Like other countries, COVID-19 has had a major impact on Cambodia these past few months. Many people lost their jobs, especially manual labourers, but even those with good jobs have been laid off as businesses and tourism shut down. In rural villages, people could at least eat food from their land to supplement the lost earnings, but in Phnom Penh, the capital, and places where the large factories are, many people were laid off with no other means. As many countries are no longer purchasing and importing goods, Cambodia’s large textile industry has also been greatly impacted. So even if factories found a way to stay open, they have lost their international market.
Poorer families are in a desperate situation without daily income, as they have no savings and the government is not providing sufficient resources for all. Those people who had bank loans have had property and homes taken back when they were unable to pay back the funds.
During COVID-19 OM in Cambodia has remained open to the community where they work – adapting their working hours and the flow of people in the office to adhere to government regulations. The staff is involved in teaching hygiene and preventative care about the virus in the slums where much of their ministry occurs. They met with families individually, doing home visits, helped to distribute hand sanitizer and masks to those who couldn’t afford them and continue to provide counselling and advice to many.
The community where the team works trusts them and comes to them for help. Recently, more people than usual have needed food assistance, due to loss of jobs. As people walk into the OM office, they receive much more than a bag of rice to sustain their family for a while – they are engaged in conversation and offered the chance to share their burdens in a safe environment. Home visits have also been a key platform to address family concerns. People have shared with the OM team that the strain of not finding work, the uncertainty of the future or drug and alcohol habits are tearing their family apart. Families were told by the government to stay home: but for many large families living in tight quarters, their house is not a place of refuge. Tensions are high, and parents especially are turning to desperate measures to provide for their families.
“[People] want relief from stress, so they drink alcohol, but the way they solve the problem creates more problems,” Mom, a social worker with OM in Cambodia, explains. She has been at the forefront of the ministry in the slums. In her conversations with families, she helps them address issues like addiction, family values, protecting their children from prostitution and how to handle stress. “Of course, we pray with them and share about how they can trust God,” Mom says. “I talk to them because we cannot do anything on our own. Normally we try to use our own wisdom, but our wisdom has a limit. But if we trust God, nothing is impossible. I don’t know how to help them from my own wisdom, but I trust that God will help me and help them, too.”
With donations from supporters, OM Cambodia also supported some 200 vulnerable families in the slums with food packs, which include staple food like rice, noodles and other items like canned fish.