News / Asia

Cambodia Retirement Village, First Steps to Prepare for Senior Citizens

Irwin Loy
In Cambodia, the population is young compared to its larger neighbors, because of years of conflict and the peacetime baby boom that followed. But demographers warn the country must do more to prepare for a doubling in the number of senior citizens in the next 20 years.

Tiny Cham Bak village in Southeast Cambodia sits about 100 kilometers outside the capital, Phnom Penh. But in many ways, it is a world apart. Electricity reached here for the first time only in the last year.

But that is not all that has changed.

Aging and poor

Kim Vuthy grew up in this village, only the second person from Cham Bak to attend university. He works in Phnom Penh now, but he comes back as often as he can. And when he does, he sees more and more elderly people living hand-to-mouth. “I have seen that older people when they are growing older, they have to live by themselves," he said. "Especially for those who have no family.  They have to beg for food.”

That is what happened to 67-year-old Pring Am. Her son in Phnom Penh could no longer afford to take care of her and his growing family on wages of less than two dollars a day. So she returned here. But she had no land to farm and no job. So she started begging on the main road. “I felt very embarrassed. But I was more worried about staying alive, than being embarrassed," she explained. "It’s better to be a beggar than a thief.”

Retirement Village opens

Last year, Vuthy opened what he believes is the first retirement home in the country here in Cham Bak - the Cambodian Retirement Village.

It is for people like Pring Am, the first of five current residents, whose families can no longer support them.

“They go to work far away from home. They go to find jobs in the city and then they left their older people at home living by themselves. So traditionally, Cambodian people they should take care of their parents, but now it has changed a lot,” Vuthy stated.

While Pring Am’s age group grows, the percentage of people who are working age, will shrink. That means fewer people to support a more dependent population.

It is a demographics conundrum with serious implications. In many nations in Asia, this trend is hurtling forward at an unprecedented rate.

Zachary Zimmer is a demographer and sociologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who says developing countries have crucial decisions to make as they try to broaden the social safety net.

“So policy has to be derived in order to come up with some ways of maintaining productivity, and also making sure that elderly people are taken care of in a way that is deserved of them. It may require older people working longer. It may require other kinds of government interventions to allow people of younger age to care for their older age parents,” added Zimmer.

Aging society

Although people older than 60 make up about seven percent of Cambodia’s population today, that figure is projected to jump to 11 percent by 2030.

Annie Nut is the country director for HelpAge International, a non-governmental organization that works on aging issues. She says the need to support more older people comes as economic pressures place added stress on the traditional Asian family support system.

“In the past and up until now, the families are taking care of all these needs. But we know that the society is changing," said Nut. "And, it’s more and more difficult for the families to ensure those needs of the elders. And, the question is, what could replace those needs, those gaps?”

Social safety-net

HelpAge has worked with the Cambodian government to set up older people’s associations. They function as a co-operative for elderly people.  Membership fees are collected and participants can apply for loans or access rice banks.

It is a sort of community-level social safety net, in a country where government services do not reach everyone. The government has adopted the model and there are now more than 300 such groups around the country.

Resources may be scarce, but Nut says authorities here have the opportunity to prepare. “The government is fully aware of the age transition. And, also it’s fully aware that Cambodia has a little bit of time ahead and has time to learn from other countries in the region.” stated Nut.

Although the aging boom that has already hit nearby countries may come late to Cambodia, its impact is foreshadowed in rural areas.

A recent study by the country’s ministry of planning suggests that Cambodians are leaving their home villages at an “astounding” rate - four percent each year.

Working-age people are heading to Phnom Penh or further afield to look for jobs. And, as the young move on, they leave their parents behind. In places like Cham Bak, economic migration is already changing the face of Cambodia’s villages.

You May Like

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs