A Week in Cambodia

Feb 22, 2012
Last week in Cambodia

It was really good to visit Cambodia again last week. The morale of our staff is high—they are seeing good results from their work and jelling as a team.
I guess I’ve been visiting southern Cambodia since about 2004 or 2005. It’s a country where many of the pot holes are now gone, where garment factories and SUVs have proliferated, where the big city is ever more congested, where there is speculation about discoveries of oil in the sea, where tourism is thriving (A lot of it is about visiting the ancient Hindu temple complex of Angkor Wat in northern Cambodia) and where CRWRC has made really good progress in community development. Here are some highlights:

Physical changes: I’ve never seen such a concentration of SUVs, especially Lexus SUVs as in the capital, Phnom Penh. It’s such a contrast to the concentration of old Toyotas and Nissans in the capital of Burma, Yangon that I saw the week before. This is a symptom of the rich getting richer faster than the poor are benefiting from the growth. I saw the symptom in news of protests and work stoppages. At the same time, the majority of the rural village families seem to have daughters and young mothers working in the garment factories for salaries of about $60/month that do come back to the villages. It comes out in the health baseline study we just completed—many children are being cared for by grandmothers. They tell me that sometimes it’s the men who are being left behind, although many of them are also working in construction in the cities, and go home to plant rice when the season comes.
Heart-warming progress in congregation-based community development. It was so encouraging to listen to the story of the Heritage of Christ congregation. They shared how they have been a channel of blessing so that six of their surrounding communities now have organized savings groups, have much better rice and vegetable harvests, and now have water filters and latrines.

Creative Ideas in Restoring the Land: The soils of Cambodia are really worn down. The rice harvests are only about half the average of Bangladesh. So, it’s really neat to see our farmer field schools using an Asian nitrogen fixing bean, mung bean: growing it in the 4 to 6 weeks of sporadic rain before the start of the monsoon when it is plowed in before rice is planted and then often compost is added as well. One farmer field school group who used this green manuring with mung bean in combination with the practices of the “system of rice intensification,” measured the rice from a square meter and found that it was 4 times more than the harvest from the old way.

Creative-yet-simple saving/lending group: We’re seeing rapid growth in the number of saving groups that communities are setting up. It seems that there is really a hunger to be free from money lenders. They are using a standard set of rules and then adapting them to each village saving group. One of the standard rules is that either once a year or every other year all the loans have to be gathered in and all the money counted. The usual interest rate is 2%/month or 3%/month. That seems like a lot, but the savers vote for this rate themselves, knowing that it’s far less than the money lenders charge. Our partner organizations are seeing that the saving groups probably have an even more consistent beneficial impact on food security than the agricultural improvements—just because of the flexibility of saving-lending for so many income earning purposes.

A dragging-out of the trial process of the Khmer Rouge leaders. It felt like there is disillusionment with the UN-led trials of the Khmer Rouge leaders who are still alive. But, I was not there long enough to gain an understanding of why this is.

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