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[Special] Nearly one-third of children under 5 suffer from chronic malnutritionIntern reporter’s visit to Cambodia ② Children coming to cafeteria with plastic bags in hand
  • By Yoon Won-sub
  • Published 2019.02.04 06:00
  • Updated 2019.02.03 17:45
  • comments 0

As part of the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA)’s overseas projects for university students, Soon Chun Hyang University Hospital has been operating volunteering programs in Cambodia and the Philippines every year since 2014. This year, the university sent volunteers to Siem Reap, Cambodia, from Jan. 11-18. Intern reporter Yoon Won-sub at the public health administration and business department of Soonchunhyang University joined the program. This is the first part of a series of his visit to Cambodia looking into the reality of healthcare service in Cambodia. – Ed.

It is lunchtime and children rushed seemingly from nowhere. The cafeteria that can accommodate about 400 people soon became noisy with children’s laughter. In the hands of children who grew excited crossing desks and chairs were plastic bags.

At first, I thought they were drinking sugar cane juice or something on their way to lunch. It is quite common for Cambodia for people to drink beverages sold on the street in plastic bags.

“Do kids drink something before lunch? All of them have plastic bags,” I said. I asked the question to visit the place that sells drinks if there was one nearby, but a local NGO official replied. “You mean the plastic bags? Oh, they are for wrapping up leftover meals and bringing to home. Some of the kids make it through the day with just one meal served here.”

Children from Phnom Kraun have their meals at a soup kitchen run by Dail Community in Siem Reap.

You can reach “Phnom Kraun,” a village which is an hour’s drive from downtown Siem Reap. The village, meaning “under the mountain” in Khmer, is a neighborhood formed around a mountain. Phnom Kraun is one of the most impoverished villages in Siem Reap where most of the buildings are built of plywood or wood, and most of the residents are engaged in fishing or farming.

Children are no exceptions. Abject poverty has long threatened the kids’ daily lives. A considerable number of them leave school before they are 12 to win their or their families’ bread and work in farms or fishing grounds. The bridle of poverty has stripped them of opportunities to learn and access to medical service. It even deprived them of food.

The malnutrition is nothing new in Cambodia.

Cambodia’s agricultural production plunged as the country underwent “killing field” which massacred one-third of the population. Until the late 1990s, Cambodia had been included in the list of countries which were in “extremely critical conditions” concerning Global Hunger Index (GHI). Since the 2010s, the country’s agricultural production has improved to a “serious” situation in GHI. However, 32 percent of children under 5 are still suffering from chronic malnutrition.

Also, the “hidden hunger” – which refers to a state where the intake of calorie is sufficient but that of vitamin, mineral and zinc is insufficient – is adversely affecting not just the poor people but the middle class. Malnutrition is responsible for 45 percent of children’s death in Cambodia.

Children’s condition of growth in Phnom Kraun was not good, either. Most of the kids who said they were 10 or 12 years old were short or undersized.

It was 2006 that Dail Community entered Phnom Kraun which not only provided little opportunities to learn or accesses to healthcare but suffered from lack of food. For more than a decade, the Siem Reap headquarters of Dail Community has offered one free meal a day for underfed children.

Left photo showing children putting leftover vice in their plastic bags, and in the right picture are trays filled with food before being distributed to children.

For people who do not receive healthcare benefits, the community has also provided basic treatments and health education as well as tried to offer educational opportunities to as many children as possible by building libraries and kindergartens.

Dail Community, which began as an organization offering free meals to poor and isolated neighbors in Cheongnyangni, Seoul, in 1988, is currently in activity in 10 countries.

Cambodia is one of the countries where Dail Community has been operating. For the residents of Phnom Kraun, Dail Community is a long-time neighbor and a reliable ally that helped the localites realize their dream.

Dail Community’s soup kitchen visited by 150 to 500 people a day spends about 1,000 kg of rice in three weeks.

The number of visiting children has been declining over the past few years as the village environment improved. However, I could meet a child who had to walk 10 km to the soup kitchen for a meal on that day. “I have no places where I can eat to the full except here,” he said as he put the leftover steamed rice in his plastic bag.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says about 2.3 million Cambodians, 14.6 percent of its population, are facing unstable food situation with families spending 70 percent of their income on buying food, but most of these are not healthy food.



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