Concern Worldwide is handing over our programs in Cambodia after 23 years of working with the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people. Our phasing out of Cambodia is the natural conclusion of decades of working closely with partners to achieve sustainable changes in people’s lives that will endure for generations to come.
From Emergency to Development: Concern in Cambodia
Concern’s work with Cambodian communities started 34 years ago when we responded to the needs of refugees on the Thailand-Cambodian border. Their lives had been rocked by civil war, conflict between Vietnam and Cambodia, and the murderous regime of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge, which led to the deaths of one in eight Cambodians. Concern stayed long enough to ensure stability for the refugees, and returned in 1990, this time inside the country, with an eye on long-term development.
Over the past 23 years, Concern has addressed the needs of Cambodia’s poorest people, working hand-in-hand with them to break the cycle of hunger and poverty. To do this, we focused on improving food production and creating livelihood opportunities, from fisheries to forestry, rice cultivation, and agriculture. We also assisted those who previously had no access to financial services in securing low-interest loans and in starting income-generating businesses. In 2012 alone, Concern’s livelihood programs benefited 240 households with cash-for-work programs that rehabilitated seven small-scale irrigation systems.
In addition to improving food and economic security, Concern has encouraged positive behavior changes in health and hygiene practices through water and sanitation education programs. Furthermore, in the aftermath of extreme flooding in 2011, Concern provided cash assistance and food, also sponsoring cleaning and rehabilitating wells in the Pursat and Siem Reap regions. Though there is still significant progress to be made, our efforts have contributed to national development and have improved the health quality of life of thousands of the poorest and most vulnerable Cambodians.
Cambodia: A Development Success Story
Since the Paris Peace Accords of 1991, a political settlement between the Khmer Rouge and government, which also allowed the return of thousands of refugees, Cambodia has undergone significant changes. Concern has been there throughout, helping communities adapt to transitions from conflict to peace, from autocracy to democracy, and from a centrally-planned to a market-based economy. Despite the country’s extremely low development status following the war, Cambodia steadily advanced. It is increasingly recognized as a development success story, growing at nearly ten percent per year and doubling its per capita income from $285 in 1997 to $593 in 2007, according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Cambodia’s integration into the global economy, accompanied by employment shifts from rural agricultural practices to urban industrial work, greatly contributed to the country’s sustained economic growth over the past 20 years.
A Community of People who Fled the Khmer Rouge Now Prospering
Like most of her neighbors, Hern Sieng isn’t from the village of Bakmek, but settled there after being forced out of her own village by the Khmer Rouge. Sieng Lives with four of her similarly displaced female friends and is the chairperson of the local village association, which was set up by Concern in conjunction with our local non-government partners. “We used to suffer food shortages, but not anymore,” she says “Concern helped to provide new roads into the villages, latrines, wells, a rodent and bird-proof rice bank, and a water pump, which means that instead of just the single rainy rice crop we’re now harvesting twice, sometimes three times a year. Nobody in Bakmek goes hungry anymore, and as a result of being able to get low-interest loans from the village association many people started their own businesses.”
Sieng isn’t the only one whose life has changed. Another family bought a pair of breeding pigs with their loan and within 18 months had reared and sold enough piglets to be able double the size of their house and to buy a van. “Our lives are completely different to what they were even five years ago,” says Sieng. “Thank you to everyone in the Concern family for helping us to help ourselves.”
Leaving in a Responsible Way
Over the past two years, Concern has carefully planned a gradual winding-down and handing-over of our programs to local agencies and communities in order to guarantee the longevity of our work. We feel that our efforts over the past 23 years have been successful and that with the assistance of the local partnerships, the Cambodian people will manage their own development in an effective and sustainable way. It is now time for Concern to use our resources and expertise in other countries where the needs are greater and more immediate. Nevertheless, we have formed a lasting bond with Cambodia and our work there, especially our relationships with so many Cambodians, will always be an important chapter in Concern’s history.