Bak Touk fire response: rebuilding livelihoods and self-esteem

On January 6th, a massive fire broke out in Bak Touk village in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district. The terrible blaze left 150 families, including hundreds of children, mostly poor migrants who had traveled to the capital in search of work, without possessions or a roof over their head. 40 of the affected families, including 79 children, are already known to Friends, as they are service users of our various projects including receiving support for education, income generation and substance misuse.

The scale of the loss of these families is considerable and Mith Samlanh (Friends-International in Phnom Penh) committed to provide both immediate life-saving support and longer-term assistance to rebuild livelihoods.

The aftermath of the fire.

Livelihoods going up in smoke

In one night, Sokna* lost everything she had built over the past five years: her house, her business, her savings and her self-esteem. 

Sokna is 36 years old. She’s now a single mom as her husband of 16 years left her 2 years ago to live with another woman. Back in 2015, we met Sokna during our outreach activities in Russey Keo district and offered to enroll her in our home based production team. We trained her to make bags, toys, jewelry and other products we sell in the Friends’N’Stuff shop. Later, she told us she would like to start her own business to make more money and become independent. 

Mith Samlanh supported her to start her business by providing a short business training along with material to kick-start. Sokna decided to sell drinks in front of her house. Her business had been running well for two years when her husband decided to leave, which weakened the family situation.

Distressed, Sokna told our team she wanted to migrate to Thailand to find better opportunities. Migration to richer countries often seems like a better option to many, but can be risky and lead to worse situations for some, especially if they migrate illegally. The Mith Samlanh team explained the challenges and risks of migration to Sokna who then decided to stay and look for another job instead. She handed her business over to her mom, hoping to increase the family income and to better provide for her children. 

“I was so excited and thankful for Mith Samlanh to support me, and encourage me to make me stronger and more confident. I worked so  hard for five years to earn money to support my children, buy some material for my house and make savings. The fire destroyed everything in my house, including my business and possessions.”

Mith Samlanh social worker conducting assessment of Bak Touk fire victims.

Responding to the crisis

On January 16th, Mith Samlanh distributed emergency support material to 15 families including 34 children affected by the fire. Each family received an emergency support pack with a sleeping mat and sleeping material, a gas stove, kitchen supplies, diapers, clothes and school material. Among those, 13 families were also supported with temporary house rental. 

“The challenge is not only about material. Most of the families have lost (not only) their homes but also their energy, confidence and self-esteem.”

Sakun, social worker and Russey Keo Zone Manager.

Emotional support is a key component of our emergency response: we are working with Sokna and other families on rebuilding their confidence so that they can fulfill their potential. 

Mith Samlanh distributed emergency material to the affected families.

Sokna and the other families have expressed their deep gratitude for the support they have been given to date, although there is still much to do. While we’re still still providing immediate direct support to make sure those families are safe and healthy, the next step is to help them find long-term solutions to become self-sufficient. 

Like Sokna, most of the families affected by the fire were self-employed and lost all their business resources in the flames. We will be working hard to help them get those businesses up and running again, in order to not only regain essential income but also to rebuild their self-esteem. 

We’re extremely grateful for the support we got from many people in response to our emergency appeal. While we’ve been able to provide an immediate life-saving response, we still need funding to help those families to rebuild their livelihoods in the longer term. If you are able to spare a few dollars, you can donate here to support the fire victims in rebuilding their lives.

*The name has been changed to protect privacy

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