Life Stories

Healthy Mind, Healthy Life

Mrs. Phorn Phai, a 74 year old lady who lives in Nom Kreab village in the Battambang Province. Mrs. Phai, is a widower living with her 4 grandchildren because like many in Cambodia, her children have migrated to find work.

Mrs. Phai shared with us that her life had been hard and busy, taking care of her grandchildren and also supporting other villagers as she is a village leader. Mrs. Phai has no time to take care of her health and is not able to go for health check-ups regularly at the health center, “I had high blood pressure but I didn’t have time to go to the health center regularly. I didn’t care much about my health and never did any exercise” she said. Mrs. Phai has also expressed feelings of loneliness and isolation on occasion, wishing to talk and share some of her difficulties or stories with other older people but most are living in different villages.

Upon joining the OPA in her village, she was then elected as a WoW group leader. Mrs. Phai found her livelihood changed for the better and this helped her wellbeing. Mrs. Phai now has time to meet and talk with older people, have fun and enjoy the exercise programs of the WoW group. Mrs. Phai now also has easier access to regular health check-ups.

Mrs. Phai has shared with us that she is very happy and excited to have an opportunity to join the amazing 5 Day ToT training on the Intergenerational Self Help Club model (ISHC) and she had learnt a lot about activities she could do to help her feel better everyday. “I like this very much with the exercise activities, game and the livelihood topics during this training. After this training, I have been able to use these exercise every morning”. 

Within a few months, Mrs. Phai found her health becoming stronger after starting regular exercise and drinking EM water. Even her blood pressure has become more stable. “I felt stronger and better upon practicing exercise every morning and drinking the EM water and I have shared the knowledge practices with my WoW group members and applied with them in every monthly meeting” Mrs. Phai said.

With increased wellbeing, Mrs. Phai is now exploring a new experience of growing eggplants from the EM fertilizer methods. After a few months, Mrs. Phai has found her eggplants getting more fruitful after using the EM fertilizer that she has made. “I’m very happy to see my eggplants growing very fast and fruitfully”. She has also put this made EM mixed with water for her daily drinking. “I have put this EM into a drinking water for my drink everyday”. 

Often, older people can become isolated and lonely. Especially in cases were older people become limited with movement due to ageing, they are often left in the home and are rarely able to leave the house as family are unable to assist them or have migrated for work. HAC that working with older people means more than advocacy or financial security, it means community and social inclusion.

Chicken Raising

Mr. Soeurb Soer, a 65 year old farmer who lives with his wife and 4 grandchildren in Reach Donkeo village of Ek Phnom district.

In the past, Mr. Soer’s family living conditions were bad but he was able to farm and sell chicken’s to make a small amount of money for daily life. However, as the community grows and becomes more expensive, the chicken farmer livelihood can no longer bring in enough money to feed everyone in the home. Mr. Soer’s livestock raising technique was very traditional and does not meet the fast demand of today’s needs. Also, due to the climate changes of the village, there was a chance of the chickens dying and that meant there was a high risk of Mr. Soer and his family having no income at all. Mr. Soer said, “I could not raise the chicken well, while I use my traditional habit and old technique” understanding that these practices are no longer sustainable.

In 2015, Mr. Soer made a life changing decision and registered as a member of the OPA in Reach Donkeo village and he was then selected to become one of the beneficiaries of BMZ project in Ek Phnom district. Through the OPA,

Mr. Soer started to have new opportunities like attending capacity building training on resilient cropping and livestock raising which assisted with adaptation to climate changes. Through the project, he also received farming materials, cropping seeds and 5 chickens; “I have learned a lot on resilient farming and adaptation cropping from the OPA and project, I have applied these learning technique to my current livelihood”.

