Saturday, December 1, 2007

Thoughts on Cambodia

I apologize I haven't updated you yet on my Cambodia & Dubai trip; it's been slow getting over jetlag and my mind hasn't been cooperating. I was finally uploading and "captioning" photos on my facebook account (click here to view them) and decided it was time to blog, despite not knowing where to begin.

I spent five days in Phnom Penh, meeting with some of our staff at the World Relief Cambodia country office and helping to prepare for the staff leaders retreat. I also met up with a team from one of our partner churches who came to Cambodia to facilitate the retreat. The day they arrived, we visited Toul Sleng, a genocide memorial in Phnom Penh, and then the market.

From Phnom Penh we took the team to Kampong Cham, a province located just north of Phnom Penh, where we visited staff and program sites for CREDIT (World Relief Cambodia's microfinance institution), SPY (an acronym that stands for "Our Healthy Villages" in Khmai),
a community-based health education project, and Hope, a program that includes HIV/AIDS prevention for teens, puppet ministry for children, and a growing cell-church movement. These visits were exciting; CREDIT has just started a Vulnerable Services Unit, designed to make very small loans available to the poorest of the poor, often rural farmers. We visited a group of individuals who were just receiving their first loan from CREDIT, after attending a few weeks of training on money management, small business strategy, budgeting, repayment policies, etc... The loans would go to pay for seed, for harvesting equipment, or for hiring help to plant and/or harvest.

The SPY project is USAID-funded, targeting women of child-bearing age and children under five. The group we visited was just beginning a section on birth-spacing methods (which, I might add, was definitely a learning experience!), with the intention of teaching women not only how to care for themselves but also to limit the number of children they had, so that they could afford to take care of their families. It was fascinating; each of the women in the group would then go and share what they learned with 10-15 other women, thereby covering a much broader area than the single staff worker could cover on her own.

I didn't visit the Hope program this time around, but the group that did found it fascinating. Hope staff spend time in the villages doing puppet shows for children to teach them simple health lessons, like the importance of hand washing before meals or how to spot a tiger mosquito, notorious for carrying the dreaded dengue fever virus. They also use the puppet shows to tell children and their families about Jesus, which has resulted in the growth of hundreds of cell churches.

After visiting the programs, we drove back through Phnom Penh and south to Kampong Speu province
, where the Kirirom Resort is located, for the annual WR Cambodia Staff Leaders Retreat. It was an interesting four days; I met some incredible staff and their families, played games, took photos, ate good food, and had some great conversations about cross-cultural ministry. I was struck by how much work it is, bringing teams from the US to Cambodia (or any other country for that matter). Not only can it be a logistical nightmare, but it's also an incredible communications challenge. For a group that's spending no more than one week in the country, how do you best communicate the myriad cultural faux-paus, the sometimes-tenuous environments in which we work, and the importance of relationship and 'saving face' over accomplishing tasks? The latter is something I struggle with personally; I thrive on accomplishing, so this trip was tough because my main objective was to observe, not necessarily to do anything. I loved getting to know the staff, but I wanted to be working alongside them as well.

Overall it was a good trip, and one that gave me fresh perspective for my job and lots of new things to focus on. After being home for four days, I'm starting to recover from the jet lag, and I'll hopefully have more thoughts to share soon. I didn't even touch on Dubai - so stay tuned!


Adam said...

Yo Lynnae

This is semi-related to your post but I've been thinking about microfinance lately and although I think it's a good thing...I worry if it's another sort of band-aid. I mean maybe band-aids are all we have sometimes, but I don't feel like microfinance is solving things. I feel like it might move people out of abject (don't think I spelled that right) or terrible poverty to impoverishment you know lesser poverty.

I mean I guess it's a good first step but it worries me how microfinance is such a cool thing now. It worries me because this does not challenge the systems of inequality within and outside of the country that made things the way they are. How to approach those things and how to even define tough...but I think it's important to look at that as well. A cool book for you to read is by Paul Farmer called Pathologies of Power.

Sorry long comment

LynnaeEtta said...

Yo Adam :)

Thanks for your comment! You're right; microfinance is definitely a 'cool' thing at the moment and may or may not be just a band-aid effort. There isn't a whole lot of research on its effectiveness, especially long-term because it's such a new thing.

I have a couple of articles/thoughts for you. The first is called, "Microfinance Misses its Mark" from the Stanford Social Innovation Review. The author, Aneel Karnani, argues that macro-level investments - in jobs, government policy, and improving national economies - are better suited for eradicating poverty than microfinance. I'm sure you'll agree with many of his points.

The second is a response from Peter Greer, President of Hope International. He responds to several of Karnani's claims, most notably arguing that microfinance is helpful in alleviating poverty, not necessarily wiping it out. He also argues that a "both/and" perspective is needed; microfinance alone is not sufficient, but it is a necessary (or at least very helpful) piece of the puzzle.

The two articles together make for a lot of reading, but probably not as much reading as Pathologies of Power, so we're even if we both take the other's recommendation. :)

Thanks for your comments! Does anyone else have anything to add?


Steve Ruberg said...

I read "Microfinance Misses its Mark" - a well-written critical look at this attempt to do the right thing. However, in the very first line the author refers to microcredit as a "silver bullet". I doubt Dr Yunis, Nobel Prizer winner for implementing a microcredit program thinks of it as a silver bullet. Solutions to difficult problems seldom have a single solution. One flaw of being simply a "do-gooder" is the desire to find a simple or a single solution to a complex human problem. Sometimes you get really lucky and you find such solutions - but not very often.

It appears that microcredit is another potential tool in the toolbox - but not a silver bullet. Its way too early to dismiss it - the more it gets applied as a possible solution the larger the data set to evaluate its effectiveness over time - and it doesn't seem to have been in use for a long enough time yet. The folks who really are in this for the duration - such as Dr Yunis and hopefully those in development organizations such as WR - will be the ones who will be able to judge microcredit effectiveness in the long run.