- March 15, 2022 6:05 PM
- November 3, 2021 3:56 PM
- September 1, 2021 9:35 AM
Stranded American-Cambodian says inspired by aid plan from US
PHNOM PENH--The Covid-19 pandemic has prompted a young Cambodian-American college student to help underprivileged Cambodians, particularly older cyclo drivers in Phnom Penh, by donating food and sustaining their work.
Daily food donations have turned into an initiative that is working to promote the cyclo as well as giving aid to those in need.
Taing Huang Hao, a 21-year-old student of supply chain and operations management at St. Thomas University in the US state of Minnesota, came up with the idea while he was stranded in Cambodia due to Covid-19.
Huang Hao paid a short visit to Cambodia in January, 2020, but has been unable to return to the US and has to study remotely.
The idea of food donations began when Huang Hao was working on a photography project, “Who is most disadvantaged in Cambodia, but still happy?” in late 2020. The first person coming to mind was a cyclo driver.
Huang Hao had happy memories as a child with his late grandmother, who had been a cyclo lover. He also met a 68-year-old cyclo driver who shared many of his stories. This made him want to share the stories and seek help for him through social media.
“Cyclo drivers are more than just cyclo drivers. They are storytellers who have been in Cambodia for a very long time, Huang Hao said. “They know the city. They know the country. They are not just weak and old people but uncles and fathers.”
Huang Hao, who is a street photographer, wanted to seek long-term assistance for older cyclo drivers and other struggling cyclo drivers. He sought cooperation from various places to support food donations and employment sustainability for them.
With the Covid-19 crisis in Cambodia, Huang Hao launched a “Local4Local” initiative last April. This is a youth-run food drive, sustaining the livelihood of cyclo drivers and supporting people in need on the streets. It targets individuals on the streets who are living day-by-day. Local4Local also provided food aid for needy families living in red zones during the severe Covid-19 outbreak.
In addition to helping the needy, Huang Hao also provides aid to affected street vendors. Money from donations, beside being used to buy dried food and other materials, is spent on hot meals cooked by food vendors for a donation. The money is also used to pay cyclo drivers who distribute food around Phnom Penh.
So far, over 800 families have received Covid relief packages, while 19,000 hot meals have been distributed.
Local4Local has three current programs. Another two will be implemented in the future. The first program is a mobile cyclo community pantry, which is the first mobile community in Cambodia, with participation of the Cyclo Association.
The cyclo pantry is a portable container used to store donated food and other item for those in need. Cyclo drivers will also distribute items from the pantries to poor people in different locations.
Huang Hao said, “The purpose of the cyclo pantries is to encourage generosity and solidarity. Anymore can donate, more or less, it shows people’s goodwill. We need to help each other.”
He came up with the idea after seeing public mobile food pantries in the US and at his university. He learnt that mobile food pantries had served the public in the US well, prompting him to create one in Cambodia to ease the burden of his compatriots.
There are two cyclo pantries. One is in front of Wat Botum, and the other is near the riverside. If there is no donor, some days, the Cyclo Association will fill up the pantries with food and supplies. Donors can make a donation at 9 or 10 in the morning, and those who need it can pick up at 4pm.
The second program is the Cyclo Food Coupon to be given to cyclo drivers. They can get meals at partner stores in Phnom Penh for free. One driver will receive seven coupons per week, and one couple can be exchanged for one meal at a time. Cyclo drivers can share their coupons with other people.
“The food coupons are given to avoid gathering. Moreover, I have a perspective that everybody should have hot meals just like I do,” Huang Hao said.
A weekly cyclo tour is the third program implemented. Every Sunday, there will be a cyclo tour where people can tour around different parts of the city. The tour was created to help generate extra income for cyclo drivers and to promote tourism when Covid-19 is gone.
The fourth program is a futuristic cyclo competition in cooperation with Prudential Cambodia. This is a drawing competition in which young people can show off their ideas about the future of cyclos which might become reality one day. The competition is expected to launch in July.
The last program of Local4Local is the volunteering program. Huang Hao said he wants to work with schools and other organizations to prepare kitchens for students and the public who are interested in cooking meals for the needy. However, the program is not operational yet due to school closures.
He has encountered many challenges along the way of this initiative. Huang Hao is a full-time student and has to manage his Local4Local initiative all by himself. This is exhausting but he can balance work with study and personal life by giving himself an hour a day to relax.
“After a full day of work, I set aside half an hour to an hour for myself to play basketball, which is my hobby, or mediate to refresh myself,” he said.
He is set to return to the US in September, making him worry about his work in Cambodia. However, he said that he will continue to work remotely with his partners in Cambodia. He is reaching out to the Cambodian Children’s Fund for collaboration so that he can place his work under the organization’s care.
Hunag Hao urged all Cambodians to show kindness to those around them and always bring a smile to someone’s face. Moreover, he calls on people to take care of their physical and mental health during the pandemic.
For more information, contact Huang Hao at [email protected]. Donations can be made via his ABA account: 002 851 840: Taing Huang Hao