After the training, Mr. Soer has been able to update from the traditional raising techniques to the new techniques. This has resulted in Mr. Soer and his family having almost 60 chickens’, every 3 months and this has generated an income of between 250,000 Riels to 300,000 Riels ($62.50 to $75 US dollars). Mrs. Soer can now support the needs of his family and send all of his 4 grandchildren to school. They are now able to save money in case of any health emergencies. Mr. Soer shares these successful techniques with his neighbours and other members of the OPAs. Mr. Soer has expressed that “I am really happy to have joined as the member of OPA and received capacity building and support from the OPA. I now have more income from chicken raising and can save 5,000 Riels ($1.25 US dollar) every month to keep my family secure and pay for health treatment in any emergency cases”.

Cambodia is built on agriculture, this is one of the primary sources of income with 80% of the community living in rural villages. Program’s around training and sustainable practices assist farmers and community members with staying up to date with a fast growing economy.

Wash Education

Mrs. Yung Lath, a 72 year old who is currently living with her 2 children and 4 grandchildren in a very old zinc house located in Ansong Sork village of Ek Phnom district.

Almost all Mrs. Lath’s life, her and her family have survived by drinking rainwater. The rainwater drops from the very old zinc roof of her house, flowing threw rust and dirt to the reserve jar. “My family is poor and we didn’t even know what safe drinking water was and could not afford clean water. We used the rain water for our daily cooking, washing, bathing, drinking and other necessary uses in our everyday live”.

Ms. Lath shared that drinking the rainwater, her and her grandchildren often become sick, have stomachaches and on occasion have had more serious conditions such as typhoid fever. These kind of illnesses would bring more struggle to the family as they would need to find money for the treatment. Her children would encourage her to boil rainwater before drinking but Mrs. Lath does not feel safe when cooking as she now forgets things and sometimes leaves the fire burning in the kitchen,  she became afraid of burning the house down, “I am really afraid of cooking these days, I’m very old now and forgot a lot. So I’m really afraid of the house burning”, she said.

After Mrs. Lath joined the OPA in her village in 2015, she received several training and awareness sessions on safe water and sanitation practices, what to do when disaster is coming and healthcare for older people. When joining the OPA, Mrs. Lath also received access to a water filter from the project.

After Mrs. Lath completed the safe water and sanitation training, she began to change her practices in daily life by drinking only safe water from the filter or boiled water. Mrs. Lath was also able to share her learning’s with her grandchildren, and taught them to wash their hands before having a meal and clean the rubbish around the house every day. After this, Mrs. Lath and her grandchildren feel healthier and now spend less money on health treatment, “I am very happy to join the OPA and hope this OPA will expand its activities to support other poor older people in the whole village”, she added. OPA’s are recognising and identifying the needs of older people in each village. The needs vary from village to village, OPA too OPA and it is important that the needs and solutions are identified by older people, for older people.

Equal Opportunity for Disability

Mr. Seng Voeurn is a 72 year old man living with a disability in Svay Chrum village of Ek Phnom district. Mr. Voeurn lives with his 6 children and 3 grandchildren in a small house. Mr. Voeurn lost both of his legs due to a mine explosion during the civil war in 1983.

Mr. Voeurn’s family are farmers, working in the rice fields and crops but this brings in little money for the family, and sometimes none at all due to natural disaster’s such the floods or storms destroying the crops. Mr. Voeurn shared his concerns “I really worry when a flood or storm occurs in the village because I’m in the wheelchair, so I cannot leave the home and my cropping will be all destroyed”.

Mr. Voeurn joined the OPA in his village in 2018 and as part of the OPA, Mr. Voeurn was able to join a series of awareness raising training on Disaster Risk Reductions activities. Mr. Voeurn told us “I now understand what disaster risk reduction is and how to prevent it because of joining the training and awareness session with OPA on disaster risk reduction”.

Imagine there is a flood coming to the village, what should the community do? There are unique challenges for the most vulnerable such as older people, children and people living with a disability. Mr. Voeurn shared that he is now aware of real practice within the community in these situations upon joining the drill “I become more aware about how to prevent before, during and after the disaster coming, particularly for someone living in a wheelchair like me”.

