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Bringing nurturing care straight to the most vulnerable children - UNICEF project supported by the Czech Republic

How villages leaders, healthcare providers, and teachers are supporting parents in underserved communities to build a solid foundation for children to grow, learn, and thrive.

“Since we started integrated community outreach, I’ve seen many positive changes in our community. Malnutrition is down, childhood vaccination is up, and more children are enrolled in preschool than ever before. Bringing essential services directly to families means more young children get the regular check-ups they need and more mothers learn about health services, the importance of preschool, and the government’s cash transfer programme, for the poorest families.” Ms. Lun Ny is a representative of Dar Commune Committee for Women and Children (CWCC) in Chetr Borei District, Kratie Province, in northeastern Cambodia.

Especially for those in remote villages, traveling to health centres costs time and money they often don’t have, and before integrated outreach visits started, many of these families weren’t aware of all the services available for their children’s healthy development. Ms Lun Ny and other commune leaders play a key connector role, ensuring parents know about available services and commune leadership stays updated on the needs of families.

Volunteer village leaders, like Ms. Lun Ny, are not alone in this cross-cutting work. Funded by the Czech Republic and in strong partnership with key ministries and sub-national government, UNICEF has been providing support to children under six years old through the Integrated Early Childhood Development (IECD) programme, through system strengthening in health and nutrition, water and hygiene, education, and social protection. UNICEF has also been been developing trainings and tools to empower these local actors to bring improved services to those that need it most, through community outreach visits.

The programme focuses on five districts in Kratie and Ratanakiri that had the lowest education and health outcomes for Cambodia’s youngest children. “These districts are leveraging existing touchpoints of village life – community leaders, healthcare workers and teachers – to make parents aware of all the services available for the optimal development of their children and give all children the same chance at success in education, future work and community partcipation.” said H.E Martin Vávra, Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Cambodia. H.E. M. Vávra and Ms Barbora Žáčková, Development Cooperation Counselor for the Embassy of the Czech Republic, joined Ms. Foroogh Foyouzat, UNICEF's Representative in Cambodia and UNICEF staff to see the progress being made in Kratie province and hear about the ongoing challenges.

According to Ms Kuhn Dany, a midwife and antenatal care nurse at Dar Health Centre, the outreach is working well in her community. “In six years, I’ve seen our clinic go from seeing 20-30 patients per day to more than 100. Not only are daily patient visits up, but we’ve seen malnutrition go down. The quarterly outreach visits to villages make a big difference because underweight children can get help early. We advise the parents on nutrition and give them a substantial supply of therapeutic nutrition supplies so their children are being treated even if they can’t travel to the health centre every week.” Dany also emphasized that she gives as many tips as she can about positive parenting, whether during her village outreach visits or patient appointments at the health centre. “We educate parents about nutrition, sanitation and hygiene, and child rights, like access to education. I also make sure to integrate messages of violence prevention and let them know what to do if violence ever happens in their homes.” She looks forward to future trainings with UNICEF to improve her counseling abilities.

As much as the outreach seems to be working, Dany shared her hopes for expansion. “I would like to see our visits to remote villages increase to once per month. These visits build confidence in our health centre staff, which means they are more likely to visit us. We would also have more time to counsel mothers on nutrition and to talk to them about other services, like the cash transfer programme which helps ensure their budget for nutritious foods and transportation for antenatal and early childhood health checks.”

Beyond increasing awareness and use of health services, the IECD programme is also working to strengthen quality and attendance of preschools. 200 public and community preschool teachers and 80 preschool directors across Kratie and Ratanakiri provinces have been training on Social Emotional Learning (SEL), inclusive learning, and how to assess student’s growth and development, while also gaining access to a broad peer network through quarterly technical meetings. CWCC Representatives, like Ms. Lun Ny, also attend these meetings. “My teachers and I learn so much from hearing about issues in other schools and finding common solutions. Together we pool our resources to solve problems and deepen our ability to support the social, emotional, and cognitive development of our students”,  Ms Bean Socheata, School Director of Resource Preschool O Russey 2, shared with the UNICEF team and the Ambassador during the visit.

The teachers talked about the importance of keeping parents informed on their child’s achievements and engaged in what early childhood education means for their futures.  One preschool teacher said, “I hear from the primary school that all my former students are more focused, confident and have better grades than children who didn’t attend preschool. Those results keep me motivated to keep improving my techniques and help me encourage parents to keep their kids in preschool.” Preschool children in these five districts reap the benefit of these teachers’ efforts in the form of fun, play-based teaching practices, engaging learning materials, and, from an early age, learn about proper hygiene and can access proper sanitation and clean drinking water.

One grandmother shared, “I never learned to read or write, so I’m so happy to see both my grandchildren in pre-school. We’re lucky the school is very close to our home – I can easily walk to drop them off and pick them up. At the end of each day, I love to see what they have learned– whether it’s writing new letters or singing a new song while we wash our hands together.” She looks after her grandchildren while their mom and dad work long hours or migrate to Thailand for months at a time. Her story is not uncommon, so the CWCC ensures that these caretakers are included during regular IECD outreach to access health services and educational opportunities.

With ongoing support from the Czech Republic, the next phase of the IECD programme, a nationwide Social Behaviour Change Campaign, kicks off this summer. The round support will go a long way toward ensuring that even the most remote and hard to reach communities can give their children the best start in life and are equally nurtured at home, school and throughout the community