“Now I Use Contraception” – Oun Srey Leak’s Story

This is the third blog in a 4-part series sharing personal family planning stories from around the world – presented by CARE and Girls’ Globe in the lead up to the 2018 International Conference on Family Planning. Catch up on the whole series with stories from HawaParmila, and Olive.

Oun Srey Leak, a 26-year-old mother of one, navigates her way to work on a crowded street in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. She has worked in the Gladpeer garment factory for five years.

The garment industry is a huge part of Cambodia’s economy, employing over 700,000 workers. About 90% of these workers are women.

Srey Leak, like many of her colleagues, moved to Phnom Penh from a less populous area of Cambodia in search of job opportunities. She met her husband and shortly after became pregnant with their daughter.

Photo by GMB Films

“After I got married, I heard using contraception could stop us from being able to have children in the future. So, that’s why I decided to have a child soon after I got married. Two months after the wedding, I got pregnant,” Srey Leak explained.

Although half of female garment workers report being sexually active, less than a third of them use modern contraceptives.

Just as soon as Srey Leak became a new mom, she was faced with the demand to return to the garment factory. “After the birth, I needed to get back to work. So, I took my daughter to my mother back in the province. I am now far away from my child because I don’t have time to take care of her.”

Srey Leak’s story is not atypical. Most Cambodian garment factories operate six days a week, eight hours a day, and workers are often paid based on the outputs they produce, rather than the time they put in. Taking time off to go to the doctor may cost them more income than they can afford to lose, and there are limited health providers and pharmacies operating on Sundays when the factories are closed.

For the past five years, CARE has been working in garment factories to help women like Srey Leak make healthy decisions. Chat! is a package of activities that reaches women inside factories, where they spend most of their time. The innovative package includes sessions providing information on various sexual and reproductive health topics.

Srey Leak welcomed the opportunity to take control of her health. “One day, CARE came to invite workers to join a short training. They showed me short films about understanding the different types of contraception, safe abortion, and the ways in which we can avoid unplanned pregnancies.”

The sessions are paired with videos that feature fictional characters, in which the women can relate to and identify real health challenges. There is also an app that provides interactive quizzes and activities that are tailored specifically for garment workers, to facilitate ongoing learning.

After she learnt about the various modern contraceptive methods available to her, Srey Leak decided to start using oral contraceptives.

“I now take the contraceptive pill every day. If I’d known about this method before, I could have used it before falling pregnant,” she shared. “For me, after I joined CARE’s training, it changed my life. Now I use contraception and I have a greater understanding. So, it means I can have enough money for my next child.”

Chat! is supported by the Australian government’s Partnering to Save Lives (PSL) initiative and the Cambodian Ministry of Health in an alliance to reduce maternal and newborn mortality in Cambodia. Workers who participated are twice as likely to use modern family planning methods and health services. Factory managers have reported increased productivity and reduced absenteeism within their workers.

Learn more about CARE Cambodia’s garment factory work here, and read an interview with Chat! co-founders Maly Man and Julia Battle.

Beyond the Classroom: It takes more than books to keep girls in school

Michael Foley, Story of a Schoolgirl and her Family (flickr)
Michael Foley, Story of a Schoolgirl and her Family. (Flickr)

Girls are going to school.  All over the world the rate of girls attending school has increased.  Between 1999 and 2004, the number of out-of-school girls fell by 24% and there are new organizations every year dedicated to lowering this percentage and keeping girls in school.  The organizations below show some of the creativity and dedication required to get and keep girls in school:

Skateistan

Operating in Afghanistan and Cambodia, Skateistan is using supplemental skateboarding and arts-focused classes to increase school enrollement rates.  After school, students come to the Skateistan facilities to free skate, receive lessons and take other creative arts classes.  Many of the skaters were once street working children and are behind in their schooling.  But Skateistan’s “Back to School” program takes an innovative approach to keep children in school:

Skateistan employs a female Student Support Officer to not only help [the children] enroll in school, but also to follow their progress.  As the contact point between Skateistan, families, and public schools, Skateistan’s Student Support Officer ensures these girls and boys continue their education for years to come” – 2012 Skateistan Annual Report

This comprehensive support is crucial for getting the students back on track by reducing the likelihood that they will slip through the cracks and end up back on the streets.

While Skateistan’s model is not going to solve the education crisis in Afghanistan, the simple act of getting girls on the board should not be overlooked.  Skateistan uses skateboarding as the medium because it is taboo and viewed as immoral for women to ride bicycles in public in Afghanistan.   But if girls can skateboard, they not only have an alternative for transportation, but there is another tool in their toolbox to help them navigate the oppression and inequality in Afghanistan.

Learning a new trick or successfully skating through the loops and ramps of the skate park builds confidence and increases a sense of autonomy.  The girls and boys share the skate park at Skateistan and, unlike many sports in Afghanistan, are seen as equals when they’re together on the board. Every afternoon, the Skateistan youth of Afghanistan and Cambodia are one kick-flip closer to economic equality and social empowerment.

Check out this video of the girls in action!

The Penchan Project

The Pehchan Project addresses a major setback as to why girls are not in school – due to absences, they have fallen behind and cannot re-enroll at the appropriate level.  Girls are forced to drop out of school to work, get married or because of the inability of the family to pay the school fees.  Once a girl falls behind her class, it is extremely difficult, intimidating and overall unlikely that she will rejoin her classmates.  But the Pehchan Project aims to bring girls in India who have dropped out or never attended school back into the classroom.  The program brings them up to the appropriate grade level so they can reintegrate into the mainstream schools.

Burmese Migrant Workers’ Education Committee

When Burmese children are escaping violence instead of sitting in a classroom, the Burmese Migrant Workers’ Education Committee (BMWEC) is across the border in Thailand ready to help.  BMWEC operates at a popular crossing between Myanmar and Thailand and exists to ensure that migrant children don’t fall behind in their schooling.

When families are forced to migrate, it is common that the child has not been in school for years. BMWEC teaches teenagers at a primary school level and works tirelessly to get them back up to speed.  Because the organization is recognized by the Myanmar government, if families are able to re-seek refuge elsewhere in Myanmar, the children can rejoin the school system at the appropriate grade level.

Times of conflict and especially forced migration can cause severe psychological trauma to the children involved.  School offers stability and certainty in a child’s life when almost everything else is uncertain.  BMWEC recognizes this and goes a step further in welcoming the Burmese students who face isolation, discrimination and language barriers in the Thai public schools.  Ensuring that Burmese boys and girls have access to one of its 25 learning centers, the BMWEC is offering a dependable way for children to grow in a traumatic time of change.

To learn more about these and other organizations working creatively to keep girls in school, check out the Centre for Education Innovations.