Cambodians catch vision of hope for communities
By Landry Lyons
KRATIE, Cambodia -- Afternoon light filters through the windows as Cambodian villagers map out the future of their communities.
This day was more than 30 years in coming. The villages haven’t been rebuilt since the horrific Khmer Rouge years that tore communities apart. An estimated 2 million Cambodians died between 1975 and 1979 in a genocide dramatized in the popular 1984 film, The Killing Fields.
Today, however, both former Khmer Rouge members and their survivors sit together, cross-legged on the wood floor, drawing rivers and roads on a sheet of white 3-by-2-foot paper. They sketch out the schools, wells and health centers they’d like to see one day.
The group has gathered to learn about community development from representatives of Baptist Global Response, the Southern Baptist international relief and development organization.
Right: A practicum is part of every BGR community development training. Participants ask their village leaders to draw a picture of the state of the community as they see it.
This training is much like the others BGR hosts around the world to help communities catch a hopeful vision of the future and understand how to make it a reality.
“Community development is the development of people, communities and people in the communities,” said Pam Wolf, who works with her husband, Ben, in leading BGR work in the Asia Rim.
Visiting the communities in Cambodia is like taking a step back in time. The only way to reach many villages is on muddy roads. Electricity doesn’t make it out to most villages. Hospitals are scarce and indoor toilets are a rarity. Many rural Cambodians long to see their communities develop.
The goal of community development, Ben Wolf said, is insiders -- people of the community -- working together to see improve their communities and see their needs met.
The community itself facilitates the change, not outsiders giving handouts, Wolf stressed. Most villages are used to having NGOs come in, drop off supplies and leave.
The men and women reach a turning point when they realize they can bring about change themselves.
These villagers live in Cambodia’s Kratie [Kra- chay] province. The name in Khmer means “poor knowledge.” A Christian worker who attended the training said he knows of only two high schools in the entire province. Teachers are scarce and many times haven’t even completed a high school education themselves. Most students study only to the ninth grade.
Though the villagers may not be educated by academic standards, they are learning about tools to build their community and meet the chronic needs their communities face.
The men and women learn how to identify the problems and needs, prioritize them and make a practical plan for effecting change.
Water is a constant worry in this area. Though some of the villages lie near the Mekong River, the villagers haven’t found a foolproof method for purifying the water.
By the end of the session, the trainees have mapped out steps they can take to improve and find new water sources. Some drafted a plan and developed action points for digging a well.
“That is what development is all about,” Ben Wolf said. Baptist Global Response aims to walk with communities as they work to solve their own problems. As they succeed in solving their own problems, they build confidence and their capacity to maintain change increases.
The men and women learn a tool that helps them evaluate what their community looked like 15 years ago, what it looks like now and what they see their community looking like 15 years from now, if things continue as they are with no intervention.
The participants dream and plan for more high schools, electricity and bridges over rivers. One man dreams that one day there will be a toilet for every house. Others cast visions for all-day markets and health clinics.
Every BGR training includes a practicum. Participants have a chance to go to a local community on the last day and meet with the local leaders. During the meeting, the trainees put into practice what they have learned, asking questions to learn about the community and then asking the leader to draw what the village looks like on a piece of paper. Through this, the leader and trainees can see what needs the community has. This opens the door for future visits.
Aung, a trainee from a nearby village of 800 people, feels he can share what he learned in the training. He’s already talked with the leaders of his village and introduced the vision-mapping tool he learned.
The main need in Aung’s village is food. He’s realized his village has resources he can use to make a plan for creating more ways to get food. Aung said his small group discussed starting a cow-raising project for income and fresh meat.
Development takes time, Ben Wolf told the participants. He encouraged them not to give up when change is slow in coming.
The Wolfs also had an opportunity to meet with provincial authorities and discuss their role in the community development process. Community development cannot happen without the understanding of those in authority, even if they are not directly involved, Wolf said.
“As leaders, you might be the change agent in the community,” Ben Wolf told the men and women. “You may be the one who is getting the community to take responsibility for themselves.”
Wolf encouraged the provincial officials to use their influence to encourage the community taking ownership of its future.
As for BGR, they won’t be popping in and out like so many other NGOs have before, Ben Wolf said. The goal of community development is to see lives and communities transform, not just meet a short-term need.
Community development is a reflection of a changed life that then can focus and transforms their community, he added. Now it’s up to the Cambodians to be the change they wish to see in their community.
Landry Lyons is an international correspondent for Baptist Global Response. To help with community development projects like this, click here. More images of the cambodia training may be viewed here.