Pen’s attitude towards his son’s development has transformed after attending a fathers group. Now the group’s leader, he is encouraging other men in his community to support their children and partners.
Chhoeung Pen is 23 years old, living with his wife and 4-year-old son in Ratanak Kiri Province. He and his wife are ethnic minority Kachak and work as farmers. They plant cassava to generate an income.
Pen said he used to lie down and play with his phone when he returned from the farm. Sometimes, he drank alcohol with his friends which affected his family relationships. “My wife was tired as she did all the household chores and cared for our son,” recalled Pen. “Sometimes, we did not have time to talk.”
Pen also said that his son often got sick and did not want to stay with him. He felt hurt and always wanted to do anything to be close to his son.
Plan International Cambodia and its partner organisation have been implementing a programme to support children under 5 to be healthy, well nourished, and get optimal early learning and development through responsive, social and behaviour change, and accessibility and quality services.
As part of this programme, we have created fathers group to encourage men to support women in caring for children and help them with household chores. Pen was selected to be a fathers group member in 2020.
Importance of the first 1,000 days
Pen said he learned about the importance of the children’s first 1,000 days for their development in the fathers group. He learned how to stimulate children from birth to 3 years as well as key practices around nutrition and sanitation.
He said, “I also learned about the role of men in the household, taking care of and teaching children. I am happy to learn those things.”
After the training, Pen applied his knowledge with his wife and son. He helps his wife with household chores and spends time with his son. He says that his son is close to him and loves him more than before. He said that every morning before going to the farm, he wakes up early to clean the house, wash clothes and cook for his wife and son. When he returns, he spends time talking and reading to his son.
“I read to my son after dinner and before bed. He loves to listen to my voice. In addition, my wife, son, and I sing together, draw, do mathematics and learn Khmer and Kachak languages,” said Pen. “As a result, my son is brave and knows our names. He can eat by himself and responds to the question bravely, and he rarely gets sick.”
Men take lead on household chores and childcare
Pen said that men in his village were not happy as they said household chores and taking care of their sons were women’s work while the men should do farming and earn money. Pen has tried to explain the benefits of his new approach and change their behaviours. “My wife comforted me by saying that we do not care about their words, but we do care about our family’s happiness,” explained Pen.
In 2021, the fathers group needed a leader and Pen was selected as he can read and write and has experience supporting his wife and son. “I dropped out of school in grade 7 and my childhood dream was to be a teacher,” said Pen. “Even if I could not be a teacher in the classroom, but I can facilitate the meetings with the fathers group, I am happy.”
As a group leader, Pen organises monthly meetings to share lessons to 18 members on how to care for their children and support their wives in house chores. Pen said that around 80% of the group members follow his advice and have changed their behaviour to help their wives.
“I am delighted that even if I don’t receive money, I can help my community build human resources,” said Pen. “In return, they appreciate me raising a good son and come to consult me when they have questions or challenges related to children and house chores.”
Pen has challenges with leading the group. Some members do not attend the meetings regularly due to their farming, and some rotate with their family members meaning they miss out. Pen explained that because their farms are far away, he could not travel to meet them but he always recaps the previous lessons before starting new topics. In addition, he encourages the members who attend the meeting regularly to share what they have learned with other men who do not live nearby.
Pen says that he never fights with his wife and ensures his wife and son feel warm and secure, and that he tried to lead by example. When we asked Pen about his plan for the future, he responded, “I want my son to follow in my footsteps to support women and children. In addition, I want him to get an education to get a good job.”