In 2011, the Community Agriculture Development Program instituted a community volunteer project to bring international volunteers to Sovanna Baitong to assist and enhance the work taking place there. Volunteers from Israel and Australia have been arriving throughout the year, staying between one and three months, and bringing with them a diversity of skills and ideas to enrich life in the village. The project has invigorated the social dynamics of the village, while at the same time laying a foundation for capacity building, youth skills development, income generation, and greater awareness of issues that villagers face. The technical assistance and support that Wildlife Alliance provides to the village can only go so far, as our focus is on the growth and improvement of agricultural practices and mechanisms for civil society. Having volunteers spend time in the village and bring a wide variety of experiences to the table helps to diversify the knowledge that villagers have access to.
Community volunteers have undertaken some exciting initiatives since the institution of the program. English language lessons have helped both children and adults develop skills in English to help with educational and employment opportunities. Arts and crafts activities for the children are not only entertaining but teach a new skill and make use of recycled materials that help with natural resource management. Volunteers have helped establish a women’s group where female community members can share life experiences, communicate aspirations, and find mutual support. Entrepreneurial and managements skills have been taught to some of the community youth through the establishment of library that they run on their own and a small bread-making business. Other business opportunities have been provided to the community as a whole through the construction of a wood-fire brick oven and training in massage.
The biggest project that the community volunteers undertook in 2011 was the creation of a community youth center. The idea stemmed from a desire to create a safe and comfortable, open air place where children and their families could convene, hold meetings, celebrations, and other activities. In order to give the community a sense of ownership, they were invited to help with the construction from the ground up. Some children and teenagers helped build the walls, roof, and few wooden tables for the center. In an effort to involve the wider community and raise awareness about the purpose of the center, community leaders were invited to a meeting to explain the center and encourage their dissemination of information about it. They were also asked to collect panels of grass-thatch from their neighbors to construct the roof. In an inspiring moment of community spirit, groups from all three phases of Sovanna Baitong donated more than 200 roof panels! The community volunteers have obviously been a great asset in the village and we look forward to more volunteers in 2012!
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