Over 20 adults and several children filtered into the rows of plastic chairs. They had come from throughout Prey Veng for foster care training with Children in Families (CIF). A balance of men and women attended. An occasional boisterous cry from a child would break their concentration, but it was a group intent on learning.
CIF runs regular training for our families throughout Cambodia. We cover the provinces of Kandal, Svay Rieng, Prey Veng, and the recently added Kampong Chhnang. The training covers a myriad of topics: basic hygiene like hand-washing and water sanitation; caring for children who have experienced trauma and abuse; child protection, including Good Touch Bad Touch sexual abuse awareness and steps to protect children from abuse; child development; positive discipline; and diving into why alternative and family-based care is best practice for children.
And we do not only train the parents and guardians. We have also conducted child-protection and health seminars for our children. Our long-term intentions are clear: we strive to empower and strengthen families holistically throughout Cambodia.
Development and holistic care are very important, but many times cannot boast immediate, tangible results. However, with consistency and commitment, long-term change is possible.
Recently, the training focused on hand-washing. While it may seem like a simple practice, illness plagues many families, keeping children away from school and rendering parents unable to work. The family’s burden multiplies if an untreated illness gets worse and a person is hospitalized, costing a month’s wages.
In rural areas especially, many adults did not attend formal education beyond middle school. They farm or run small businesses, usually starting work at a young age. The knowledge of microscopic bacteria and parasites can be foreign. Yet, this knowledge is crucial to the health of our families.
Using slides and illustrations, our staff presented several scenarios likely to cause germs and bacteria to be on a person’s hands, including cleaning a house, plucking and butchering a chicken, working in the garden, and handling fish. All are daily tasks for our families.
Most of us do not retain information without practice, so our training sessions are interactive. After the initial presentation, staff divided the parents into groups and asked them to work together. They had two questions to answer before sharing their answers with the group. First, “What are some circumstances in which we should wash our hands?” And, second, “What are some possible outcomes if you do not wash your hands before doing things?” Lively discussion began as lists formed.
After the groups presented their findings to the whole, our staff set out water, soap, and towels. Our staff taught the steps of a proper hand-washing regime, and then each parent had to demonstrate the process. It may seem tedious, but repetition helps immensely with memory.
Our follow-up to this training showed that our families have taken clear steps to implement better hygiene. Our staff said they are already showing a much better understanding of bacteria.
Outside the Classroom, Inside the Home
Training does not end with our formal quarterly teachings, however. Each home visit from our social workers is an opportunity. Our staff monitor the children’s health, vaccinations, and malaria and dengue-prevention during family visits. While the government provides training and access to things like mosquito nets, we use our time with families to ensure these provisions are applied and understood. We make sure our children are up to date on their health checks, and if medication is needed, that the resources are administered and used properly by the families.
Regular follow-ups and surveys are conducted to see if the information we teach is being utilized. The feedback is positive.
Speaking about our recent child protection training, Kinship Care Manager Menghong said, “We got a lot of good feedback from the training we provided. The families were surprised by the effects that abuse could have on them as a whole. Most did not realize all of the risks to the children [posed] by people in the community and home. Before, many families had no problem leaving their children at home alone or letting them walk into the forest by themselves. They just trusted their community. Now they are taking steps to monitor their children and who they are with much more.”
Finally, I asked Menghong if the results of any of the specific training stood out to him. He said the response from the trauma and positive parenting training showed a huge difference in mindset. “Families are beginning to understand the children’s value, especially within the family setting. Parents realized they need to interact more. They shared that when they applied better communication and validated a difficult or upset child’s feelings, they got a better response from the child.” He shared that the parents are now noticing a vast difference in behavior and connection.
In the end, promoting safe hygiene practices, better parenting skills, child protection, and more will give our families healthier lives. Children observe everything around them, being great imitators of their parents and influential adults. We know that long-term, not only the families, but our children will grow up to pass on this knowledge. Healthier, loving families is where they belong.