Smiling Gecko Campus


Dear friends of Smiling Gecko

The second Corona year is coming to an end and hereby, we would like to give you a short review of the past year with us in Cambodia. Unfortunately, the situation in Cambodia has not improved. Quite the opposite – last year in 2020, there were only a few officially confirmed Corona cases while in 2021, there were 120’000 cases and 2’900 deaths by the end of November. And these are only the officially confirmed cases. The number of unreported cases is much higher, especially among the poor rural population.

And the longer the pandemic last, the worse are the catastrophic economic consequences for the poorest of the poor in the Cambodian population. The closure of textile factories, the lack of tourism and the closed schools have had dramatic consequences for the population and more and more people are suffering from hunger and urgently need support. The situation is especially critical in the surroundings of our project in the rural areas. Only a few of the farming families can survive on their own efforts. Help is urgently needed at all levels. We regularly support with food, medicine and also with financial contributions, so that the families can pay their microcredit interest.

We are very happy that Smiling Gecko is able to provide this vital help, also in 2021, thanks to your great support and solidarity. For this I would like to thank you on behalf of Smiling Gecko and the children and families in Cambodia.

Hannes Schmid
Founder of Smiling Gecko

Covid continues to spread and remains ubiquitous in 2021. At the beginning of the year, officially reported infection rates also increased due to the new mutations. Across the country, there were no effective measures against the spread of the virus. Vaccination with the Chinese vaccine progressed very slowly at the beginning. Large-scale testing of the population did not take place. In the meantime, almost 80% of the population has been officially vaccinated. Nevertheless, many people still fall seriously ill and it is not known how many are actually affected.

«The people are defenceless against the virus and are fighting for their survival. A lot can be achieved with little resources.»

Alain Biner, CEO Smiling Gecko Switzerland

The restrictions were constantly changing and so it was difficult to make decisions. For example, one did not know how, where to meet and with how many people. In the markets, which were actually closed, thousands and thousands of people bought much needed food without distancing and masks. The government closed entire provinces from one minute to the next.

In August, textile factories reopened. Many thousands of workers were transported on overcrowded trucks and then worked for hours huddled together in cramped spaces. When asked why the factories reopened but the schools remained closed, the Ministry of Education responded that the schools were not an economic priority, but the factories were. As a result, the number of infected people increased dramatically, and Smiling Gecko had also seen an increase in Corona cases in recent months.

«People fear existential hardship more than disease. And the risk of starvation is also much greater than dying from an infection with Corona.»

Sokleap Ngon, Managing Director Smiling Gecko Cambodia
We take our suspected cases to the Japan Heart Hospital. At times, however, this is unfortunately not possible because the doctors can no longer admit anyone. At the hospital, only rapid tests are done because there are no PCR tests available. If the result is positive, the patients are registered and asked to isolate themselves at home. But people usually live together in close quarters and quarantine obviously cannot work when eight to twelve people live in one hut. It is a humanitarian disaster. Because there is no room for all the patients, even those who are seriously ill are sometimes sent home again.
Worse than the illness, however, is the fact that many people have been without a job and without income for almost two years. There is no social security. Without reserves, it was a matter of survival from the beginning and the situation has been worsening for several months. A current phenomenon is that many parents leave their children behind in the countryside and to fend for themselves, because they try to earn money with other work somewhere in Cambodia. The children left behind are on their own and have nothing. Whole groups of children go into the jungle to look for edible food like ant eggs, lizards, insects or wild fruits and leaves. However, because there are so many children, it becomes increasingly difficult to find anything edible. Therefore, in addition to feeding the families, we focus especially on these children between the ages of two and nine, for whom the damage of malnutrition would remain noticeable for the rest of their lives.
Thus, Smiling Gecko has been providing emergency humanitarian aid since the beginning of the Corona crisis, and by the end of 2021, we will have assisted approximately 1,000 families with more than 7,000 food packages, as well as protective materials, disinfectants and soap, and medical care. For this, we have spent a total of about 600’000.- USD.
Unfortunately, there is no improvement of the situation in sight, so we continue to support the needy people in distress with food, hygienic and medical care until they are able to support themselves again. The distribution of rice, soybean sprouts and soy milk as well as all available products from our own agriculture, such as vegetables, fish and meat is done in different ways. In large groups of up to 400 people at a central location, in smaller groups or individually from house to house, depending on the approval of the authorities and the requirements for Covid-19 prevention and safety.

