Cambodia calling

Sam Riep locals ‘dream map’ their ideas for a prosperous village. They hope for a medical centre, water wells, latrines, a village market, schools, healthy crops, and more.

Column. Jamie and Deb Quilliam left Circular Head in May to embark on a year-long volunteering journey through Cambodia. The couple writes to the Chronicle from the Southeast Asian country, sharing their travels so far, most recently from Siem Reap where they were involved in a poverty alleviation program.

Siem Reap is a city with a population of about 168,000 people and the home of the famed Angkor Wat (Capital Temple). This is a Hindu temple built in the early 12th Century spanning 163 hectares. This prime tourist attraction is a symbol of Cambodia and appears on the Cambodian flag.

Jamie’s host organisation, Srer Khmer (SK), has two projects north of Siem Reap. The first project is in a village 30 kilometres from the city and has a focus on poverty alleviation. CAFOD (Catholic Agency for Overseas Development) is the donor and SK is the project manager. The beneficiaries of the village were guided through an interactive process of discovery. The first step was to create a ‘dream map’ on a large piece of butcher’s paper.

This was done in working groups of about 10 people (75 per cent of the group were women as many of the men have migrated to Thailand for work). The groups were asked to draw pictures on how they would like their village to look in the future. They seemed quite engaged and to be enjoying the process as lots of colour and detail went into each map.

Common themes in the maps included a medical centre, water wells, latrines, a village market, schools, healthy crops, fishponds, good roads, protected forests (as these are cut down and exported therefore they have no timber for building), well-constructed houses (as they are damaged easily in storms) and disaster management along with many other things.

Next, the people were asked to identify issues that were hindering progress to their future village. From this list of issues, the village voted on what they believed to be most important.

The top five priorities were:

1. Poor summer rainfall and lack of water for crops

2. Storm damage during wet season

3. Animal deaths

4. Poor road infrastructure

5. No household latrines.

The people were encouraged to brainstorm solutions to these problems over three days, a fantastic effort. CAFOD and SK will now help with some of the priorities within their scope of expertise, including more drought tolerant rice seed, improved house construction methods, training on animal vaccination and assistance to build toilets and septic systems.

SK also supports these small villages with micro finance called ‘Saving For Change’. However, villages contribute their own funding for finance by giving monthly contributions of around 10,000 Riel ($3.20) each. Doesn’t sound a lot but when a 50 kilogram bag of Urea costs $25, ploughing $25/ha and there are 12 to 15 people contributing each month, funds accumulate and go a long way.

These savings are then lent for many different purposes including seed, farm equipment, clothing, schooling, doctor visits, emergencies and medication.

Note: In the last ‘Cambodia Calling’ column (Circular Head Chronicle, Thursday August 11) there was mention of the American Civil War period, it was in fact the Cambodian Civil War.

The Quilliams will next move on to Preah Vihear, where they will be searching for new villages to conduct a pilot program. They will keep readers posted in an upcoming edition of the Chronicle.

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