“We often have problems with floods in our school,” says 10-year-old Thorn Sonisa. “And then we have to go to the high building to be safe,” she adds, pointing to a large classroom on stilts at her primary school in the southern town of Kampot.
Many children at Hunsen 1 Makara School recall the catastrophic floods of 2013 and 2011 which claimed 418 lives and affected more than 1.5 million people across the country.
“Kampot is prone to floods, high winds and droughts which create serious hazards for schools and communities,” explains Vannak Min, Early Warning System Officer at ActionAid Cambodia.
ActionAid, along with partners DanChurchAid and People in Need, is implementing a European Union-funded Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) project in the region entitled “Building Disaster Resilient Communities” which includes a strong focus on schools.
Children from Hunsen 1 Makara and 13 other schools in Kampot and Phnom Penh are becoming enthusiastic ambassadors for potentially life-saving DRR messages that they pass on to their families.
“What do you do when you’re in a storm with lots of lightening? Do you shelter under a tree!?” asks an upbeat trainer at a DRR School Days event in November, aimed at boosting awareness of disaster preparedness among students, teachers, parents and the wider community.
“No! Go inside!” the children roar back, clutching posters they’ve designed about what to do in the event of a disaster at school.
In September 2016 ActionAid and a local NGO -- the Centre for Children and Women Development in Cambodia (CWDCC) -- began training provincial education officials and school directors as trainers. They have since passed on their knowledge to teaching staff who in turn are raising awareness among their students.
“When there are floods, I tell my parents to put our food, water and medicine safely upstairs. They do that and they tell our neighbors too,” says Thorn Sonisa.
“This school has always had problems with disasters and parents have been worried about their children’s safety during floods,” he explains, adding that school days were lost in the past due to inaccessible classrooms.
“Now we have a plan to resolve that and to ensure the kids have a safe place and a proper escape route when the water rises.”
Mr. Nget Savoevn, Director of the Provincial Committee for Disaster Management, echoes a lesson that many of the school children have learned: that everyone needs to learn disaster survival skills.