The Impacts of COVID-19 on Our Sports Programme
An Update from our Sports Project Manager, Sochet
Since the pandemic took over the world, it has not only cost many people their lives, but also changed everyone's lives; the way we live, learn, work, communicate, and travel has all been affected.
Positively, people have enjoyed spending more time with their families and working remotely. We have also seen a reduction in pollution. In general, people are reevaluating their needs versus their wants and placing a higher value on a simpler life.
Cambodia is no different from the rest of the world. Most people here are faced with restrictions from our government and the governments of our neighbours. Mentally and financially, the population is struggling. The economic recession has been triggered, there are forty-five thousand newly unemployed people in Siem Reap alone. Additionally, the development trajectory of Cambodia as a whole has been destabilized. A set back no developing country wants to face.
Impacts of the Lose of Tourists
Siem Reap draws its wealth from tourism. From private to public, all the local sectors are feeling the impact of reduced tourism numbers. In comparison to other provinces which rely on other industries such as agriculture and fisheries, activity in Siem Reap has halted. Local workers in entertainment, hospitality, and customer services have no income to support their families with bank expenses, bills or groceries. Without daily tourist opportunities, financial struggles are the main concern for Siem Reap households.
Closure of Schools
Unfortunately, when financial struggles are the primary concern for families, education is not. All schools and educational institutions have been closed since mid-March and are not predicted to open again until November; the beginning of the next school year. Even though Cambodia reported zero new cases for months, the government has not eased the closure restrictions.
Permission to Re-Commence the Sports Programme
The Ministries of Health and Education did, however, release guidelines for sports coaches to teach physical education and fundamental exercises in five villages. Our coaches have a great responsibility under these guidelines to deliver active sessions. Our coaches are able to deliver sessions in the mornings from Monday to Friday. They have a specific schedule to reach all our students from Helping Hands. In groups of 5 or 10, students participate in various activities depending on their age bracket. For ages 6 - 9 the session is primarily physical education. For ages 10 and above the sessions are primarily team sports.
After the session, students are encouraged to maintain the same level of hygiene as they would if they were attending school. Washing their hands with soap and water after playing outside. Not only to prevent the spread of the virus but also continues to encourage healthy habits.
Benefits for the Students
Active sessions have been so important for our students to keep them from boredom and stress. Our students are at a disadvantage to those students in the cities who have internet access and connectivity for their online lessons. For now, because the same technological infrastructure is not available in the villages we are only permitted by the ministries to teach physical education and sports.
Although the students can not continue conventional learning, the immediate impact of the active sessions has been inspiring for our coaches and Head Teacher. As much as we can, we are attempting to keep our students motivated and healthy during this uncertain time.
Some of the feedback our coaches have received include smiles, laughter, heightened engagement and comments like: “I really like the lesson especially fun games session”. “Please, come to teach us every day, or we will miss you like crazy”. “I love skipping rope exercises”. “Teacher, I want to play football in the field again soon”.
Though, the students appreciate the active sessions they still ask us questions regarding the reopening of Helping Hands and the progress of the contagion. To which the situation is too uncertain to say or lift their hopes.
Encouraging Good Habits in Students
The success of the program is due to preparation and enthusiasm by the coaches and the students. In the same way that the school day encourages commitment, health, proper habits, and routine, the programme tries to deliver a kind of limited continuation of this. Most of the students have understood that they need to finish their housework and farm work before the start of the session if they don’t want any interruptions from their parents. It seems that the students feel the session is an important part of the start of their day.
Even though they don’t have typical schooling, this routine keeps them fit and active, heightens their performance, stimulates better communication, builds leadership skills, and teamwork. Once the session is over, you will find the students cleaning, taking care of cattle, feeding, finding firewood, or fishing.
The longer the pandemic exists the greater the consequences for developing countries like Cambodia and our tourism-reliant city, Siem Reap. Most Cambodians are able to adapt to new ways of working, meeting, and studying through online platforms. Though, our main concern in the countryside is the limited internet access, low mobile network, and a lack of online infrastructures and facilities letting down our children. Our rural children are missing a whole year of essential learning, growth, and development.
However, we will continue helping the students through our sports programme and look forward to the day when Helping Hands can open it's doors again.
-Sochet Kong, Cambodia Sports Programme Manager