Supporting Grandmothers in Caring for Their GrandchildrenBy Vanndeth Um
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, international migration to Thailand, Korea or further afield was common for many families in rural Cambodia to escape poverty. In recent years, the growth of the clothing industry and rapid economic development in Phnom Penh have also driven internal migration. These trends have had a significant influence on the lives of hundreds of thousands of rural families in the country. More and more parents are leaving their villages to seek new opportunities elsewhere, leaving children in the care of a family member, in most cases their maternal grandmother. According to a study by the International Organization for Migration in 2019, grandmothers had taken on the role of primary caregivers in almost two-thirds (64%) of households in Cambodia.
In Kampong Speu Province, grandmother Dy takes care of her four grandchildren, aged three months, 18 months, nine years, and 10 years old. Her own two children work in factories. “I get up at 5am and cook for my grandchildren. I take care of them. Then I start preparing firewood and growing rice. I also wash the clothes for the whole family,” she says.
Another grandmother, Kim, takes care of her three grandchildren, aged five, four and two years old. She has been their nanny since each of them was six months old. Every day, Kim gets up at 5am to cook for the family and feed her grandchildren. She also cleans the house, washes the dishes, does the laundry and takes care of the garden. “I feel stressed at times while taking care of the grandchildren,” Kim says. “If I did not take care of them, my children would not be able to work and make a living.”
According to a survey conducted by World Vision in 2020, only 67% of grandmothers surveyed were aware of the five optimal infant and young child feeding practices, while 47% practiced four or more potentially harmful practices that can have a negative impact on the well-being of mothers and children. In addition, 30% of grandmothers reported high levels of stress or exhaustion and 47% said they felt sad or depressed at least once in the previous week.
Based on these results, we organised monthly meetings to promote the understanding of alternative care practices. The programme also encourages other household members to share responsibilities with the grandmothers to lighten her load by holding intergenerational meetings. Dy and Kim have both completed four sessions of the programme. “I had a chance to meet other grandmothers and we encouraged one another. After meeting with them, I manage my stress better and I feel happier,” Kim says.
The experience of our Nutrition Programme confirms that grandmothers have a significant and positive impact on a child's health and nutritional status. With the right knowledge of maternal and new-born health, and child caregiving, as well as a little encouragement, grandmothers can become agents of change in their families and wider communities. We work closely with grandmother groups to ensure children are healthy and well-nourished, especially during the first 1,000 days. So far, World Vision has benefited over 1,800 children in Cambodia who are in the care of grandmothers, through 50 groups of grandmothers.