Empower Cambodian Communities to Protect Forests

by Wildlife Alliance
Sep 12, 2011

Volunteers Open New Community Center

Farmers selling their products at the local market
Farmers selling their products at the local market

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.

CADP volunteers and local youths work on assembling the frame for the new Community Center at Sovanna Baitong.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.

Mobiles created by local children hang from the roof supports at the official opening of the new Communiter Center as the kids crowd together in search of soft drinks.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.

Bread-making classes with local woman who have been trained in marketing. Volunteers also built a brick oven to bake the bread, which is hoped can be an extra source of revenue for Sovanna Baitong residents.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 wildlife.vol@gmail.com.

Community members bringing supplies
Community members bringing supplies
Building the roof
Building the roof
Children playing tug of war
Children playing tug of war
Volunteers heped build the Center
Volunteers heped build the Center



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Organization Information

Wildlife Alliance

Location: New York, NY - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.wildlifealliance.org
Project Leader:
Chloe Lala-Katz
Communications and Finance Field Liaison
New York, NY United States
$4,915 raised of $15,000 goal
35 donations
$10,085 to go
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