Be an Agent of Change in Cambodia

June 16, 2015
Team capacity building among a very engaging cohort. I am convinced we have learned a lot from each other.

By Bolun Li, MSc-GH '16

Every day I wake up thinking how our project in rural Cambodia can REALLY create positive impacts on the development of the community. It is REALLY hard. Since the beginning of the preparation in Cambodia, three organizations have been working collaborately on this project, more than 20 people from five countries have been going through sleepless nights and thousands of dollars has been invested into it. There is no reason for me not to bring anything positive to the community and my colleagues. 

But as I said, it is really challenging to be an agent of change here in Samlout, one of the poorest villages in the whole country. Far in the west of the country, this is the place suffering most from the war, and the post-conflict reconstruction remains pretty slow. There is NO public transportation in the whole district, NO waste management system, and very FEW schools and health centers built up by the communities and Maddox-Jolie-Pitt Foundation. Dengue, malaria and TB are prevalent in this area, and slash-and-burn is still a common practice here (even though down from 80% in 2003 to 40% in 2015).

Environmental conservation, illegal logging and hunting are huge challenges as well. Cooking practices and household air pollution (which is the topic of my project) are also a big problem. There is not enough capacity to handle all the problems in a short period of time in Samlout, even though both Khmer and international people have been working very hard for the past decade. 

The past several decades have seen tons of poverty reduction and development projects across the globe, many of which are not as successful as expected. To be an agent of positive change, it is really important to sit down and take some time thinking about the problem carefully and gain enough information. It is particularly essential to gain focal data and information for future development intervention in Samlout, given the fact that we have limited access to resources here and cannot work on all the fields at the same time. 

For my project, one of the questions we are interested in is whether there is significant impact of improved cooking stoves and fuels on health status in Samout, given so many sources of smoke in Samlout and the prevalence of chronic respiratory diseases. Tons of stove promotion projects are flooding in, due to the Clean Development Mechanism proposed by United Nations and the hard work under Global Alliance for Clean Stoves. But the question is whether clean stoves should be set up as the top priority in a particular commune like Samlout. What are the barriers that keep people from using traditional stoves? And how can we coordinate stove projects and other community development projects such as capacity building, environmental conservation, and microfinacne groups? We are an agent of learning here in the summer of Samlout, and hopefully we can be an agent of change here in the near future. The research project is just the beginning of our work.

How time flies. We have gone through the training period for our surveyors, and I am also writing to express my deep gratitude to my whole team in Cambodia. It is such an amazing experience working with you. I would like to thank the support from DGHI, my mentor Marc Jeuland, the constant support from Maddox-Jolie-Pitt Foundation and SNV Cambodia, the sincere help from my great friends Dr.Leah Owen (NHS), Jason Steele (SNV), Stephan Bognar (MJP), Dr.Loeur (MJP), Narith Mao (MJP), Chan To (MJP), Manika Yim (MJP), Chan Hul (MJP) , and my team members Phokvuthy, Sinou, Maneth, Vibol, Bona, Sophal, Soeheat, Koeal and Nob. I hope we can work together to contribute to a healthier and cleaner Cambodia in the near future.