conflict and political instability, it is still suffering from a greatly reduced number of qualified people in all areas of work (including nurses, doctors, teachers, lecturers and managers), and there is an enormous need to build up the human resource base of the country to achieve development.
Forty-three per cent of the population is under 15 years old, yet it is estimated that 10–15% of the population never enters a school, often because families living in extreme poverty need their child to miss school in order to earn money. The government is trying hard to promote ‘Education for All’ and while there have been rapid increases in enrolment there has been less investment in improving the quality of teacher training. Teachers are not equipped to cope with the large class sizes and are not trained in up-to-date teaching techniques, so drop-out rates are high as students become demotivated by poor schooling.
VSO volunteers who are experienced teachers and education managers are working at all levels within education, ranging from provincial teacher training colleges to district offices of education. These volunteers are improving methodologies and helping update management and planning practices among school directors, teacher trainers and district education officials.
Establishing links between training colleges and schools means that newly qualified teachers continue to be supported during the early years of their career. Placements at the Ministry of Education enable volunteers to influence policy and work on national agendas, such as updating the curriculum.
Reproductive and child health
There has been considerable progress made in Cambodia over the last decade to improve the health of the nation. However, continuing challenges include high maternal, neonatal, infant and under-five mortality rates, which remain amongst the worst in South-East Asia. Over the past 10 years, both infant and child mortality have steadily increased; infant and under-five deaths stand at 95 and 124 per 1,000 live births respectively, while 437 mothers in every 100,000 die in childbirth.
Many illnesses and deaths occur from conditions that are preventable and treatable. Continuation of unhealthy living practices stems largely from a lack of adequate water and sanitation, insufficient knowledge of home care and public health services, traditional beliefs and chronic poverty. Improvements in the public health sector services are largely under utilised due to the difficulty of access, cost, limited opening hours, poor staff attitudes and public mistrust.
The public health sector, especially in rural areas, has poorly equipped facilities, insufficient trained staff and a weak referral system. Public health staff receive very low wages and the quality of clinical practice is low. VSO volunteers, with a variety of skills and from clinical and non-clinical backgrounds, are working in four provinces to increase the quality, range and uptake of reproductive, child health and nutrition services and the adoption of healthy living practices in the four provinces.
The 2008 Cambodian population census showed that the population has increased to 13.4 million and is growing annually by 1.54%. The increasing population is putting growing pressure on natural resources is also a considerable concern in terms of food insecurity. Also, although a 2004 survey indicates that poverty levels are falling, there is still a high incidence of rural poverty, particularly among people living in the Tonle Sap region.
VSO Cambodia’s livelihood programme is committed to supporting the improvement of food security of local communities dependent on fisheries and forestry resources through partnership with non-governmental organisations, community-based organisations and government institutions. The first phase of the secure livelihoods programme (2004–2009) has focused on promoting communities' access to, and control over, natural resources as means of supporting their livelihoods. In its second phase the VSO’s secure livelihoods programme will build on its successes by focusing on the promotion of food production, food processing, marketing and other aspects of business orientation with partners.
Get in touch with VSO Cambodia at:
PO Box 912, Phnom Penh, Cambodia