Leaders Back in the Driver’s Seat

Cambodia_1002cnMany times, the poor lose their power to make decisions. They may become oppressed by wars, disasters or economic downfalls – only living in survival mode. Governments or organizations who assist them might tell them what to do.

This was the situation of many families living in Cambodia’s northern district of Anlong Veng.

Anlong Veng was the last stronghold of the Communist Khmer Rouge faction to come under government control. Over a four-year period (1975-1979) when the Khmer Rouge was in power, an estimated 2 million Cambodians died from execution, disease and starvation.

A frequent battleground, Anlong Veng became isolated from the rest of the nation.

In 2007, Food for the Hungry (FH)  started working in Anlong Veng after much prayer and careful planning that included in-depth research and numerous meetings with government officials and community leaders.

“These are Khmer Rouge families who have banded together for survival during the civil war against the government that was trying to kill them,” said John Tuggy, former FH/Cambodia Country Director. “The communities are quite poor … there is a lot of physical and spiritual hunger, but it is a receptive place.”

Cambodia_1905cnOne of the first steps FH does when working with communities is to empower them  – or put the village leaders back in the driver’s seat. By empowering villagers to win the war against all forms of poverty, families take ownership of their development plans – basically, their own dreams and vision.

FH helped families establish a village development committee to  connect the poor in Anlong Veng to effective solutions to poverty. The committee was made up of families and community leaders that identified crucial problems (like education, clean water or food stability) and encouraged the community to get behind projects. FH staff provided resources for organizing and educating.

Once the village development committee identified projects, FH staff offered expert knowledge to complete the village’s goals in agriculture, child development, savings, networking and health. FH staff insured that projects were a success by providing coaching and support to empower community members to learn skills and gain confidence in creating change.

Because the community drove the plans, the projects were completed at the pace of the villagers. As FH walks with community leaders around the world, in every step of the development process, FH is helping them paint a picture of what their community can become in time.

This gives the people a foundation of hope, and it motivates them to apply new skills and biblical truths that can empower them to build a new life for their families.

That is why when you give to FH, you’re participating in a long-term development effort to end all forms of poverty. And you’re walking with the poor at their own pace, putting them back in the driver’s seat.

Rez Gopez-Sindac is an Austin-based writer and editor covering faith, church management and global development.

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