SGC HISF I Education Campus

At our school, too, we are once again looking back on a difficult school year. With only a few short interruptions, the school remain closed for almost the entire year. Thanks to the great and dedicated school team on campus, the students could still be provided with food and learning materials. But of course all this did not replace the normal school day with lessons, friends, school meals and regular hygienic and medical care for the children. Therefore, we are all the more pleased that we are able to welcome the children back to normal school lessons in our school on 1st November after more than one and a half years in the only briefly interrupted lockdown. In the current school year 2021/2022, about 400 children, including 100 new students, are attending school.

«We bear responsibility for the children in our school as well as for the many employees and trainees in our projects and the many poor families around us who lack everything.»

Hannes Schmid, Founder and board member of Smiling Gecko
In order to provide Cambodian children with a musical education, we joined forces with Seven, Viola Tami, Dani Felber and Musik Hug and spent four months collecting used, playable musical instruments for our school in Cambodia. The campaign was very well received and more than 400 instruments are now on their way to Cambodia by ship in a specially designed container and will bring great joy to many children in their second life.

Smiling Gecko Cambodia Medical and Dental Clinic

Our clinic within the medical building on the school grounds is managed by a local doctor since this year. The Smiling Gecko Medical and Dental Clinic is equipped with medical and dental treatment rooms as well as basic pharmacy equipment. Patients are cared for by a permanent Cambodian graduate nurse and a volunteer Swiss graduate nurse. The clinic has a wide range of tasks with the provision of first aid in case of accidents and illnesses as its main task. In addition, the clinic provides bi-annual check-ups, vaccinations, and annual hearing and vision tests, and our nurses make home visits when needed and accompany patients to more distant hospitals in case of emergencies.
Women in Aquaculture
In our new project “Women in Aquaculture”, we were able to build irrigation ponds in 2021 with the support of the ZHAW and the Louis Dreyfus Foundation at ten farm families, which also serve for fish farming (aquaculture). The ponds were stocked with fish and the women were regularly trained in fish farming. Already during the first cycle, the food supply of the participating smallholder families could be secured in this way and additional family income could be generated by selling the surplus. For the future, it is planned to expand this project with additional families and the women involved so far will take on leadership and training tasks.
Although last year was again very difficult, almost all of the approximately 260 employees and trainees remained with Smiling Gecko. Even though the turnover of the individual companies decreased due to the pandemic and lockdowns, Smiling Gecko was able to continue paying full wages and benefits to all of them so that they could feed themselves and their families. We would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank all employees, managers and the many volunteers who supported us on the ground during the difficult last year for their great commitment and tireless efforts.

Smiling Gecko continues to follow a philosophy of profitability and sustainability. We firmly believe that in the long run, only education and sustainable employment of the population will lead to overcoming hunger and poverty.

But for now, the priority is to provide for the rural population in need. Our first priority now is to ensure people’s survival and maintain their livelihoods so they don’t move to the cities and end up in the slums and garbage dumps. Humanitarian aid means enormous organizational and financial efforts for us, which we will continue as long as necessary.

We have experienced a broad wave of solidarity and support since the beginning of the pandemic. Your commitment and your donations have helped us significantly to survive this difficult year and to prevent the worst for the many farming families. We would like to thank you from the bottom of our hearts and we hope that you will continue to support us in overcoming this severe crisis and its consequences in Cambodia.

Best regards and take good care of yourselves.

Your Smiling Gecko Team

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