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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Child poisoning death prompts rural cooking class

Child poisoning death prompts rural cooking class

A strip of shops and karaoke bars in Mondul 3, one of Siem Reap’s poorest villages
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The former head chef of the FCC is teaching impoverished villagers how to cook safely, following the death of a child who ate a poisonous frog.

Photo by: KYLE SHERER

A strip of shops and karaoke bars in Mondul 3, one of Siem Reap's poorest villages.

ONE of Siem Reap province's poorest villages, Mondul 3, was badly shaken after a 7-year-old boy died from eating a poisonous frog in late April.

Now the former head chef of the FCC has taken it upon herself to make sure that such fatal mistakes never happen again

Just weeks after the boy, Sov Soparath, succumbed to the poison, chef Srey Mom began a free cooking class for young Cambodian mothers in Mondul 3.

But in addition to teaching cuisine, the classes teach women how to practise good hygiene and how to identify animals that are potentially deadly.

In the FCC kitchen, Srey Mom worked with high-quality imported goods, but in Mondul 3, where many women are too poor to buy food from the local markets, Srey Mom is working with the foodstuffs that can be foraged in the immediate area.

Srey Mom is married to Kem Sour, the managing director of New Hope Community Centre, an NGO that works in the village.

Kerry Huntly, the director of New Hope, said that the classes are a big hit in the community, where the shockwaves from Sov Soparath's death are still being felt.

Originally, it was believed that children cooked the frogs that killed Sov Soparath, but later it emerged the deadly meal was cooked by an adult man who has since disappeared.

"The death still scares them because it was an adult who cooked the frog for Soparath. Kem Sour thought that every adult in Cambodia knew what was poisonous and what was not. But apparently not. So that was a really big wake-up call," Huntly said.

New Hope paid the US$250 required to hold a funeral for Sov Soparath. After the funeral, the boy was placed in his makeshift coffin, constructed from a table, and drawn through the village on a cart, as a public warning about the danger of eating poisonous frogs.

A week after the death, New Hope sent out a notice for the cooking class.

"Most of the villagers wouldn't have been able to read it," said Huntly. "But word got around, and next morning we had eight mums come down to enrol."

The class is now attended by 15 women, nearly all illiterate. Srey Mom said teaching them without the use of written instructions is extremely hard - especially given the vital importance of the lessons.

"It all has to be verbal," said Huntly. "She covers what food you can and can't eat, and basic healthy recipes. She's covering food preparation and food storage, because we get about 80 cases of salmonella a month here. None of these people have refrigerators, and even if you gave them a refrigerator, they couldn't afford the electricity."

The two-hour classes take place every weekday morning  and will continue until the end of July. Srey Mom and Huntly hope to launch a second series in August.

Huntly hopes that the cooking classes make an impact on the health of the community. Even simple hygienic measures could prevent some of the gruesome health problems in the poverty-stricken community. "In one month our doctors saw a total of 503 patients," she said.

"Eighty-four people had salmonella and gastritis, and 21 people had toothache - and when we say toothache we mean there's nothing left of the back teeth except for what remains in the gums, and it's totally black and massively infected, and we needed to take them to hospital to have the teeth dug out."

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