Sep 8, 2017

Local Students Interview Members Of Their Village

We often get asked, "How do you know you have succeeded as an organization?" One metric we use is to track whether we have provided our products and services to all of the residents of a village who want them. Through our monitoring system, each year we track our annual outputs (products and services distributed), as well as the number of people whom we have directly benefitted (see our 2016 Year In Review summary on our website).
In terms of on-the-ground changes in the quality of living our village partners have experienced (in monitoring lingo, our "outcomes"), we typically look to the extensive research that exists about the positive, even transformative, impact our rural development strategies provide. Also, we collect testimonials from some of our village partners (for best example, see "Saruen's Story" video on our website homepage).
While these benchmarks continue to serve Trailblazer well in assessing our impact,we want to develop a more strategic way to acquire both quantitative (numbers) and qualitative (stories) data on how our products and services are changing the lives of the individuals, families, and entire villages we serve. We are motivated to do this for three reasons.
First, more and more villages and villagers are asking us to support them, and we will be able to better plan and evaluate our work with a robust monitoring, evaluation and reporting (MER) process. Second, as we expand our fundraising efforts to include more grant-making entities, we are being asked for more details about our monitoring and evaluation systems. Finally, establishing a more robust MER process is the last major undertaking of our now two-year effort to strengthened Trailblazer as an organization.
This past spring, Trailblazer enlisted the pro bono support of a MER expert, local to Fort Collins (Trailblazer's home base in the states), to provide guidance for three MER related  projects: [1] developing the process and protocols for Trailblazer's enhanced monitoring, evaluation and reporting system; [2] hiring a MER manager, a Cambodian who will work with our team in Cambodia; and [3] initiating a pilot project to have local Cambodian high school students interview Trailblazer recipients in their own villages to collect data and stories about our work.
The pilot project took place in late July, when four students from the Jay Pritzker Academy in Siem Reap conducted interviews with forty residents of six villages (all photos here from those interviews). Each person interviewed had received a water filter and a well, Trailblazer's ideal combination for clean water. And these people had received these products within the last eighteen months, a timeline that allows Trailblazer to follow these families from the very beginning, or close to the beginning, of their having the well and filter .
While we don't have the hard data fully tabulated yet, here are some of the more pertinent or informative observations the students made.
1. The students are interested in doing this again next year, and believe the answers they receive then will be more in depth, as the recipients will have had more experience with their wells and filters.
2. Generally speaking, the recipients now realize how the combination of a well and water filter gives them both more access to water, and better quality drinking water. The students predict that next year the recipients will say the well has provided them and their families with a better garden, and thus better food. The year after, the students' surmise, the recipients will have more money, as they would have been able to sell excess crops from their garden.
3. One humorous thing the students pointed out is that, due to the high iron content in the well water (which makes the water a little rust colored), families are filtering that water before using it to wash their clothes and babies. Yes, this is a funny - as in curious - practice. However, it makes perfectly good sense in terms of the recipients solving a problem they have.
4. Another funny answer that stuck with the students was a husband and wife that said they used to argue all the time about who would get the water (since they had to travel further to a water source). That couple was thankful for the well and filter, as they now have one less thing to worry about, and argue about (an unanticipated benefit of Trailblazer's work).
5. Maybe the most helpful feedback we received from the students had to do with the equitable distribution of wells and water filters. Specifically, the students worried about poorer families that may not have attended the village meeting when the opportunity to ask for a water filter or well was announced. This possibility had to do with how close a given family lives to the center of that village, with those families who have more financial resources (everything is relative) probably living closer.
The implications of where one lives has to do with how easily they can attend the village meeting when the opportunity to order a well or water filter was presented. This occurs during an annual needs assessment meeting, facilitated by the village chief. If a person or family lives closer to the village center, they will be more likely to both hear about the meeting, and be able to attend the meeting (due to distance and financial resources needed to get to the meeting).
As a recommendation, the students, who would know because they grew up in these villages, suggested that Trailblazer work with village chiefs to set up a better system for ensuring all villagers know about this annual meeting, and can attend it if they want to. This is the type of data Trailblazer wants to be able to collect and/or collect more of, as it helps us evaluate and refine our programs, products and services.
As such, this pilot project has already proven to be valuable in enhancing Trailblazer's program monitoring. Combine that success with our efforts to develop better MER systems and hire a new MER manager, and Trailblazer will be able to fully launch our improved monitoring and evaluation process in early 2018. While this may not be the most captivating part of Trailblazer's work, it is critical to our continued growth and success. Therefore, it is exciting news we wanted to share with you, our supporters.


