This small village has 282 families, and 42 of those don’t make enough income to support their daily needs. The villagers who are living far from the main road often complain about their limited access, especially their need to transport their rice during the harvest season. Additionally, health is a problem because there are only a few houses with access to wells or ponds for safe drinking water.
World Renew’s unique process for community development in Cambodia enables full community participation to identify and work through challenges. Our aim is to transfer ownership of development to the community itself, limiting their future need for outside support.
Following the formation of a Community Based Organization (CBO), we bring the villagers together to take part in a Participatory Community Research (PCR) exercise. For two days, 40 villagers including CBO leaders and community volunteers, meet to collect data from their community. They divide into 6 groups and are assigned different tasks.
I started by following a group assigned to interview families. We set out on foot. It was not easy to travel because we needed to cross rice fields and use small paths to go from one house to another, from morning until noon. Even though the sun was very hot, our team never complained. They kept smiling and laughing together. They asked a sample of houses questions about their family, education and farming activities so that they could start to make up a demographic of their community.
Back at the “headquarters”, a centrally located house with a large shaded area to work, I spoke with another group. They were responsible to draw the village and season map.
“Some of us are old and handicapped, so we cannot go walk far,” said Somrith Rith, one of the members of the team.
This quiet group of men worked diligently together. They sat at a table with a piece of thick paper and colored markers, first discussing how they should begin. They started with a dashed line fort the village boundary, and a few other kinds of lines, in different colors, representing homes, rice fields, small roads, main roads, walking paths and ponds.
Our aim is to transfer ownership of development to the community itself, limiting their future need for outside support.
They talked together, “Where is Mr. Phan’s house? Where is Mrs. Sokhey’s?” One by one they followed the list of villager’s names; drawing, erasing and adding.
Another quiet group was setting the criteria for ranking families in the village, from those who had the greatest need to the least. One by one they went through the list of families to consider how much each had. Did they have a house, a rice field, a motorbike? Did they earn enough money to buy food? After the discussion, each person placed stones in a basket. The more stones a family received the more perceived wealth they had.
A loud discussion erupted in the middle of the room. A group of eight was trying to identify the main challenges their community is facing. Before this process began the village was already heavily biased about roads being the first and more urgent project. When we entered the community the first day they already asked us to help them on this project.
However the interview tool they were using was designed to weed out bias in the way the questions were phrased, and points averaged out. Two CBO leaders, Mrs. Sambo and Mr. Sieang Win were very surprised to see the results because the most important challenge turned out to be a lack of latrines.
Sambo quickly asked to her group members. “Why? What’s happened? We all have known that we really need road to be built before other challenges! You just gave us point with no thinking on our needs. Now you see; our main problem is lacking of latrine.” Sambo continued to complain. Their conversations got louder and louder. Most members seemed upset by the results.
Finally, an agreement was made concerning the main challenges of the community; lacking of latrines, roads, clean water and migration. Even though some of villagers felt sad, angry and disappointed because it was not what they expected, this is the first step to changing a community and how they look at their development.