Three years of patiently "walking with leaders" changes a Cambodian community

FH's mission statement is “to walk with churches, leaders and families in overcoming all forms of human poverty by living in healthy relationship with God and His creation.”

In the forests of rural Cambodia, there is a small community called Toul Prasat. My husband and I visited there in 2010, which is why I'm so excited to see the progress made since then…

Between Toul Prasat and the local school, marketplace and other parts of life lies a big river which, during the rainy season, swells to almost 400 feet across.

Without a bridge to cross this river, kids miss weeks of school, and families suffer from not being able to access the nearest town center. Some kids swim to school, and others wait for a random tractor to hop on, but most stay home until the river recedes.

Other development organizations have overlooked Toul Prasat's need for a bridge because only 163 families live there — it's just not worth the cost.

FH entered this village in 2008, when a short bridge covered only 150 feet in the center of the 400-foot-wide river. Above shows a section of the bridge during the dry season.

Christian Cambodian staff of FH began building relationships with leaders in Toul Prasat, organizing a Village Development Committee and teaching its members leadership skills and compassion for the families in the village.

Instead of simply giving thousands of dollars for the immediate construction of this bridge, FH staff took a longer-term approach, walking patiently with community leaders who eventually would gather the money needed to construct their own bridge.

The result is a sense of ownership by the community and a legacy of people being able to solve their own problems — a vital legacy which may well last longer than the bridge itself.

“It took years for the leaders to be able to stand on their own and initiate this kind of initiative,” says Linly Gula, area teams coordinator for FH/Cambodia.

After a couple years of walking with FH staff, in 2010, these leaders began to understand how to use their own resources like wood and manpower, combined with strategic partnerships, to solve this seemingly insurmountable problem.

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Above, the chief of Toul Prasat (left) hands his plans
for the bridge to FH staff.

They worked hard to collect money from families in Toul Prasat and surrounding villages. Almost $300 was scraped together by neighbors who make less than one dollar a day, some Korean missionaries gave $20, FH/Cambodia gave $50, and the staff of FH/Cambodia gave $37 out of their own pockets.

Gula says the staff wanted to give sacrificially to affirm the tireless efforts of the community, showing them, “We are one with you in this.”

That money bought another 70 feet of bridge and, in 2011, people of all ages from Toul Prasat came together to extend the bridge.

It still doesn't cross the whole river, so about $1,000 is still needed to finish it, but the community is confident this will be done.

“Toul Prasat is a special case,” Gula says. “Their village leaders are the kind of leaders we want other communities to model from; they are committed and sacrificial in their efforts to see progress happening in their village.”

Once completed, the bridge will enable about 60 children to attend school regularly, and commerce will increase as villagers can transport agricultural crops in and out of the community. 

“The long years that have suffered, most of them not having an education because of this reality, inspired them to make steps to make things better for their children,” Gula says. “The leaders are confident that even if it will take them years again, it doesn't stop them to make plans for the bridge.”

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