Sunday, September 28, 2014

The beauty behind buzzwords

Alexandra Plummer, the Managing Director of JWOC explains the buzzwords that the sector uses through JWOC's current projects.

I can talk about JWOC for hours; from the unprecedented commitment of our staff and scholarship students and the positive change we make in the communities we serve to the awe-inspiring support we receive from our donors. This got me thinking about the language I use to talk about JWOC to friends, family, staff and potential donors. I must admit that more often than not I find myself adopting “NGOspeak” – words and acronyms that are familiar to those who work in my field. The fast moving development world is inundated by “buzz” words. These are not to be entirely dismissed; they play an important role in framing an organization’s processes and are essentially used as a summary of their means for implementation. Beyond that, they can also act as key components in securing funds. But for those not living and breathing development work, these words can leave you a little high and dry. Words like empowerment, capacity-building, resilience, governance, civil society can be ambiguous, meaning different things depending on where you stand.

Below I have highlighted what some of these terms mean to me in relation to the work we do at JWOC. Hopefully looking through my lens will give you a better understanding of what JWOC does and why.

1. Capacity Building.

Simply put, I would say that Capacity Building is an investment. It is the investment in activities that can enable an organization to not just reach its aim but sustain itself over time. For this reason I would say it is an integral part of JWOC’s philosophy. Our 5 programs exist to strengthen; they make our staff, scholarship students, the local community and even our supporters and collaborators stronger and more able to face challenges. Projects like our new and exciting Technology Refurbishment expand what is possible for those involved. Learning how to better use technology in a learning environment equips staff and students with the tools to keep up in a technologically driven world. It may be a simple task for Information Technology tools to be delivered to the field, but it takes skills to use them to their full potential - a capacity that must be built from the ground up. Team for Tech and JWOC’s collaboration with the generous support of The Rotary Club of Sacramento helps build these skills to turn unemployed youth into future professionals in Cambodia. (Read more about Team4Tech here)

2. Resilience

The training that JWOC’s Community, Liaison and Assistance program runs is a prime example of resilience in practice. Recently JWOC ran training on practical health and hygiene to reduce health risks during the floods, which are a yearly occurrence. The knowledge that the floods come each year isn’t enough to secure prevention measures. In the squatters villages surrounding JWOC the root causes of flooding cannot be alleviated -- the village has poor irrigation systems, and uneven land. Since villagers do not own the rights to build on the land, the root-cause solutions will be a long time in coming. .Because of this, the chance of a sustainable solution to the flooding is slim.

Resilience means preparing as much as possible to come up against these odds. Working with what we have and what we cannot change, we build on what we can and reduce the risks to those who are vulnerable as much as possible.

3. Self reliance

At least once a week you will hear me highlight the problems that come with giving handouts. Handouts relieve problems temporarily, and are sometimes tempting when faced with dire situations (or necessary in an emergency), but it in the long run it creates dependency on others who are in a position of power.

We don't want to contribute to dependency driven behavior; instead we aim to enable communities to take responsibilities for their own future. How do you motivate a low educated community with poor health standards to improve their living situation? It takes perseverance and a lot of time to alter behavior. JWOC believes that by building strong relationships with local communities, by linking them to access to resources, and by offering training and facilitation, that over time these communities can become self-reliant. To us this means building ability to make informed decisions without external influence.

4. Empowerment

JWOC’s Microfinance initiative (MFI) is a prime example of empowerment in action. JWOC’s MFI increases women’s access to credit to invest in businesses that they own and operate themselves. JWOC’s borrowers have excellent repayment records, in spite of the daily hardships they face -- JWOC has a near 100% repayment rate. However, empowerment is not met by access to credit alone. JWOC operates a group loan system which enables women a space to share new ideas amongst other female participants; it also enables women to be the decision makers. JWOC’s borrowers also receive training on how to manage a budget which challenges existing social norms by empowering women in different ways.

I urge you to take the time to explore an organization's practice behind the trendy language and discover the beauty behind the buzz words. To find out more about all our programs please visit

Monday, September 15, 2014

Pchum Ben - Everything you need to know about the festival of the dead

Kimleang, our 1st year scholarship student tells us about Pchum Ben, Cambodia’s upcoming festival where families pay their respects to deceased relatives.

My family always enjoys Pchum Ben; it is one of the best holidays of the year. Before the festival arrives, we always spend time preparing and buying things. Every year, when we see him, my grandfather always tells us the story of Pchum Ben.

