COVID-19: Ensuring accessible and inclusive awareness and prevention for marginalised groups in Cambodia

4 min read
A woman carrying bricks
Image: WaterAid Cambodia - There is not enough information about prevention and hygiene messages, and no handwashing facilities say brick workers in Cambodia's Kandal Province

Working from home during the COVID-19 outbreak in Cambodia, I saw a lot of messages on both traditional and social media including television, Facebook and Twitter informing the general public on prevention measures and personal hygiene practices. Despite the existence of credible resources, misinformation and fake news distributed on social media were rampantly troubling. As a mother of two three-year-old twins, I was alarmed and deeply worried for my family’s health and safety.

Social distancing is a luxury in Cambodia. With poverty line defined as daily income below 1.9 US Dollars[1], not many people can afford to protect themselves against COVID-19, especially marginalised populations that WaterAid Cambodia is working with.

Through engagement and conversations with some of the users living in urban poor areas in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, concerning situations were found ranging from fear of loss of jobs and income to the unaffordable costs of hygiene materials such as soap, and the lack of basic handwashing facilities and clean water. The situation was exacerbated by misinformation and lack of access to timely information on proper prevention against the virus. 

A brick worker on site in Cambodia
Hygiene materials such as soap and lack of basic handwashing facilities and clean water are a large concern for brick workers in Cambodia
Image: WaterAid Cambodia

"There is not enough information about prevention and hygiene messages, and no handwashing facilities”, one brick worker in Kandal Province has said. 

I have been working as an Equity and Inclusion Programme Manager at WaterAid Cambodia to promote equality and empowerment of marginalised populations from a WASH perspective. Personally, it was difficult for me to learn about the problematic situations that users described. I was pondering on the implications for my work with marginalised populations including people with disabilities, construction workers and brick factory workers, I thought of how they could access credible information amid rampant misinformation and fake news. Given the situation, would they have access to resources necessary to protect themselves and their loved ones? I decided to act.

man laying bricks on site in Cambodia
Hygiene information and handwashing facilities are scarce or not available on many construction sites
Image: WaterAid Cambodia

Through an Adaptive Management Approach which emphasises detecting contexts at the ground, we quickly did the following:

  • Defining the problem: Working with WASH and Health Programme, Campaign and Communications, we convened a meeting to collect all context information on challenges faced by various groups, including urban and rural poorer communities and healthcare workers, based on guidance on equity and inclusion perspective.

  • Brainstorming for solutions: After gathering all relevant information, we collaboratively formulated solutions, keeping in mind our existing partnerships, resources and skills. We would like to address the emerging needs and invest our resources in the most efficient and effective manner. 

  • Communications with the donor: Understanding of program design and proposed activities which have been submitted and approved by the donor at the beginning of each grant. With the new proposed activities aligning with the original initiatives, WaterAid Cambodia, with support from WaterAid Australia, can consolidate the joint plan.

As a result of collaboration among our team in Cambodia and WaterAid Australia, colleagues in conjunction with the endorsement from the donors, we were able to swiftly work to ensure that accessible and inclusive communication materials on prevention are reaching the marginalised groups, while generating learnings and evidence on the impacts of COVID-19.

lady working

Despite our success, we recognised the fact that limitations on funding and investment during hard times like these are preventing us from supporting some marginalised groups, for example, people living with chronic health issues and people affected by drought.

One of the outcomes from our collaborative work among our team and local partners includes intervention on the dissemination of COVID-19 prevention and promotion of handwashing practice in a rural community in Kampong Chhnang province.

The activity was also published in a local news report and further outreach on social media and local television network in Cambodia.

With another existing partner, Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia (BWTUC), we identified challenges in the lack of basic handwashing facilities in their respective worksite and decided to provide online sessions on DIY simple handwashing facility making which included the promotion of hand hygiene practice and COVID-19 prevention messages.

As a result, an information gap was filled, hygiene practice needs were met and accurate information on prevention reached ‘hardest-to-reach' users, who work in construction sites and brick factories.

Demonstrating WaterAid’s value of “collaboration”, I was privileged that we were able to work together as teams and in partnerships to translate our vision “a world where everyone everywhere has safe water, sanitation and hygiene” into practices while putting equality, inclusion and rights at the centre of a COVID-19 water, sanitation and hygiene response.

With support from the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP)