PRA in Prolit Village
One of the first things that drew MaD to Reul Commune when we were collecting data in order to decide where to begin our new Rural Developement projects was the eagerness of the community members we contacted to help us. When we started contacting commune leaders in Puok District and mentioned that we were thinking of commencing projects in their communes, most took several days to give us the information we required. When we got in touch with Reul Commune, the commune leaders instantly became very excited about the prospect of having an NGO to help them and came back to us with all the information we needed within a couple of hours, stressing that if we needed anything else at all to please contact them at any time. It was quickly clear when we started going through the data that Reul Commune is a place that is in great need of help: it has one of the lowest water coverage rates in Siem Reap (which is well below the Cambodian average as it is), their agriculture (upon which the majority of the inhabitants rely) is suffering greatly and the poor sanitation situation in the commune has caused countless problems.
It was therefore not long until we decided that Reul would become the focal point of much of our development work over the upcoming years. We decided that we would start our Rural Development work in Prolit village, as it is one of the poorest villages in the commune and is in great need of support. A few weeks ago, Palynath organised a meeting with the village leaders and several village members and talked through some of the issues that were facing the village. They were all exceedingly helpful and very eager for us to start working with them.
So yesterday Palynath and myself jumped on a motorbike and made the long, bumpy and dusty journey to Prolit village to have our first in depthParticipatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) with the village community. We were welcomed into the village by the commune chief and the village chief and were taken to their community centre where we were warmly greeted by the village members. We sat down and began what turned out to be a 3 hour talk through the problems facing the village and how they thought that MaD could help them. When we began, there were around 10 – 15 people there, but word quickly spread around the village and by the end of the meeting the group had more than tripled in size.
We began by giving the group a brief introduction to MaD, but we did not tell them what sort of work we are capable of delivering to rural communities as we did not want to force them into talking about these topics. Instead, we simply asked the community to go through the issues that were important to them with us. Everyone was very eager to have their voice heard and on numerous occasions Palynath had to clap her hands to get everyone to stop talking at once!
Not surprisingly, the first issue that came up was the lack of clean water. The village only has 6 pumps to service the entire community (1,068 people). These pumps are communal Afridev pumps, which have the advantage of being very durable and, usually, long lasting. However, MaD stopped using these pumps for rural communities last year (unless under special circumstances, such as the water table being over 50 metres below ground), because we have found it very difficult to ensure high degrees of sustainability when providing these pumps to rural communities. Last time MaD had to repair an Afridev pump we had previously installed it cost us $250, a figure that is simply impossible for most rural communities to cover, even collectively. We find it difficult enough to persuade families to save the $8 that is usually required to repair a UNICEF pump, let alone $250! We therefore concluded that it is exceedingly difficult to foster self-reliance among rural communities when providing these pumps as they would almost always require outside assistance if the pump broke in the future.
The majority of the community continue rely on open wells to obtain their water, but even these are few and far between. The community also told us that they had issues with the quality of the water, both from their wells and their pumps (most likely because the pumps were not drilled deep enough). The water that is produced is not very clear and smells bad, a problem that was confirmed by Palynath & myself when we made our own inspection of the water.
This brought us onto the second issue in the village: sanitation. The community has been donated several toilets, but the majority said they continue to defecate on the ground or in the bushes in the surrounding areas. The toilets that have been donated have caused more problems than they have solved: the community were simply donated a toilet bowl, cement and concrete for each toilet and then left to construct the toilets by themselves. Consequently, all of the toilets have been designed so that the human waste is disposed of into the concrete pipes below and then into the ground at a depth of around 1.5 – 2 metres. The surface water table is not much further below than this, and this is the water that is drawn up from the community’s wells and, by the looks of it, from their pumps too. It is therefore no wonder that the water is murky and smells bad! Obviously, the health implications of this are severe and it is something that MaD is very concerned about.
The next issue that was raised was the high levels of poverty in the village. The community mentioned three things in particular: firstly that their agriculture is suffering due to the lack of water and they therefore find it hard to grow crops to sell. Secondly, they told us that the nearest secondary school is very far away and they don’t have enough money to provide bikes for their children so they can go every day. And finally, they related to us that they have been making wooden baskets and mats (see the photos below), which they want to sell but have been unable to find a market to sell them to. The community also told us that there were around 70 widows in their village, who are very poor and in dire need of support. What pleased us, however, was their attitude towards this poverty: the community did not ask us for handouts, they asked us instead to help them earn the money they need to buy things like bicycles for their children. This was clearly a community that wants to help themselves, exactly the type of people that MaD works best with.
We then discussed how they thought MaD could best help them. We agreed that we could definately begin to sell their handicrafts at our restaurant in Siem Reap for them, and that we could help them with some other income generation activities (we want to teach the community how to make natural soap from coconuts, more info soon!). We also told them that we would help them to improve their sources of clean water and improved sanitation, which they were all exceedingly grateful for. They were somewhat perplexed about the idea of having compost toilets, but got very excited when we told them that they could greatly improve their local agriculture.
We went through the conditions of us carrying out work for them (that they must participate in the work, that they must elect people to be trained in pump repairs and maintenance and that they must attend educational seminars on health, hygiene and composting), and they readily agreed to all of them, visibly pleased that they were going to be heavily involved with all of the work.
After the meeting was finished, both sides were exceedingly content with the result: this is most definately going to be a highly productive partnership and Prolit is the ideal village to start our new projects in. We were given a tour around the village before we left and the community elected the place where they wanted their first sanitation unit to be built. We then parted ways with smiles and ‘Acuns’ (thankyous) all round, with the promise that we will meet again next week so we can start drawing up a detailed plan for the village together.
We are all very pleased and feel fortunate to have the opportunity to work with such a lovely community.
You can check out photos of the day below, and we will keep you updated with further developments next week!