June 2011

 

Dear friends and partners,

It is the time of year when we begin our detailed planning and budgets for our next program year beginning in September. The planning process always begins with the development staff spending 4 days together in several of our project areas followed by two days of meetings in Phnom Penh. This year the staff went to Banteay Meanchaey, Battambang and Pursat projects. The purpose is to see the innovations taking place, to discuss better ways of doing our work and to discuss expansion for the upcoming program year. As usual, the time spent together is very much enjoyed.

Several innovations caused a lot of interest – the first one was the unique field wells being installed in Banteay Meanchaey. It’s an area where the water table is unclear, rather widely dispersed, there is no stream to tap into – instead water seeps up through the soil. Our normal process in such an area is to dig a pond – another innovation where we have discovered that ponds must be at least 10 meters, by 7 meters by 4 meters deep – then the farmers will have year round water – but in Banteay Meanchaey where land is at a premium – using so much space for a pond is not possible – instead a well 2.5 meters square – 10 meters deep and lined with wood and bricks is the best answer. These wells are open pit and seem to be large enough to raise fish as well.

We also talked about communities where ground water is not accessible – these communities remain very poor for much longer than those with access to water. What do we do? How do we get water to those who have none? It was decided that we should try an innovation of developing a rainwater system whereby using cement rings to store water was discussed - a few trial communities were selected to see if this would work.

digger                  fish pond

But having water doesn’t alleviate poverty unless this same water can be used to create an income. We discussed raising rabbits – something none of the staff have eaten although they remember their parents and grandparents having talked about eating them. The next suggestion was to raise field rats – these rats are eaten in various communities and are considered to be quite a delicacy because they eat rice and taste sweet. I am personally not enamored with the idea of eating any rat but custom is custom. The discussions on rats revolved around cages – normal bamboo or wood cages would not be efficient as the rats are known to eat through these materials – so we need to research what cages would work – the materials and the costs involved. Discussions continued - to raise various insects such as tarantulas and crickets – another delicacy which I personally cannot get past my lips.  Waterless communities are our biggest challenge – finding solutions requires thinking outside the normal parameters – a process that takes time and energy and definitely perseverance.

Schools was the next topic – this year we will have completed 13 schools in various project areas – the needs for schools are great and continues to escalate as 50% of the population is under the age of 15. Parents believe that having many children is their answer to social security in their old age – a mindset that will not change for a generation or two. Less than 40% of the children receive any primary education – less than 14% complete a primary education – less than 4% receive and complete a middle school education. A secondary aspect is that schools built 40 years ago are now in desperate need of repair and many are being closed as it’s too dangerous to have children in a classroom that can collapse at any time. At the end of the week – the staff have requested 26 schools for the upcoming year.

Then we talked of expansion to new project areas. 3 areas were approved – Kep, which is already started, Siem Reap along the border with Kompong Thom and Preah Vihear – where the governor has requested our program for the past 4 years. The poverty is these areas are very stark – very harsh – 90% of the population is desperately poor- less than 50 cents a day, one meal a day of rice and what insects or frogs can be found – very few children attend school – even if there is a school present. Despair is the mindset – suffering the result of physical deprivation – superstition the result of no stimulation – of no hope.

hut       hut 2

We are currently in process of making our final plans and budgets – it is a time of reflection, a time of renewal, a time of dreams and aspirations. We are all so very thankful to be able to do so. I thank my God for our staffs, volunteers, workers and families – they teach me so very much – they teach me of the hunger for life itself, for dignity and decent work – they teach me that giving of myself is the way that I grow in so many ways – that learning is part of the process of giving – I am so humbled by all of them and humbled by all of you who stand with us as we make this journey together.

Janne

Tabitha Cambodia
#239, St 51,
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Ph: 023-721-238
email: Tabitha.janne@forum.org.kh