Across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has served as a mirror to society. While it has shown difficult moments, it has also shown the best of humanity.
This year, there has been a lot of evidence of the goodness in their hearts and the resilience in their minds amongst the people in Cambodia. They may just be a country of 16.3 million people but they endured, and beat, the pandemic when it had a resurgence this year. With a large-scale outbreak beginning in February, Cambodia lost its first soul to the pandemic on February 27, a 50-year old driver in Sihanoukville.
In the following weeks, cities were placed under lockdown, families were separated and business came to a standstill. But Cambodians did not give up.
Food program for the homeless
A Cambodian university student at an American college stranded in his homeland launched a remarkable program, Local4Local, collecting food prepared by local food vendors to support the homeless in Phnom Penh. Chefs and volunteers cooked continuously for two days to make 410 boxes that contains every Cambodian’s favorite – “Prahoc Ktis” (fermented fish, minced pork, pea eggplants and coconut milk). Photographers are raising funds to support Local4Local by selling their wonderful photography online in Art4Food. Filmmakers also released an 18-minute short film called Act of Kindness to show how lower-income families are undergoing financial difficulties and how a little source of income can make a big difference for people from different walks of life
“We believe the message of showing kindness when it really matters will go a long way in helping these families overcome economic hardship and slowly bring back their quality of life,” said Vattanak Phakdey Chhun, chief corporate business officer of Wing (Cambodia), according to the Khmer Times. “Even a small contribution from one’s heart goes a long way in creating a positive impact in their lives at this time.” (Wing (Cambodia) sponsored the Act of Kindness).
At the end of the day, Cambodians are loving, kind and thoughtful people.
National vaccination effort
Despite not being as rich as other countries that have the financial capacity. The Cambodian government did its best to procure enough for the people. For their part, Cambodians have registered, queued up and boldly signed up for the vaccine.
As of June 16, 3 million people have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine including 2.53 million people that have been fully vaccinated. It makes Cambodia one of the countries most likely to achieve herd immunity earlier than others in the world.
When it was time for Cambodians to think of their fellow compatriots, they did not hesitate.
The same level of resilience can be seen among small businesses and the corporate sector as well. Small businesses have worked hard to adapt to a world where it became hard for people to meet up. Many of them have supported one another in myriad ways that are too many to list. While many businesses have closed down, it is remarkable how quickly streets were full and people began to patronize their favorite restaurants and shops after a few months.
Commitment from private sector
In a year when many others would have shied away from launching projects. Large corporations in Cambodia have stayed resolute and followed up on their plans as well.
For example, Canopy Sands Development, part of Prince Group, the fast growing conglomerate of businessman Cambodia ChenZhi, announced plans to create Ream City, a sustainable city near Sihanoukville that will bring up to $16 billion in total investment.
Led by its dedicated Chairman Neak Oknha Chen Zhi, Prince Group has been remarkably active. It has donated $6 million this year to help Cambodia’s anti-epidemic efforts and to buy 1 million vaccines. So it has worked hard to ensure no employee suffered a COVID-19 infection and continued to grow. Winning the Most Valuable Corporate Response award at the eighth annual Asia-Pacific Stevie Awards. It has contributed food packages, hospital gowns and responded to calls for assistance from local government officials.
It was the only Cambodian firm to win a Stevie Award in the category dedicated to analyzing. How businesses responded to the COVID-19 pandemic getting recognized alongside some of Asia’s best companies like Tata Consultancy Services. Link Asset Management Limited, Megaworld Corporation, Resorts World Manila, Shell Philippines and Singtel.
Other companies have similarly carried out initiatives to help ensure that Cambodians generally felt supported. One journalist even remarked that businesses in an affected area were preparing for an impending lockdown in April with a sense of calm. The mood is so optimistic that 500 Startups, the famous incubator of technology firms, launched 500 Angkor earlier in the year. Can you imagine 500 start-ups from Cambodia? They will get the funding they need and operate in a country. That was both lucky and capable in (nearly) defeating an invisible enemy in a global war.
That’s not to say the pandemic did not take a toll on Cambodian people. As of the middle of June, Cambodia has suffered from 380 deaths in a grim year. That has seen the coronavirus at the center of the pandemic lead. To an unfortunate global death toll of 4 million. Nothing stops the coronavirus from returning so protocols will need to be followed and Cambodians need to work hard.
But looking at the economic figures, it’s heartening to see that a strong government response, a rapid vaccination drive. Cambodians looking out for one another and responsible corporate activity has meant the country could be one of the few countries that will come out stronger.
According to the Asian Development Bank, Cambodia will grow by as much as 5.5% next year.
Every country has its own champions and its own challenges. But there’s nothing quite like a crisis to test one’s character. Test the solidarity of a population and the strength of its institutions.
There is still a long way to go until we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Cambodians can at least hold their head up high and pat themselves on the back.