by Mom Chantara Soleil
Preventing the unnecessary loss of young lives and disrupted schooling as a result of both natural and man-made disasters is the focus of a new initiative launched yesterday in Stung Treng Province by Plan International Cambodia, Child Rights Foundation and life insurer Prudential (Cambodia) Life Assurance PLC.
Financed by life insurer Prudential (Cambodia) Life Assurance PLC, the so-called three year safe school project – from mid-2016 to mid-2019 – is implemented by child rights NGOs Plan International Cambodia and Child Rights Foundation.
“Quality education is a priority of the Royal Government of Cambodia as well as the Ministry of Education Youth and Sport. The quality cannot be fully realized if interruptions caused by poor school facilities, heavy rain, strong wind, flood, drought, so and so. School principal, teachers and children themselves know the issues best. So I encourage their lead in the work. Concerned authorities at all levels need to participate in and own the project to make it sustainable,” said H.E. Im Koch who presided over the launch.
Prudential (Cambodia) Life Assurance PLC contributed over US$300,000 of funds to get the project off the ground through Plan International Hong Kong.
Mr. Justin Chang, Prudence Foundation’s Regional Programme Manager, said, “An often-overlooked role of a life insurance company is to provide public information and activities to help keep people safe and alive, meaning this project was a natural fit for the firm.”
“Drowning is a terrible way to lose a child,” he added. “We don’t have good numbers on drowning in Cambodia but we know it’s far too common, especially for children in rural areas.
“And it’s not just floods we’re worried about. Storms, strong winds, lightning, and road accidents can also cause death and mitigating these will also be a part of the program. There is a lot that we can do as parents, schools and wider society to keep children safe and we’re thrilled to be backing this very important project.”
The Child Rights Foundation (CRF) will help implement activities related to the program. It was established by four Cambodians in 2000 and has a mandate to work for full implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, including the rights to health and health services and a quality education.
According to Plan International Cambodia’s Country Director, Mr. Jan Jaap Kleinrensink, the safe school project will initially be rolled out in 15 schools in four communes at high risk of flooding during the rainy season to help keep kids safe when disaster strikes and ensure they can return to school as soon as possible.
“Seasonal flooding is a part of life in some parts of Cambodia but flood waters come quickly and drain slowly meaning they are not only dangerous but can disrupt communities and schools for a long time,” he added.
“The problem is particularly acute for girls as the sanitary system is often the last thing to return to normal. Boys tend to cope pretty well, but girls can’t just go behind the nearest tree so tend to stay home longer. And once they’re out of school for a long time, many of them never return. This program will make sure schools are prepared to keep kids safe and return them to the classroom as soon as possible.”
Executive Director of Child Rights Foundation Mr. Vorn Koy said the Safe School Initiative will involve school directors, teachers, pupils and local School Support Committees (SSC’s) to ensure that there is community support for disaster risk reduction initiatives. SSCs are a national initiative where at least seven local villagers are elected to the committee to ensure communities have a say in decision making for their school’s development.
“There is limited understanding of disaster risk and disaster preparedness in Cambodia among teachers, parents and children,” he/she said. “In the rainy season floods can come quickly so it’s important that schools and their local communities are prepared to ensure there is no loss of life and as little disruption as possible to the school year.”
The project will transform the 15 participating SSCs into School Disaster Management Committees (SDMCs). These will be supported to conduct a hazard, vulnerability and capacity assessment (HVCA) and work with Children Councils to develop a Disaster Management Plan for each school to mitigate these risks and increase school safety.
These committees will closely co-operate with Commune Committees for Disaster Management (CCDM), which have been set up by the government to lead disaster management at the commune level.
The 15 schools selected for the project are from O Rei, O Svay, Thalaboriwat and Preah Rumel communes.
Stung Treng province has around 135,000 people in just over 29,000 families. It consists of Siem Bouk, Siem Phang, Sesan, Thalaboriwat and Stung Treng districts, with the provincial center – also called Stung Treng – located closely along the Mekong River.
Safe school project was driven by the commitment of the Royal Government of Cambodia’s commitment to implement the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015. It is well aligned with the 2007 Education Law and the Child Friendly School Policy adopted by the government.
To date, across Southeast Asia more than 11,500 students have learned skills including basic first aid, school evacuation procedures and how to identify potential hazards in their classrooms. We hope our safe school project will increase the number of resilient students and school especially in Cambodia so that they can fully develop to the fullest potential.
Cambodia is considered one of the most hazard-prone countries in Southeast Asia, with floods considered a particular risk, especially along the shores of the Tonle Sap Lake and along Mekong River Watersheds.
In the last quarters of 2011 and 2013, a combination of successive typhoons and torrential rains caused extensive flooding across the country. Climate change, soil erosion caused by deforestation, and inadequate irrigation systems and water conservation measures are set to make flooding more frequent and extreme.
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