Home to just 315 people, Sok San is a tiny isolated community in northern Cambodia’s Battambang province that can only be reached from a small footpath from a main road through the area, which is mountainous and full of challenges. Malaria risk is high in Sok San, and there are uncounted numbers of landmines still buried from the Khmer Rouge era, which ended more than 30 years ago.
For villages like Sok San, one proven effective way to support the community is to help create a Village Development Committee comprised of people who work together for the greater good of their village.
When CWS and our partners help communities form VDCs, we provide education about civil society and self-governance along with practical training about how to be an effective Committee, plus coaching and other support. VDC members might gain new skills focusing on planning, community project design and proposal writing – to attract outside help for their development. Other practical training workshops range of topics form bookkeeping to First Aid; from reducing the impact of future disasters to understanding and promoting human rights; from communications and leadership skills to understanding women’s rightful roles in village governance.
The beauty of the VDC model lies in its sustainability. The committee is formed by the community, and the CWS role is largely a transfer of information and skills development rather than giving material goods. That isn’t to say that supplies aren’t part of our support: communities often receive supplies to help them build ring wells or ceramic water filters or other materials to support improved hygiene and water access. But the key impact of VDC creation is that communities become better organized and unified. Ultimately, they are more independent and able to address their own challenges and needs by drawing on their own knowledge, skills and community assets.
The VDC in Sok San has just three members and is led by Ben Try. Since our CWS partner Khmer Community Development Association began supporting Sok San in 2011, two-thirds of families have clearly improved their living conditions. Increased access to water has helped them improve their health and hygiene. Chicken-raising and a rice bank mean more food is available year-round – because families can borrow from the rice bank on relatively easy terms, and other families have additional income from storing and lending their extra rice, or from selling eggs. Try and his Committee have also prepared investment proposals for other organizations besides KCDA to help them … and for the government’s Commune Council to raise funds to build a school and a bridge.
Try told our team, “I am proud that I have increased my ability to lead development work in my community. I am happy that the villagers trust me as a VDC leader. They appreciate my role and responsibilities.”
A similar story can be told of nearby Ta Toak village, where CWS and KCDA supported a three-person VDC led by Ouk Saem to help the 65 families who live make big differences in their lives. Ceramic filters donated to Ta Toak now mean all families have clean water, which helps them improve their health and hygiene. Chicken-raising and vegetable-gardening, which families do with CWS-KCDA support, mean more and more nutritious food, and for some, added income. A rice bank and a Self-Help Group for saving and lending mean that villagers can borrow rice or money in the event of a shortage.
Importantly, Saem and her VDC team wrote a village development plan, which includes building a road and culvert, and has now been raised to the Commune Council. In turn, the Council has included the Ta Toak in the Commune development plan. Encouraged by this, the VDC has also asked other NGOs to help build a school.
Some distance away in Kampong Thom province, Nhim Nov is one of seven VDC members in Ta Treal village. With a special focus on young people, he is using the knowledge and skills he honed workshops led by CWS partner Cooperation for Development of Cambodia to support young adults in self-development. As a priority, Nhim Nov is helping 15 high school graduates who weren’t able to attend university by sharing what he has learned. This has not only helped these young people build their confidence to be successful in their chosen work, but it also positively interact with older adults in Ta Treal.
Three Nhim Nov’s protégés have used what they had learned from him to add value in raising chickens with their families, while four others are working more effectively on their families’ farms.
It takes a lot of different people’s with different knowledge, interests and skills to help a community start down the path to overcoming poverty. None are more important than the communities’ youth.
At CWS in Cambodia, we are proud to stand with Village Development Committees as they start the next chapter in their community’s history.
Special thanks to Ek Sothea, Communication and Grant Coordinator of CWS Cambodia, for her help with this piece.