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From ripples to waves

20 April 2023, Impact of Our Work, Climate

How one girl is cleaning up Cambodia's Floating Communities

Every morning, 12-year-old Ratana wakes up before the sun rises, ready for another day of adventure and learning. She lives on a small floating house on Tonle Sap Lake  in Cambodia with her father, Hiang, and mother, Youra, who both earn their living by fishing, and her three younger siblings – Veha, 11, Mengheng, 6, and Malitra, 2.

“I go to school by boat – it takes nearly an hour. When we row the boat together, we talk about study, grades, and fairy tales,” she says.

Ratana, 12, travelling to school by boat on Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia.

The part of the lake where Ratana lives is polluted, and bottles and rubbish float on the surface. But Ratana is determined to make a difference. She travels by boat each day to a floating school supported by Save the Children, paddling for around an hour, picking up friends along the way. As she rows, she collects rubbish from the water, determined to keep her beloved lake clean.

Ratana is passionate about the environment, and attends eco lessons Save the Children has helped introduce to the school curriculum, where children learn about climate change and protecting the environment. “I have learned about pollution, deforestation, and garbage,” she explains. “I’ve learned how to clean the environment.”

As part of these eco lessons, children head out in boats to remove waste from the lake. They also campaign in the community about the importance of environmental protection. “The elderly and adults should listen to children because they are now aware of the environment. Children should educate the elderly and the elderly should listen,” she says.  

Ratana at her school where Save the Children has introduced eco lessons to the curriculum.

Ratana has seen the lake change during her lifetime – a lack of access to clean water, sanitation and waste facilities has led to environmental pollution, damage to local biodiversity and high rates of water-borne diseases, with young children particularly at risk.  

She remembers how it was once green and full of fish. “Before, the weather was great. The water was clean. There was no pollution. But now the water is dirty, the environment is not clean. It’s because the factories throw waste into the water,” Ratana laments.

“I have learned about pollution, deforestation, and garbage. I’ve learned how to clean the environment,” says Ratana.

Despite these challenges, Ratana remains hopeful for the future. She dreams of becoming a doctor one day, so she can treat the people in her village. “I want to be a doctor to treat our villagers. I think others will like and respect me (if I cured them),” she says.

Thanks to the support of Save the Children, Ratana and her classmates can learn about the environment and witness the transformational impact that education can have on a community. “Education is important,” she explains, “it’s a bridge to help us move forward. We can do anything when we are educated.”

With the help of our donors, Save the Children is collaborating with government ministries, local authorities, schools and teachers to improve children’s education in Cambodia. Teachers are provided with support to teach Khmer and English to help children catch up on the learning they lost during the pandemic. We’ve also helped repair schools that have been damaged by storms and installed fans powered by solar panels to keep children cool during the dry season which has become hotter due to climate change.

Generous supporters of Save the Children are helping to make a difference in the lives of children like Ratana. Support from people like you means that children in Cambodia can learn about the environment and take action to protect it. By working together, we can create a brighter future for all. 

Ratana and her classmates collect rubbish from Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia.

If you’re inspired to start cleaning up your local area like Ratana, join our Recycling for Change initiative to support children’s programs and the environment. Click here to find out more.

Photos: Linh Pham / Save the Children.

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