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July - September, 2009

Welcome A key theme of the Australian aid program as well as a focus of the Millennium Development Goals is the recognition that the poorest people are often the most vulnerable to changes in climate and the potential impacts that these changes may have on food, water and biological resources. Food security is defined by access to sufficient and affordable food; it can relate to a single household or to the global population and is inextricably linked to greenhouse gas emissions. The United Nations Human Development Report for 2007/08 (HDR 2007) for the first time focused on the impact of climate change on poverty. The first Millennium Development Goal seeks to reduce by half the proportion of the world’s population experiencing hunger, and one of the targets of MDG 7 is the integration of the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programs to reverse the loss of environmental resources. Climate change alone has the potential to threaten food security and impact on the progress being made towards all of the Millennium Development Goals and the overall fight against poverty. In July 2009 the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd endorsed a joint statement of global food security which reinforced Australia’s commitment to address underlying causes of global food insecurity. VIDA actively works with Partner Governments, Host Organisations and Australian Partners to identify and develop assignments that directly target the environment, climate change and food security. The Program then selects and places skilled volunteers into roles that tackle the associated challenges. The theme of this issue of Connect is ‘Environment’ - a broad category which, as well as sustainable development and environmental resources, includes climate change and food security and biodiversity. The articles in this issue showcase a selection of the range of work VIDA volunteers undertake in these areas and which ultimately support Millennium Development Goal 7 – Ensure Environmental Sustainability. The end of the 2008/2009 financial year allows us to reflect on the significant achievements the VIDA program has made over the last 12 months which are further reflected in the positive feedback received from AusAID, our stakeholders and partner organisations. The key achievements include:

• • • • • •

Mobilising 110 new volunteers to 14 countries (7% over target) Supporting 244 volunteers and their families in the field throughout the year The development of new recruitment and selection processes to support the continuous mobilisation of our volunteers Redesigned newsletters and recruitment and marketing approaches Implementation of new improved allowance schedules to address the direct impacts of the Global Financial Crisis Strengthened debriefs and Alumni

The 2009-10 Federal Budget, released in May, underlines the Australian Government’s ongoing commitment to increasing Australia’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) to 0.5 per cent of Gross National Income (GNI) by 2015-16. Through this budget total Australian ODA will increase to 0.34 per cent of GNI. As a result VIDA has been allocated funds for the 2009/2010 financial year that will support the continued development of the program, allow expansion to Nepal as well as supporting the mobilisation of at least 105 new volunteers and support 243 volunteers and their families in the field. VIDA’s focus for 2009/2010 financial year will be on: • The implementation of online applicant, volunteer and Host Organisation support and management tools • The development and implementation of a results based management system that supports the alignment of VIDA assignments to the Millennium Development Goals and AusAID development priorities • Streamlining the recruitment and selection processes so that mobilisation of volunteers is driven by Host Organisation needs • The implementation of a 5 Regional Manager model across both the AYAD and VIDA programs • Improving in country support • Strengthened collaboration across Australian volunteer programs as well as with a number of international programs • A number of exciting developments will also be rolled out in the coming year including a new look interactive VIDA website which will have links to a library of resources relevant to volunteers working in international development. I would like thank all of our stakeholders, staff, volunteers, partners and Host Organisations for their contributions and I look forward to working with them over the coming years.

Ray Ash, VIDA Project Director

July - September, 2009

Volunteering for International Development from Australia VIDA (Volunteering for International Development from Australia) is part of the Australian Government’s volunteer program. Funded by AusAID, the Australian Government agency responsible for managing Australia’s overseas aid program, the VIDA program places skilled Australian volunteers in developing countries in the Asia Pacific Region in line with Australian Government development priorities. VIDA volunteers work with local counterparts to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development results in the communities in which they work through skills and knowledge exchange, institutional strengthening and capacity building. VIDA works with educational institutions, government departments, NGOs, International NGOs and private companies in Australia and partner countries to develop volunteer assignments and build networks between Australia and the Asia Pacific region. VIDA provides volunteers with return airfares, living and accommodation allowances, medicals and vaccinations, comprehensive insurance, pre-departure briefing and incountry support.

Environment Issue This issue of Connect is focused on Environment featuring articles from volunteers and organisations that work within this development sector. The theme of the next issue is Rural Development. We encourage submissions from VIDA volunteers working in the Rural Development sector including Agriculture, Marine Science, Veterinary Science, Natural Resource Management and Forestry. Alumni, Host Organisations and Australian Partner Organisations wishing to highlight their contributions within the Rural Development sector are also encouraged to submit articles. The deadline for submissions is 28th August 2009. Submission guidelines are available from Matt Lees at VIDA. Contact:

VIDA volunteer Kelly Spence reflects on her experience with the Wildlife Conservation Society

Returned VIDA Volunteer Jo Newham reflects on her time in Indonesia

VIDA Volunteer Tom Winkler outlines the water and sanitation challenges in Laos

VIDA Volunteer Anthony Jenyns on the need for Food Sustainability in Bangladesh.

