Coronavirus in Cambodia: These Initiatives Need your Support!

Mulberry hotel worker handing over a food parcel to a child in Cambodia, as part of the initiative Hotels Joining Hands directed to provide basic nutrition to people who lost their jobs due to coronavirus epidemic

The latest news says that, since the start of the epidemic, the coronavirus in Cambodia infected 122 citizens, and 120 of these have already recovered. COVID-19 had no death toll in this Southeast Asian country. Since April 12th, they’ve recorded no new cases of infection either.

These numbers look great, even if we ignore for a moment all those doubts over the extent of testing. Cambodia certainly didn’t come anywhere close to the tragic scenarios of Italy, Spain, or the USA. However, in a world under lockdown, the country’s reliance on tourism as a key booster of the economy may become a true nightmare!

This April, Angkor Wat received only 654 visitors! With tourism on its knees, Cambodia faces challenges as serious as the coronavirus epidemic!

The effects are already here. Before the crisis that started in Wuhan, practically every third tourist in Cambodia came from China! The most famous Khmer tourist site Angkor Wat welcomed 122 Chinese tourists this April. In the same month last year, there were 78.917 visitors from China!

The largest religious structure in the world is one of the main reasons why international tourists visit Cambodia. From 185.403 visitors in April 2019, the total numbers dropped to 654 in April 2020! The nightmarish crowds visiting Angkor Wat I wrote about in December, are now just a distant memory!

Even in the heyday of Angkor Wat tourism, Siem Reap Province was one of the poorest in Cambodia. Every second inhabitant here lived below the poverty line, earning barely 79 Cents per day!

The drop in tourist numbers severely impacted the income of many Cambodians. The country that experienced famine during the terror of the Khmer Rouge regime, is now facing new challenges that could have a seriously detrimental effect.

Luckily, there are initiatives that recognized that the lockdown is not a moment for shutting down the spirit. There are still ways one could make a meaningful difference!

Support these initiatives dealing with coronavirus effects in Cambodia!

1. Hotels joining hands

Treeline hotel workers holding food prepared to donate to those affected by coronavirus crisis in Cambodia
All packaging is sanitized before use, and teams delivering food are trained to ensure social distancing and high levels of hygiene

With no tourists in sight, the hotels could have easily put the key in their lock and waited for better times. But three properties in Siem Reap, already famous for their responsible approach to tourism have partnered up to make a difference!

Jaya House Hotels, Treeline Urban Resort, and Mulberry Boutique Hotel joined with the Cambodian Landmine Museum in an initiative to deliver food to those in need.

“Now that the coronavirus crisis has hit, the hospitality industry has come to a devastating and grinding halt. Many jobs have been lost, many hotels closed and many Khmer without an income to provide for themselves let alone their families”, says Christian de Boer, the managing director of Jaya.

Hotels Joining Hands is a community-based partnership that wishes to provide basic nutrition in these hard times. With the rice harvesting season still a long way off and the monsoons fast approaching, there is a serious risk of malnutrition and waterborne diseases.

In the past weeks, the partner hotels have donated thousands of meals and tons of rice to fellow Cambodians. The current capacity of the project is 300-400 meals per day, but demand is higher. The hotels aim to double production.

Local suppliers provide all meals, which means that the project is creating jobs even in times of crisis!

In accordance with sustainable practices of the hotels (remember, plastic-free Jaya House RiverPark was my favorite hotel of 2017, and Treeline Urban Resort won the same title in my 2019 year review!), they serve all the meals in natural, biodegradable parcels!

The initiative is entirely based on donations so help it out at the Hotels Joining Hands website!

2. Transforming life through arts

The drawing of a Muslim woman entangled in coronavirus, the interpretation of discrimination by Mout Bunthorn, a third year student of graphic design in Phare Visual Arts School in Battambang, Cambodia
Phare student Mout Bunthorn expressed the discrimination against the infected and isolated Muslim woman in Battambang

Besides hotels, restaurants, and shops, Cambodian entertainment venues have closed too.

Phare Ponleu Selpak, the NGO improving the lives of underprivileged youth through fine arts and circus, was especially affected. Both of their venues, in Battambang and Siem Reap, were ordered to close. Over 1000 students lost the source of their income! These circus shows were financing 60 % of the school’s budget, which raised a great question mark on the future of this extraordinary project.

COVID-19 did not break their spirit! The artists created “Stay home, stay fit” TikTok video showing how you can train even at home. The visual arts students and their alumni created inspiring artworks and shared them on social media. The school also partnered with Minor Act to create an engaging music video with an important public health message – “Wash Ya Handz!!!”. The proceeds from every stream of the track go directly to Phare artists, so make sure to watch the video! It is also linked to the “Save the circus kids” crowdfunding initiative.

The Phare has prioritized emergency food relief for the most vulnerable members of their staff and artists. With the circus not performing and no income arriving, the basic nutrition support became a priority. Phare plans to deliver emergency relief packs of food and sanitary products in the following weeks as well!

However, without outside support, this cannot be a long-lasting measure. Consider making a donation to the school, so they can continue providing food, as well as art education and employment opportunities for Cambodian youth and their families! Did you know that your donation of 50 Dollars can supply one Cambodian family with food for a whole month?

3. Taking care of the elephants

The elephant in the forest during the jungle trek of Mondulkiri Project in Cambodia, photo by Ivan Kralj
With no tourists, jungle treks that were providing income for the elephant care exist no more

Besides people, even elephants are threatened by the coronavirus crisis in Cambodia!

These gentle giants who built the famous Angkor Wat, are the endangered species in Cambodia today. They fell victim to the loss of habitat, poaching, and snares.

To save the elephants from heavy farm work and elephant rides, animal sanctuaries, such as the Mondulkiri Project, have been established. The idea was that tourists would be willing to join the jungle treks with the elephants and provide a more ethical source of income.

With no tourists, no alternative solution for the elephants is available. Mondulkiri Project asked for donations so they can continue paying mahouts to take care of the animals, renting the forest where they live, as well as renting Sophie, the elephant that the sanctuary doesn’t own permanently.

If you wish to support the five elephants of the Mondulkiri project, click to donate here!

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The coronavirus epidemic in Cambodia was mild, with no death cases. But with no visitors in sight, many families whose income was relying on tourism, the artists, even the elephants... They all face a major threat that could have detrimental effects! These are some worthy intiatives you can support to help fight the effects of coronavirus in Cambodia!

Ivan Kralj


Award-winning journalist and editor from Croatia

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