How is life for the 12 year-old Sok Heng in an urban poor community?

By Pericles Carvalho

Phnom Penh, CAMBODIA, August 2013 – Hello, my name is Sok Heng, I’m 12 year-old and I live in Andong 3. I’m starting Grade Six in October at Kauk Roka Primary School and my dream is to become a writer.

©UNICEFCambodia/2013/PericlesCarvalho “I want to be a writer. I like to write about what happens with me,  my friends, and my family”,  says Sok Heng, 12 year-old student  of the Grade 6 in Kauk Roka Primary School.

I like to write in Khmer about everything which happens to me, my friends at school and my family. My favorite subjects in school is Khmer and Math and I like to go to classes, even though there aren’t textbooks for all the students and we have to share them between us.

In the morning I come [to the Italian Association for Aid to Children] for extra-classes and in the afternoon I go to school by bike. In my free time I like to play football and I’m a fan of Real Madrid.

The life here isn’t easy. I’ve learned from my parents that the social situation here isn’t good. For me, I like to enjoy time with my friends but I also understand that there are a lot of problems in the area such as water running in the streets, no electricity and poverty. My mum sells fruits in Phnom Penh and my dad is a construction worker.

I hope one day we will be able to rebuild our streets and houses and probably I’ll write about it as well.

Get to know where Sok Heng lives

In 2006 more than 1,000 families were moved from their houses in Sambok Chap Village (nearby the Russian Embassy in Phnom Penh) to an open field 22 km from the capital. Seven years later, three times as many people livein the area, one of the most deprived villages in Phnom Penh.

For Sok Heng’s family and most of the village population, there’s no sanitation, no safe water source, a lack of hygiene, no land titles, and many health issues such as gastro-intestinal illness, dengue fever and typhoid. Most of the health problems are directly related to the poor living conditions.

Every three months UNICEF-supported health outreach activities take place in the community so that children who are unable to go to the health centre receive vital immunisation against childhood diseases, de-worming, Vitamin A and screening for malnutrition. The outreach activities are conducted by Kok Roka Health Centre located 3 km away.

Stagnant water sits ankle-deep in the small gullies between the meagre makeshift houses of wood and zinc. When the rainy season starts, the fragile shelters flood, and the living conditions deteriorate further.

There are no public latrines or toilets so people openly defecate and urinate in the surrounding fields or small ponds from where they also catch most of the fish they eat.

In this village, most of the residents have few employment options. They say it’s expensive to buy groceries in Andong and so many travel to Phnom Penh to find cheap rice and other basic food.

Education is a challenge. According to the school director of Kauk Roka Primary School, Mr. Nham Chamta, about 35 per cent of primary school students are absent on a daily basis. The times of greatest absenteeism areNovember/December, when children help the parents collecting rubbish, and March/April when children collect snails to sell from the nearby ponds.

UNICEF is working together with the government and other partners to help improve life in urban poor communities in Cambodia.

Despite its problems, Andong is also a place full of dreams: where children aspire to become teachers, writers and engineers, and parents hope for land titles and improvements to sanitation and other basic services.

Check out the photos made during a recent UNICEF visit to the area. Photos by Péricles Carvalho.

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