Child Clubs in Action
By Maryann Bylander, Managing Director
For the next two weeks PEPY’s 350 Child Club members are taking to the streets in Chanleas Dai Commune. Their mission? Spreading messages about the importance of clean water. Three child clubs have joined together today in Kok Tnaut village, doing the first stop of their “Clean Water Campaign,” which will reach all 11 villages in the area over the course of two weeks. Marching with banners and a rusty microphone strapped to a bicycle, they cheer in a semblance of unified response to their 14 year old leader.
“Clean water makes us healthy. Is it so?”
“What do we want?”
“We want good hygiene!”
Before long, a trail of smaller children gathers behind the group and begins to march in step. Parents and older generations laugh and smile as they watch the campaign pass their homes. At points along the way, the children disperse and walk into different households to explain their messages. They carry hand-drawn brochures with simple messages about the importance of water filters, not drinking directly from the fields, or boiling water that might be contaminated.
Though many children and adults in the village know these messages already, they don’t always follow them. It is quite common to see children and adults drinking water directly from the rice fields while farming, a significant health risk as this stagnant water has been loaded with fertilizers and also carries other bacteria. Families without water filters rarely boil or treat water, and sometimes young children drink directly out of pumps, especially when they are far from home. Across Cambodia, diarrheal disease is one of the most common killers of children under the age of 5.
I trail the group, along with a visiting PEPY supporter. We discuss what effect this campaign might have. Though the goal is ostensibly educating the community about the importance of clean water, like much of the work we do in Child Clubs the action-oriented end result is only the showpiece. Actual changes have come along the way, and we hope will continue to do so. As children go through the process of learning about specific problems in their village and finding ways of taking action to change them, small changes happen each day. They take place when children ask their younger siblings whether they washed their hands before dinner. They take place when parents see their child coming home each Sunday showing pictures about clean water and begin thinking about purchasing a ceramic water filter. They take place when the children who drink directly from the pump or the fields are chided by their peers. The campaign is exciting recognition and a public display, but we expect that most of the attitude and behavior changes towards better health are happening regardless.
Beyond that, we hope that the participating children recognize, through the clubs and club campaigns and actions, their own power to make a difference in their families and communities. Whether it’s related to clean water or something else, standing up and making their voices heard shows children the power of a voice and a group of voices, no matter if they are all between the ages of 10 and 16.
The trail of yellow shirts files down the road and turns at a bush of romchek plants, beginning their wide circle encompassing the village. PEPY’s child educators stand off to the side watching. Laughing and holding hands, the children call back to their leader and his microphone.
“Do we care about our health?”
“Yes we do!”
“I can’t hear you”
“Yes we do!”
Make sure and take a look at the photos from this campaign here!
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