The young and old in Cambodia
By Teyaorm Mas, Research and Consultancy Project Officer, This Life Cambodia Linking and Learning Facilitator Cambodia.
Cambodia’s population has steadily been on the rise in the past few years with the majority being over 50 years of age. From 2015 the percentage of older person’s population has increased from 16% to about 22.6%. This translates into approximately 50,000 people.
In Cambodia, older people have endured a lot, including civil war and extreme poverty, in order to give young people a chance for a better future. With almost no support from the Government, they are left to depend on their children – who often have low paying jobs.
Imagine not having that special someone to share your joys, wins, and losses with? How does this make you feel? Well, most of the time this is the reality of older persons in Cambodia who suffer loneliness as they don’t have a family, or whose children are working abroad. For far too long their voices were not heard as they were left to fend for themselves.
Cambodia’s YMCA (CYMCA), a Voice empowerment grantee, believes that young people have the time, resources and energy to help tackle these deep problems. Starting with only four volunteers, this number has fivefold to twenty.
For Sang Samart, Heam Phary, Soeurn Marina and Set Olvi, volunteering to work with and for the elderly was not something that they had really thought about but are now loving. These four pioneer volunteers of CYMCA are very proactive in assisting isolated older people in their homes, providing assistance and company. They find that in their day to day interactions with the elderly, they are now engaging more, learning from their experiences. What a sure way of keeping the fire of the Khmer traditions alive!
The youth, through CYMCA, has pushed for support to form the Older People’s Associations (OPAs). The OPAs are designed to encourage older people to raise their concerns on issues around ageing, better living conditions and factors concerning social exclusion. This enables them to have a more public voice, to raise questions on issues around social justice and their rights, and have a community that supports each other. The project titled Youth Action to Promote Voice of Elderly People or YAPVE forms the OPAs by recruiting and registering people aged 60+ from all backgrounds within six mostly poor communities in Phnom Penh. Between October of 2018 and January 2019, CYMCA helped set up three OPAs, which involved 130 older people. The OPAs are developing active leaders who advocate not just for themselves but for all people of their generation.
After our team provides awareness training of OPA formation, the local authorities and community cooperatives now participate in OPA meetings when we invite them.
More youths are now trained to support older people through the YAPVE project. They perform home visits, conduct counselling, and support older people who are sick and need access to medical care in health centers or hospitals. They now understand ageing issues related to living conditions of older people and the importance of involving policy makers, government officers, and private sector in being accountable to the needs of the community.
The community is strong and the elders help each other when they have problems. They provide warmness to each other without discrimination. They are happy, feel included and no longer feel that they are left behind.
A big thank you to all persons and voices responsible for making this article a possibility. We hope that the spirit of inclusion and passion to learn culture and traditions amongst the youth has a ripple effect all over Cambodia.