A girl in disaster

by Mom Chantara Soleil

“I was half-asleep and awoke; then I was half-asleep again and awoke again and again many times because of very loud sound and bright flashes of lightning. It rains heavily almost every night. My grandmother could not sleep. And I didn’t feel sleepy. I missed my parents more,” Houy describes the recent rainy nights causing floods across one third of Cambodia with 104[1] deaths and almost 800,000 people affected as of 10 October.

A flood affected 12 year old Houy (Photo by Touch Tino)

Three-year continuous flooding since 2011 completely destroyed one-hectare rice paddy of Houy’s parents in Klang Hay commune, Srei Snam district of Siem Reap (around 90 kilometers to the northwest of Angkor Wat temple) and has contributed to their longer illegal migration life, leaving behind Houy and her 6-year-old brother with their aging grandmother.

“My parents left again to work in Thailand two months ago, after transplanting the seedlings at our paddy. Those seedlings are now damaged by the flood. My parents usually send money home so that we can buy rice to eat. My brother and I help fishing around for extra food and my grandma does the cooking. But she got very sick because of the rain lately” Houy adds.

Houy was supposed to start her grades 5 in the new academic year early October. However, the floods, sick grandma, small sibling and housework have faded her concentration on schooling. The government has delayed new academic year commencement of over 800 flooded schools, including hers. Houy is not aware of this and does not bother to care when told.

She represented one of 1,162 worst hit households by the current floods in Cambodia receiving relief assistance from Plan. For the first time in her life, she travelled around 10 kilometers by tiny wooden boat from her house to the assistance distribution site:

“On the boat I was so worried because I am young and come here on behalf of my grandmother. I am afraid they don’t give me the things [sanitation and hygiene kit]. But when I arrived I heard my name and they invited me to sit and give me things like water purifier, soaps…” says Houy.

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“Experience shows that children especially girls are among most vulnerable groups in an emergency. Our global Because I am a Girl report 2013 is another proof for this. The facts that they are young and have less experience is the factor; however, if we all pay more attention to their vulnerability, educate and enable them to voice their issues and engage them in disaster preparedness plan, like what Plan is doing, they will no longer as vulnerable,” says Plan Cambodia’s Country Director Mr. Supriyanto.

Centering our work at children, in particularly girls, Plan International Cambodia has been introducing a wide range of activities before, during and after disasters at grassroots community. Specially for 2013, Plan has angled its global study on the State of the World’s Girls (Because I am a Girl) on vulnerability of girls in emergency.

The study indicates that each year countries around the world are experiencing an increasing numbers of disasters;

  • Globally, almost 450 disasters took place each year in the last decade, up from 90 disasters a year in the 1970s.
  • Ninety-five per cent of deaths from these recent disasters took place in the developing world like Cambodia.
  • Education can contribute towards resilience-building by equipping girls and boys with the knowledge, skills and confidence required for disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and peace building.
  • Globally, unfortunately, it is estimated that 65 million girls are out of school.

In most countries it is girls who are most likely to be pulled out of school during a disaster and who fail to return to school after disaster, just like the case of 13-year-old Houy – one of the most affected girls by the current flooding in Cambodia.

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