Pchum Ben, the ‘ancestor’s festival’, is a Cambodian religious festival celebrated by Buddhists. It is one of the longest festivals in Cambodia, lasting for fifteen days. A Ben is an offering. The first fourteen days are called Kan Ben, where villages take turns making offerings, and the last day is Ben Thom, great offering, where all families go to the pagoda to make an offering. Pchum Ben is celebrated every year at the beginning of the 10th month, Phutrobot, of the Khmer calendar. During the fourteen days of Ken Ben villages take turns bringing food to the temples and pagodas. The last four days of Pchum Ben are public holidays in Cambodia and most Khmer people will visit the province where they were born for family reunions. The fifteenth days, Ben Thom, is the special day when all families bring overflowing baskets of flowers, and children offer food, sticky rice cake and presents to the monks. It is a colorful festival and everyone is dressed in their best clothes, women wear bright colored silk scarves, blouses and dresses. During the festival, special rice offerings are made called ‘Bay Bens’. Bay Bens are balls of sticky rice cooked in coconut milk with various ingredients depending on local customs.

Cambodians celebrate Pchum Ben because they believes that after death they become ghosts whose earthly actions shape their appearance and that they walk the earth at this time. Everyone prays to help their ancestors pass on to a better life. According to Khmer belief, people who do not follow the practices of Pchum Ben will be cursed by angry ancestors. The living relatives ease their sufferings by offering them food. People also make offerings of money, dresses and other items to the monks in the pagoda. The offerings made are shared by the poor and the disabled during Pchum Ben.

I hope that all of you enjoyed learning about Pchum Ben and understand more clearly about Cambodia culture. I wish all of you and your family all the best like my family too.

Friday, September 12, 2014

One step ahead; working with the community to mitigate the effects of flooding

Flooding during the rainy season in the months of September and October is common in Cambodia. In 2011 and 2013, the flooding was particularly severe and damaging; thanks to the generous support of donors, JWOC was able to provide emergency relief to villages in the communities that JWOC serves in Siem Reap Province.

In 2013, Cambodia experienced severe flooding with a death toll over 100 and over 60,000 people having to leave their homes. There was great concern over disease outbreak from water-borne diseases due to a lack of sanitation and hygiene in these extreme living circumstances. The flooding seriously affected nearly all of Cambodia including Siem Reap Province, and many of the communities JWOC serves. The flooding damaged homes, crops and caused harm to roads and infrastructure.

The risk of water related and mosquito-borne diseases, such as Dengue Fever, increases during flooding. As well as the large concern over the risk of disease there is also recovery to consider with clean up and repairs to roads and houses needed. Many families lose their crops as their rice fields and poultry are destroyed by the flooding, a source of both income and food for impoverished families. The longer-impact of the flooding is fear for food security with concerns over food shortages.

JWOC’s Community, Liaison and Assistance program works all year round to address these issues. This year we made some changes to improve our preparedness and response to the high waters that occur each year.

To develop an emergency preparedness plan, we started by collecting data to find out what villagers did to help themselves before and during the floods. We found that the knowledge that the floods come each year isn’t enough for families to take preventive measures. In the squatters villages surrounding JWOC the root causes of flooding are not easily addressed -- these villages have poor irrigation systems, and uneven land. As villagers do not own the rights to build on the land, root-cause solutions will be slow in coming.

The data we gathered demonstrated high health risks among a population where over 60% of the villagers live below the poverty line (between $1-3 a day). This helped us prioritize alleviation of health risks in our emergency preparedness plan.

This week, JWOC will run an emergency preparedness pilot training effort to prepare villagers before the floods. We will work in collaboration with the Angkor Hospital for Children (AHC) to conduct Health Care training focusing on basic hygiene, safe drinking and disease prevention to 60 beneficiaries from Teaksen Tbong Village.

We will offer villagers the opportunity to purchase emergency kits consisting of mosquito nets, soap and water filters. The cost for JWOC to purchase these items and field this pilot is $2090

JWOC does not want to create dependency that may occur by simply giving items away, so this year we will offer these emergency items at a subsidized price. JWOC will sell the items to the communities at a 60% discount, with a further reduction if purchased as a set ($7.50 per set). The money from these items will help defray the emergency kit cost and go straight back in our Community, Liaison and Assistance program fund which works all year round to make sure we prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies like flooding.

We'll begin our pilot to 60 people, depending on the response to the pilot and what we learn, we aim to train other villagers (there are 250+ families left in the pilot village and around 300 families at two other villages who we hope train). Though to proceed with further training and emergency preparedness supply distribution, we require support from donors.

In addition to providing a donation now in support of our emergency preparedness efforts, please consider becoming a subscription donor where you can provide a monthly amount in support of our Community Liaison and Assistance Program. To make a donation please click here.

Thank you for supporting us in our mission to strengthen our Emergency Preparedness, Recovery and Response practices.

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