In early November of 2019, Carl Snyder and Randy Shaw joined World Relief to observe the work that they are doing in Cambodia. We are already working with World Relief in the central African country of Burundi and we are contemplating supporting their incredible community development project in Cambodia as well.
Cambodia is a country that was ravaged by a communist group known as the Khmer Rouge in the late seventies. During their four-year rhein of terror, almost one-third of the population was executed. These were largely the elderly, the educated, and the professionals of their society. One thing we learned is that they are a society and a culture that has struggled to recover after such devastating losses of people.
World Relief does an outstanding job of offering help, while at the same time respecting the cultural differences where they work in the world. They do not provide handouts to the people they serve. Instead, World Relief wants the people they serve to become self-sufficient.
World Relief’s develops, mobilizes, educates, and disciples the Cambodian people. The main programs they use to do this are savings groups, care groups, and kids clubs.
Carl Snyder, IT
While it is always difficult to recreate the experience and emotions that are felt on a serving trip, Carl did his best to capture the it in the following video.
Savings for Life
The Savings For Life groups help teach the people how to save money and allow for low interest loans. Anyone who is a resident of a village or community can sign up to be part of the savings group of up to twenty-five people, and there may be more than one Savings For Life groups within an area.
The members of the group select four individuals to serve as the chairperson, bookkeeper, counter, and treasurer. The savings group meets weekly and the savings cycle runs nine months, at which time they all “cash out” and begin a new cycle. The group determines the cost of each share, which is typically $1 – $2.50. Each week a member can buy up to five shares.
At the meeting, the money is collected put into a metal box. The bookkeeper and treasurer document and verify what was collected from each member and their pass-book is updated with a rubber stamp indicating how many shares each individual has.
It is a very transparent process. At the end of the meeting the money and transaction booklets are placed in the box and three separate locks are attached. One member takes the box home and three keys are randomly distributed various members of the group.
Members also can take loans at 3% interest. A member can request a loan but it requires the approval of the other group member’s so a member doesn’t take a loan recklessly. Examples of loan requests included purchase of fertilizer, pay workers to help with rice harvest, and buy inventory for a business. The loan must be fully paid back at the end of the nine-month cycle. At the end of the cycle, each person gets a prorated pay out based on the number of shares they have. We were fortunate to witness a share “pay out” (end of nine-month cycle) and the person with the most shares received a 5% return.
Further benefits of the program included enhanced trust and relationships among the savings group members, easier access to get a loan, and better interest earnings than a bank offers. And maybe most importantly, developing habits to save and manage money.
Many Cambodians suffer from malnutrition which results in stunted development in both physically and cognitively. If malnutrition is not addressed prior to the age of 5, the development of that person will be negatively impacted for life.
The World Relief staff that work in this area of focus on educating the community on healthy eating, staying in school, good parenting, breastfeeding, and pre-natal care, and many other overall health related issues. The staff tracks their progress and reports their findings to the Cambodia Ministry of Health.
One of their new Care Groups initiative’s is raising awareness in the communities about human trafficking and how to protect your children from becoming a victim of this scourge upon humanity. Like other impoverished areas of the world, the rural children of Cambodia are particularly vulnerable to becoming victims of Human Trafficking.
Finally, we attended a Kids Club. The kids were fascinated with us, which has been my experience in the past. This is probably the first time most of them has seen a ‘foreigner’ in their village. The kids are like all kids – goofy, excitable, and brutally honest. It was fun to interact with them. The lesson we saw focused on clean drinking water, specifically to boil water from the river before drinking it.
But it was also about allowing the children to be children. In rural Cambodia, many never have any fun or play games with adults. Their parents are too busy just trying to survive. They all crave adult interaction and attention, and it was a blessing just spending some time with them and having fun.
Randy Shaw, Outreach
In summary, this was a life changing experience for us on so many levels. The people of Cambodia are friendly, humble, appreciative, inquisitive, and generous. Cambodia is a beautiful country and its people are even more beautiful. We left so encouraged by the quality work that World Relief is doing.