Jun 12, 2017

Success on Filter Campaign

Typical traditional pit well
Typical traditional pit well

It may be difficult for many of us to imagine life without water.  In the developed world we so often take for granted the ability to simply turn on the tap and have plentiful clean water for drinking, cooking and cleaning.

In the developing world, access to water is a different matter.  Sources of water can be long distances from ones home, and then unsafe to drink without filtering. Can you imagine having to walk miles from your home for a bucket of filthy water like in the photos?  What would you do if this water was your only choice to give to your family, your children?  It will make them sick, but they need water to live.

Bio-sand water filters remove harmful Ecoli, viruses, parasites, and turbity from these types of source water.  After filtration the water is clear and clean.  Safe for families and their children to consume.  Eliminating disease and improving lives.  Children are able to attend school.  Adults are able to work and support their families.

Trailblazer Foundation is happy to report that we raised the funding needed to supply 70 families who wanted a water filter in our past campaign.  There will now be up to 350, or more, villagers with access to potable water.  Life's basic need to survive and prosper.  One donor supplied enough funding to complete one entire village.  While many other donors contributed to the cause and helped us reach our goal and beyond.

Trailblazer staff have been busy installing these 70 filters in the villages of Kok Kad and Kbal Krapeu.  The recipient families are so grateful to now have clean drinking water.

Thanks to everyone who made this project a great success, and who we hope will continue to help bring clean water and hope of a better life to more rural families in Cambodia.

Traditional pit well
Traditional pit well
Mar 21, 2017

2017 Winter Update

Staff explains use of a water filter to villager
Staff explains use of a water filter to villager

Trailblazer Foundation prides itself on helping Cambodian villagers, and more broadly entire villages, move from survival to sustainability. For Trailblazer, this process starts with community water projects. From our thirteen years of experience, Trailblazer knows that providing a water filter to each family that wants one is the first step toward the sustainability of that family and its members.

It is our strategy in 2017 to complete this process for two villages – Kok Kak and Kbal Krapeu villages, both in Siem Reap province (Trailblazer’s area of focus). In each village, there are 35 families that want a water filter, but haven’t received one yet.  Given an average family size of five, we will be helping improve the health, and thus the quality of living, for 350 people in Cambodia.

Distributing water filters is a major part of Trailblazer’s work in our Health program (along with drilling wells and building latrines). We focus on these initial steps because, as the Buddha once said, “Without health, life is not life; it is only a state of languor and suffering.” This truth explains why Trailblazer Foundation’s first priority is the health of our partner villages. If a family is to move out of poverty, they need to be healthy enough to pursue their other basic needs: food, education, and economic opportunities.

Clean water and latrines tie Trailblazer’s work into a worldwide health strategy known as WASH. WASH stands for "Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene," a group of interrelated public health issues which are the focus of many international development organizations. WASH programs are widely considered to hold great potential for improving health, life expectancy, student learning, gender equality, and other key benefits. These are the same benefits Trailblazer seeks to provide our village partners through our comprehensive rural community development strategy. And that strategy starts with clean water.

To that end, Trailblazer collaborates with our Cambodian affiliate, Trailblazer Angkor, to track which families want a water filter and/or well, and which families have received one. Not all families want a well, as they already have a water source. Through this “mapping” process, Trailblazer knows there are a few villages where we are close to providing all of the water filters that village wants.  

In the case of Kok Kak and Kbal Krapeu villages, with another 35 water filters each, Trailblazer will have supplied these life-affirming products to every family who wants one.

I wish to say a sincere "thank you" to everyone who has contributed to this effort, either as a donor or a volunteer.  Your generous support is what makes this change possible.

Water filters in transit to a village to install
Water filters in transit to a village to install
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