My last stop Cambodia! Country Directory Keo Keang (or KK as she prefers to be called) and her team are very passionate about Heifers work in Cambodia, and it shows in their interactions with the communities.
My first stop was to Siem Reap, where we attended a Passing on the Gift ceremony with over 700 people - including local and provincial officials. It is encouraging to have them attend, as it shows their desire to collaborate more closely with Heifer.
Following the ceremony we went to visit a self-help group. The villagers were delightful, full of energy and gratitude. They have a lot going on! They received pigs, chickens and ducks. They have been trained in backyard gardens and are involved in handicrafts. As if that weren't enough, they are building a rice bank. The villagers are forming a cooperative, and they certainly have big dreams. There is a great deal of hope and energy.
My next stop was to Phnom Penh to meet with the Heifer Cambodia team to discuss their new project Improving Income and Nutrition through Community Empowerment (INCOME). This project is part of Heifers new programmatic approach of increasing impact. This project will integrate production systems, core market actors and an enabling environment through the values-based Heifer development model. The project is still in its early stages; I look forward to returning in the future to see the progress that will be accomplished.
KK arranged for us to have several meetings. We first met with Dr. Kim Lucas, acting director of U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Cambodia. Dr. Lucas was familiar with Heifer; we shared more details of our work, including our strategic priorities and our Theory of Change. I think there is an opportunity for Heifer and USAID to collaborate to build the capacities and increase the impact in the communities. Our next visit was to the Minister of Agriculture, who had also attended the Passing on the Gift ceremony; and with the team lead and acting Country Director, Natharoun Ngo, of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Cambodia. It will be very interesting to work with UNDP, as our missions and practices are very much aligned. They are focused on rural poverty and agriculture, believe in womens empowerment and would like to work with partners scaling up their impact. Combining their knowledge of governance and capacity building at the regional and national level with our focus on grassroots efforts has the potential to produce a lasting impact to the families with whom we work.
KK and her team will continue developing these connections and will even participate in a study group with other non-governmental organizations to review and recommend a governance structure that will avoid duplication of work and support the rural development efforts we are striving to achieve.
Our next stop was to Svay Rie to visit two projects. The first community will be working as a component of the INCOME project and has just begun to receive training. We met the villagers and talked for a couple of hours about their first impressions, needs and hopes. They are willing and very eager to learn. Local government officials were in attendance and seemed inclined to help. The second community we visited has been part of a Heifer project for just over two years and has made astonishing progress. The project is made up of four groups of women, and their pride in what has been accomplished and confidence in what they will do was wonderful. These women will be key in co-developing the larger cooperative to take full advantage of the various value chains these farmers can access for project INCOME. We shared lunch with the community and danced and celebrated their success.
Overall I am very pleased to see the persistent, strategic progress Heifer Cambodia is making. I know more great things are soon to come!
This has been an incredible trip. Vice President of Asia/South Pacific program Dr. Mahendra Lohani and his team planned well and for that I offer my gratitude. There is much to reflect on, work to be done and to support. The opportunities ahead are exciting!