Senior Artists Struggle with Medical Costs and Loss of Income

Pak Chapech and his spouse stand in front of their house in Svay Rieng Province. Photo provided.
  • Po Sakun and Teng Yalirozy
  • May 13, 2021 4:40 AM

Work dries up as pandemic hits entertainment industry

PHNOM PENH--The pandemic has hit a group of artists hard as they struggle to pay for treatment for chronic illnesses while their incomes are slashed.

One of them is respected storyteller Pak Chapech, who was granted the title of living legacy by the king.

Chapech, 68, said that before the pandemic, he was able to perform storytelling twice a year. However, he had not been on stage for two years.

Chapech who lives in Romeas Hek district of Svay Rieng province, has been suffering from diabetes and pulmonary tuberculosis for two years and has to take medicine and injections every day.

He gets a monthly stipend of 800,000 riel from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts. He spends 430,000 riel on loan payments and the rest on medical and daily expenses.

He said he has no money for food some days.

“Sometimes, the food and money have run out, so I borrow money for pork and fish to eat, but only once a week,” Chapech said, “My children used to give me 50,000 riels per month but now they are also short of money.”

Lakhon Yike Khmer musical theatre teacher Uy Lotavann, 67, is in a similar situation. also requires monthly treatments for illnesses while her income is a shortage. She spends about $200 a month on medication for osteoporosis, which she has suffered for nearly a year.

Fortunately, she gets a 700,000 riel retirement pension from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, which helps to ease the medical spending burden.

Unable to earn money from her teaching since the outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020, Lotavann relies on relatives in Phnom Penh.

She said younger siblings help her with food as well as water and electricity bills.

“I have to have a massage twice per week but due to lack of money I do it once a week instead,” she said.

“I also have to take medicine every day. The doctor told me to take it twice a day. But I only take it once a day because I don’t have enough money to buy it.”

She said she couldn’t rest at night because her body hurt all over.

Krouch Kroeun, a Khmer traditional musician specialized in Khim, Chakhe, Tro Sau and Tro Ou instruments, has also lost his income as he is not able to perform.

The 71-year-old from Battambang province has a vision disability.

He has an ID poor card provided by the government, from which he gets 140,000 riel monthly. This is used to support eight members in his family.

Krouch Kroeun and his wife in his small house in Battambang Province. Photo provided. 

Kroeun also has to take care of his grandchildren and pay for their online lessons as their parents cannot afford their education due to the Covid crisis.

As an older Khmer traditional musician, Khroeun has the sympathy of relatives and friends. He is given some rice and food, while some of his children have gone to work far from home.

“I haven’t been able to perform since April, he said.

“Every day, relatives and friends give me food and rice. The parents of children staying with me also send money every month, but due to Covid there is less construction work, so they also have difficulties.”

Sos Mach, a singer with many achievements in the entertainment industry, left Phnom Penh to live in Kandal province in March last year.

The outbreak of Covid caused much of his music career to be suspended, while his other sources of income were also affected. Meanwhile, he is in difficulty as he has to pay for day-to-day expenses, online classes for his children and bank payments.

“Singing in the pubs and teaching in the music school are the sources of income from the entertainment industry,” he said.

“While this work is suspended, and the restaurants are closed, I don’t have any source of income.

“Our living depends on these sources as my children have to take online classes from an international school, and I have to spend on daily expenses and bank loans. It’s very difficult.”

Living with his family in the province, Sos Mach grows vegetables and raises animals. He is able to ease the burden with a little help from friend and relatives.

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