Monday, July 19, 2010

Village Life

As is our modus operandi we found ALWS (Australian Lutheran World Service) through Google and by chance entered a dialogue with a woman in Adelaide. Over a series of days and possibly weeks, she contacted various field offices in SE Asia and eventually put us in contact with a partner in Phnom Penh. LWF (Lutheran World Federation - Cambodia) is currently in a transition towards local governance and will be a fully Cambodian entity in 2011. We met with the Deputy Director and were whisked away to a village about an hour away from Phnom Penh.

It didn’t take long to leave the modern city and enter rural areas where the infrastructure is severely lacking or simply non-existent. We were going to visit the Prachum Ang village in the Kandal province, South East of Phnom Penh. This village is where LWF had spent 10 years working with the community on a number of different levels and were now no longer required as the village had reached the point of self-sustaining management. Miriam and I were surprised and a little embarrassed when we arrived to find ourselves greeted warmly by the village council and seated ceremoniously at the head table. Even now, I’m still a little unsure whether the whole meeting was for our benefit or they had planned a visit previously and we were tagging along.

Various villagers told of the development of the village since LWF arrived a decade ago and it was diligently translated for us. 10 years ago the village was very poor. It had suffered under the civil war and there was no infrastructure. Illnesses were prevalent in the area and farming was difficult as there was not enough water during the dry season. LWF, along with other organizations helped initially by digging wells and latrines which reduced the sicknesses in the village. LWF then helped form a village council by holding elections amongst the 150 families. They educated the council on human rights principles, health practices, efficient farming techniques and formed a village bank.

The village bank is managed by 3 of the village council members who are given training in how to manage it. Initially LWF provided seed grants of US$30 to those villagers that could demonstrate savings of 12.5 cents per week for 8 weeks and presented realistic proposals for the use of the money and repayment. The loans were charged interest at 3% a month and generally were for 6 months. The majority of these loans were used for agriculture & animal husbandry. The capital and interest returned to the bank is then recycled to increase both the principal loaned and number of loans. Since its inception the bank has doubled the number of members, branched into emergency loans and now controls US$10,000 – more than 10 times the initial grant! This finance acts as a bridge to more formal loans with accredited micro-loan organizations and allows impoverished to avoid loan-sharks that charge crippling rates.

The village council is also educated in how to apply for various government and NGO grants and they are now empowered enough to manage their own future in a democratic and confident manner. This was demonstrated when the village, unprompted by external influence, formally applied for an LWF village sponsorship grant for an irrigation project they had in mind. The proposal was successful and the village council told us with great pride that they stipulated to the contractor that local labour was to be used and then instructed the labourers to take ownership of the project and make sure it was done properly – with a grin one council member even told us he instructed the labourers to put a bit extra cement in to make sure it was strong! We went and looked at the project and there was a sense of accomplishment and pride in what had been achieved and the farms are now able to produce 2-3 crops per year instead of 1.

We visited a woman who had arrived in the area from a refugee camp with nothing and with the help of the village bank was able to take loans to build a mini empire of a quarter-acre block, 7 cows and a large family! We asked what her hope for the future was and she replied “To provide for my children and marry the last 2 off!”. LWF encourage women to take part in the leadership by establishing a gender quota system in the village bank and council structures.

This was our first village visit and we were impressed at the level of involvement LWF had in the past and even more so that it was no longer necessary. The biggest factor in all of this was the education and empowerment of the village council who shared this with the rest of the village. In the early days, the village council members were taken to other villages to see the concepts in action – now the village sets an example for others to follow and regularly receives visits from nearby villages.

1 comment:

  1. Thats very cool, looks like they really know what they are doing!