Jacqueline Lee is an InTheField Traveler with GlobalGiving who is visiting our partners’ projects throughout Southeast Asia. Her “Postcard” from the visit in Chi Phat, Cambodia:
On March 6 after patrolling the forests of Cambodia with Wildlife Alliance's Ranger team, I went with Amy, Wildlife Alliance's International Development Manager, to experience Wildlife Alliance join forces with the communiities to take care of baby plants in order to RE-forest destroyed pieces of land.
Past the ecotourism village and the windy roads lined by houses now growing sustainable farming (not slash-and-burn farming) thanks to Wildlife Alliance, deep into the forest and over a small river - we arrived at the re-forestation nursery and staff house. There we were welcomed by the 2 live in staff overseeing the re-forestation - Annette and Ariel. They were warm and welcoming sharing stories and experiences, along with challenges and hopes for the project and living so far separated from the city.
The next morning bright and early - I watched the villagers arrive and joined to observe the daily process of what it takes to RE-FOREST a destroyed and practically now barren chunk of forest. There were 3 overall steps: (1)Seed preparation, (2) Greenhouse, and (3) Shade Net.
Seed prep involves collecting local seeds, testing what soil works best, if it needs lime to balance ph, and what supports the best growth. Then the seds are peeled, treated and planted.
Greenhouse involves misting and "nursing" of the baby seeds - each delicate and struggling for survivial.
Once large enough they are transerred to the Shade Net area where they are replanted in larger bags with natural fertilizer and tended to until large enough to be transered strategically to mimic a natural forest process to the large plots of destroyed land.
At the time there were 22 workders but I was told taht during planting season there could be as many as 80 - all from local villages. It was wonderful to learn that the villagers felt invested in the land that they previously used to burn and take from, now working to create and plant back into. This program was changing the mentality for wokders because they now could identify with not only the work it goes into to re-create the forest but also to take care of it and sustain it along with the fruits it could provide in a sustainable way. And what's more- once these were planted... the land became officially protected even by government from development and destruction. So far this project has plotted over 37,000 trees and almost 500 hectares todate.
This project was empowering communities and protecting forests - and it was very exciting and eye-opening to first hand experience how easy and quick it is to destroy a forest that can essentially provide everything you need... and then how much work, time, and patience it takes to rebuild that environment.
For more details and pictures about my visit please visit: JacquelineInTheField
Lot 99, located in Phase I of the Sovanna Baitong village, home to our Community Agriculture Development Project, is a constantly buzzing family farm. Husband and wife, Pok Yut and Tean Sokha, moved to Sovanna Baitong in 2004, just at Phase I was getting up and running. Their plot has a variety of crops growing throughout all three growing cycles. October and November constitute the first two months of Cycle 1, a four-month long growing cycle during the dry season. This year, Yut and Sokha planted sweet potato, long beans, cucumber, wax gourd, and rice. Through their harvest as well as the sale of some chickens, their income was more than $200 in just two months. The goal income per family per month is set at $40—Yut and Sokha have surpassed that, despite the poorer growing conditions in the dry season.
They have been dedicated farmers from the outset but, more importantly they have always had a dream for their family of seven—to build a big to live in. When they came to Sovanna Baitong, they brought their small chamka (traditional hut made of wood and aluminum) and set it up on the 1.5 hectares of land provided to them through the project. Year and after year, they saved a portion of their income from the sale of produce and other agricultural products from their farm. In 2011, they were finally able to realize their dream and recently completed construction on their big house. Their original chamka remains a fixture on their plot—a constant reminder of what they have been able to achieve since leaving the forest and becoming sustainable, family farmers in Sovanna Baitong.
Three of their five children still attend school. Sokha is an active member of the Education Service Group of the Community Agriculture Association. The choice they made to come to Sovanna Baitong and the hard work they have put in since their arrival has resulted in the support of and involvement in their community, a better life for their family, and a better future for their children.
Wildlife Alliance founded the community of Sovanna Baitong as a place where poor landless farmers could have an opportunity to earn a living through modern-practice agriculture rather than by destructively exploiting forest land in the rainforests of the Southern Cardamom Mountains. Our Community Agriculture Development Program (CADP) has become a financial boon for farmers that once used to barely scrape by on isolated forest plots as they engaged in slash-and-burn farming, but has also always been Wildlife Alliance’s intention to make Sovanna Baitong thrive as a true community.
That process took a big leap forward last week with the official opening of the Sovanna Baitong Community Center, a new initiative spearheaded by volunteers from around the globe that offered their services to the people of Sovanna Baitong. The idea behind the community center was to provide a safe and comfortable place for the children, teenagers and adults of the Sovanna Baitong community to use as their own.
In order to give the community a sense of ownership from the beginning, the people were invited to contribute to the building process. Some of the local children and young adults helped staff and volunteers build the walls, roof and even a couple of wooden tables for the center. In an effort to involve the wider community, group leaders were invited to a meeting aimed at promoting the center and explaining the idea behind it. The group leaders were asked to pass the information on to other families and to collect grass thatching for the center’s roof. In an inspiring moment of community spirit, groups from all three phases of the CADP program presented more than 200 panels of thatching to construct the roof of the center.
With the building completed, volunteers collaborated with the community to plan an opening day celebration. Arts and crafts projects by local children were pasted up along the walls and supports, and colorful mobiles dangled from the rafters. Because no Cambodian party would be complete without them, a pair of giant speakers were brought in to blast celebratory music from the center. Fruit trees were planted around the perimeter of the center to mark the occasion and local children snatched candies from a big basket.
It wasn’t long before the kids took over the proceedings, dancing around the center with volunteers and getting into a few spirited contests of tug-of-war outside the center (boys versus girls, naturally!).
Now that the center is complete, it will be used as a place to teach English, arts and crafts, and even the Brazilian martial art of Capoeira—at least to begin with. As the community becomes more comfortable with the center, the young adults will be encouraged to conduct their own activities or to organize and run events for the younger children. It is hoped that center will help foster a sense of leadership and responsibility among the youth of the village. Sovanna Baitong’s adults will also be encouraged to use the center for meetings and social events, with care not to promote drinking or gambling within its confines.
The Community Center is just the latest in a string of projects taken on by the volunteers at CADP since the volunteer program began late last year. Volunteers have been giving advanced English lessons to teenagers from the community; they have helped construct communal fish ponds; a brick oven was built and classes given in baking so that local people could earn more money through the production of bread.
and cakes, and a pilot project making a dulce de leche spread for sale in specialty shops has also been spearheaded. All of these efforts are aimed at strengthening the community and offering them opportunities to complement and financially augment the agricultural production that has been the bedrock industry for Sovanna Baitong since its founding.
To learn more about the Sovanna Baitong Volunteer Program, including how you might best be able to contribute to its success, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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