The OPA has played an important role in informing the communities and that older people in the village whenever a predicted disaster is coming. The OPA has also set up a sub-committee to support and respond to any disaster that occurs in the village. “I now feel warmer and safer joining the OPA, knowing there is a sub-committee and they are taking care of older people whenever there is a problem or disaster”.

A Hand Up

Mr. Yuk Yun, a 72 years old who currently lives with his wife and 4 grandchildren in Rum Chek village of Battambang province. Due to poor living conditions and limited work, all of his children have migrated to Thailand for work in the labor industry and have left their small children with Mr. Yun and his wife.

Mr. Yun and his wife were growing a small amount of crops to feed their grandchildren but other than this, they did not have enough money to provide school or other daily living expenses. Mr. Yun said that “My wife and I are old and we can’t do a younger persons job anymore. So we do cropping to feed our family”. Sometimes, his children are able to send them a small amount of money but not enough to send the children to school.

Mr. Yun and his wife joined as members of the OPA in their village and were able to request a loan of 400,000 Riels ($100 US dollars) from the OPA to expand their cropping, this could potentially increase earnings for the family. After receiving a loan from the OPA, Mr. Yun used this to buy more cropping seeds to grow beans, morning glory and cabbage in their small garden. After the crops were harvested, he began to earn regular income ranging between 5,000 Riels and 8,000 Riels ($1.25 US dollar to $2 US dollars) a day depending on the season.

After one year, Mr. Yun was able to pay back all of the loan to the OPA and saved enough money to buy medicine when someone in the family become unwell. Mr Yun can also afford to send his grandchildren to school and buy all the school materials required. Mr. Yun said, “At an old age like me, no one dare to give a loan but the OPA did. The OPA not only gave me a loan but also referred me to attend a training on agricultural techniques and cropping which allow me to grow fruitfully. I felt warm and happy to be the member of OPA”.

Unfortunately, in Cambodia there isn’t a social pension system. So unless an older people receives money from their family, they are forced to continue working for security. OPA’s assist older people learn skills for sustainable job opportunities that are age friendly and meet the needs of the growing economy.

Leadership and Community

Mr. Lek Sarorn, 68 years old who is a member of the WoW Group management committee in Kampong Preah village of Battambang province. Mr. Sarorn shared with HelpAge Cambodia that he was very excited to be elected as a committee member and join the WoW group activities, “I found the WoW model very exciting and this could make older people happy with a lot of exercise activities, building understanding of health care and improve knowledge on livelihood”, Mr. Sarorn said.

Mr. Sarorn’s OPA was first established in late 2017, driven by the older people in the village and with the technical support of HelpAge Cambodia. In the beginning, Mr. Sarorn’s OPA was unable to run activities for capacity building and was only able to support funeral funding or on the rare occasion, when someone become unwell.

With further growth and support from HAC, they were selected to become a WoW group. WoW group’s represent outstanding OPA’s who have become self-sustainable and self-funding. This was a very exciting movement in the village when this WoW group was selected to be apart of the SANA II project with HAC. Mr. Sarorn say’s “We now have many activities to support and help older people in the village such as exercise, health awareness and check-ups, a micro-credit program and livelihood”. Because of the support of the SANA II project and HAC, this increased the members of the group and participation in the WoW group’s activities.

The WoW committee aims to share important knowledge and increase the livelihood of older people and practices through meetings and activities, Mr. Sarorn said “I’m very happy to join the WoW group activities and support the poor and older people facing hardship in the village”.

Mr. Sarorn mentioned that in the past, he never cared much about his health, exercise and rarely visited health centers. After he received training on the Intergeneration Self Help Club (ISHC model) and healthcare, he began to adopt new routines such as regular exercise and monitoring his health. Mr. Sarorn said “I am having fun and enjoy the exercise now. Our WoW group is starting to do exercise weekly and I do exercise daily at home”. I felt much better upon trying a regular exercise and within these 3 months, even my eating and sleeping was better. My blood pressure is more stable than before”. Exercise and social inclusion for older people and communities are extremely important for a person’s mental health. Just the smallest activity 2-3 times week, such as a walk can increase a person’s wellbeing.