It’s always difficult to know how to begin. I founded SKOPE (Sovann Komar Outreach Program for Education) at the start of September and had a million different ideas of what we could do as a community organisation aiming to provide educational supplies to rural areas. But where to start? This week, SKOPE is launching its first project: Helmet and Road Safety.
Sovann Komar School and children’s village is located along National Road Number One, the only highway leading from Phnom Penh to Vietnam. It’s a trunk road, basically, with trucks, buses and a myriad of other vehicles trundling up and down daily. It’s also in serious disrepair. Admittedly there is now an improvement project underway but for now I bump my way to and from school on what is little more than a dirt track. It’s dangerous. Roads in Cambodia generally are. This one is worse than most and the majority of the 300 students who now attend Sovann Komar School arrive by moto every morning. Without a helmet. Many of them live short distances away and therefore their parents seem to think a helmet isn’t necessary. This first project of SKOPE aims to right that misconception. The helmets we to get for Sovann Komar will have the school logo on the side. I hope this makes it look like an extension of their school uniform and therefore mandatory.
Six people per day die in traffic collision in Cambodia. Wearing a helmet can reduce the risk of death by 42% and the risk of serious injury by 69%. It’s pretty simple really – wear one! Cambodian law stipulates, as of this year, that everyone over the age of three must wear a helmet when riding a moto. Please don’t get me started on why babies and toddlers are exempt. The fact remains however that this law, and the restriction to two people per moto, are not being enforced. In the western world, we immediately buckle our safety belt as soon as we get into a car: it’s second nature. That’s how helmet wearing should be here but, for now, it’s not.
The family groups at Sovann Komar have all been given helmets in the past but most have been broken or lost over time. SKOPE is going to replace every single one of them. Once each of the 68 children and 29 adults on site have their own helmet, we are going to implement a fine. Every person who enters or exits the Sovann Komar site without a helmet will have to pay 2000 riel, or $0.50. Hopefully this financial deterrent will ensure people continue to wear the helmets every time they ride. Any money collected will go straight back into replacing helmets when they get damaged.
It’s not enough to own a helmet, you actually need to put it on your head. The number of times I have seen people driving along with a helmet swinging jollily from the handlebars is ridiculous. When the helmets are handed out, the children are going to get a short safety demonstration about how important it is to fasten and wear their helmets when they ride a moto, even if it’s just for a short trip. They save lives every day. It’s hardly a chore to wear one and frankly it’s foolish not to.
And how is SKOPE going to do all this? I hope our funds will come through donations and grants from philanthropists and NGOs who work in this sector. Road safety in South East Asia is a significant problem and as such there are many groups working to combat dangers. SKOPE is currently applying to receive funds and we hope to have the children equipped with safety helmets relatively soon.
If you would like to get involved or make a donation to our helmet and road safety project, please visit our Crowdfunder site, comment below or email me at SKOPE@sovannkomar.org.
Alternatively, you can write a cheque directly to the organisation. Yes we’re back in the 90s with cheque writing – sorry! There is a temporary glitch with the website I’m afraid. Please include a short note mentioning SKOPE when you send the cheque so the money gets through to my projects. Here are the details:
Make Payable to: Golden Children Inc.
Send to: Anita Seizman, 16 E 69 Street, New York, NY, 10021, United States of America