In the rural village of Tros in Cambodia’s Prey Veng province, there are some big changes afoot. Relationships between village leaders and community members have improved, and people are working together to improve their health, food security and wellbeing.
Awareness has grown about how to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Specific issues of domestic violence have been addressed in a constructive way, and many villagers have a greater understanding of the broader issue of domestic violence and how to prevent it. Education about hygiene has helped to reduce the spread of disease.
Tearfund’s Christian partner in Cambodia, Ponleu Ney Kdey Sangkum (PNKS), is working in dozens of villages like this one to support people to generate livelihoods and build stronger, healthier communities. One of PNKS’s core values is that love is not merely a feeling or a concept: it should be put into action. Inspired by the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke’s Gospel, PNKS has a vision that people in the communities it works in will have “a deep sense of hope and freedom because they see opportunities in their lives to express themselves and their own aspirations”, and that communities will enjoy respectful and loving relationships and sharing of resources and ideas.
The Village Development Association (VDA) model, which equips local people to be involved in the running of their village and to learn about the issues that affect local people, is one way PNKS is helping to achieve this vision.
PNKS started a VDA in Tros village in 2014. For 38-year-old Or Sovandea, who got involved in the association soon after it was set up and was this year elected its treasurer, the VDA has created opportunities that have benefited not only her household, but the village as a whole.
She has learned useful skills in areas including agriculture, micro businesses, helping the poor in her village, and saving money. The VDA has been able to loan money to people in the village to help them buy food and to support their businesses, agriculture and their children’s education.
“The VDA … created opportunities for people to get together to discuss, to learn, to improve our knowledge and to connect to others,” Sovandea says.
Sovandea and her husband now have a garden on their patch of land.
"We grow morning glories, eggplants, gourds, and some herbs. We use manure we saved from the cows and chicken as fertiliser. We also have a fish pond … we use the water from the pond to water our garden."
The fish pond and home garden provide enough nutritious food to feed the whole family.
Through the VDA, Or Sovandea has also learned about some of the issues that impact the village, such as climate change, domestic violence, health and hygiene, good governance and human rights.
The VDA and village leaders worked together to clean the village. We met and discussed issues together. We worked together to fix the road and to help the poor.
She said that as well as the tangible changes the VDA has fostered in the village, there’s a change in the people and how they approach life. In a village where the people are more knowledgeable and prosperous, children are more likely to go on to higher education and get good jobs, Sovandea says.
“I can see almost every household has a home garden and people are healthier. Young and old live peacefully together. They share; they discuss; they forgive; they respect one another. They have human rights knowledge as a base,” she says.
“People learn to think positive and they are better in their financial management to improve their living conditions.”
As treasurer, Sovandea says, “I am learning to manage bookkeeping, recording incomes and expenses. I have to report monthly to the association leader, deputy, some other stakeholders when needed and association members every meeting.”
Her involvement in the VDA has given her the opportunity to get involved in the life of the village in new ways.
“I have a good relationship with the village leaders and joined in resolving two cases of land conflict and a case of domestic violence with a win-win solution. I also led five poor families to construct latrines. In addition I educated 12 poor families to live and eat clean so that they can be less likely catch disease and save money.”
The majority of households in this community now engage with the VDA, and many families have learned to grow vegetables, raise chickens, create fish ponds and practise good hygiene. In 2021, 90 per cent of people in the village now have latrines.
“I am proud to sit in the VDA management committee,” says Sovandea. “Before I had power and authority just in my small family. Now I have power, a role and responsibility within a group of people ... I relate to more people in the community, across the village and commune. I feel I am braver than before.”
Related projects have received support from the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).