Ray Ash, VIDA Project Director



2 6 8 12 14 August





Important Dates Editor: Design: Contributors:

Matt Lees Agency of New Design Ray Ash Toby Eastoe Jodie Ellen Josie Huxtable Anthony Jenyns Daniele Marechal Jo Newham Kelly Spence Ingrid Suter Tom Winkler

VIDA welcomes submissions from VIDA volunteers and alumni, Host Organisations and Australian Partner Organisations. Please contact the Community Engagement and Marketing Coordinator at for further information.

July - September 2009

These details are correct at time of printing. Please check the VIDA website, for the latest information.

August 16 - 19 VIDA Pre-Departure Briefing

Connect Magazine is printed on recycled paper. Cover Photo : Butterfly perched on a Komodo Dragons foot. Photo : Dan Brooks/courtesy of PT. Putri Naga Komodo

July 1 Assignments advertised on VIDA website August 1 Assignments advertised on VIDA website

August 24 - 28 In-Country Managers Workshop August 10 - 27 VIDAInformation sessions September 1 Assignments advertised on VIDA website

VIDA Volunteer Josie Huxtable is assisting poor and vulnerable communities adapt to a changing climate

VIDA volunteers Jodie & Peter Ellen are volunteering to conserve the environment

VIDA volunteer Toby Eastoe surveys the Cardamom Mountains and islands of Cambodia

VIDA Volunteer Daniele Marechal explores the environmental issues of the Philippines VIDA Volunteer Ingrid Suter is dedicated to the protection and conservation of Asian elephants in Laos.

16 17 18 20 22 To find out more about how your organisation could benefit by becoming an Australian Partner Organisation with VIDA, please contact the VIDA Team apo@ or freecall (in Australia) 1800 995 536. VIDA would like to thank our active Australian Partner Organisations for their support and involvement: Adventist Development Relief Agency Australia (ADRA) Asia South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education Australia (ASPBAE) Australian Foundation for Peoples of Asia and the Pacific (AFAP) Australian Rugby Union Baptist World Aid Australia Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation (Australia) Burnet Institute for Medical Research and

Public Health Canberra Friends of Dili CARE Australia Christian Brothers – Oceania Community Links with Cambodia (CLC) Department of Agriculture and Food (WA) Department of Culture and the Arts (WA) Emergency Architects Australia Environmental Defender’s Office Ltd Federal Court of Australia Foundation for Developing Cambodian Communities (FDCC) Free the Bears Fund Inc. GK Ancop Australia Global Development Group Habitat for Humanity Australia International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) Koto International Marie Stopes International Australia Monash University Murdoch University

Oxfam International Permaculture Research Institute Philippines Australia Studies Centre (PASC) Plan International Australia Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) Save the Children Symbiosis Australia TEAR Australia Transparency International UNHCR University of Adelaide University of Queensland University of Western Australia University of Western Sydney Youth Challenge Australia Zoos Victoria

Food Sustainability and the Environment

VIDA volunteer Anthony Jenyns is currently working with Symbiosis Bangladesh as a Technical Advisor and Trainer for Fresh Water Fish Production


Symbiosis Bangladesh works with the village people of Bangladesh in what are called Rural Integrated Programs. These seek to promote human development in harmony with the environment. As an Australian Project Partner, with Symbiosis Australia we recognise and value the importance of the relationship between our work environment and the greater rural environment we must operate in. It has been very encouraging working along side Bengali farmers, observing sustainable methods of food production as they work hard to feed their families and a nation in one of the most stretched and fragile farming environments in the world. Bangladesh today must feed a population of more than 150 million people in an area less than 2/3 the size of the state of Victoria. Symbiosis Bangladesh has a project called the Rural Income Generation Project (RIGP). This project seeks to work with the Rural Integrated Programs to improve peoples ability to earn an income through the production of food particularly fish, domestic animals and vegetables. Our work through this project enables us to experience and see the enormous pressure placed on the rural environment and how fragile it has become. Local authorities in Bangladesh tell us that 41% of Bangladesh land mass is classified as ‘Agro- Ecologically Constrained’ due to flooding, poor soil conditions, salinity and limited infrastructure. The ability to feed so many in a small area is a real issue for this country and the Symbiosis Fisheries Project in conjunction with our RIGP program is working with our rural project members to implement integrated and sustainable fish production with rice, vegetables , mushrooms, poultry, cattle and goats. Fish and rice are said to be the essence of every Bengali and we have no doubt that fish production is the key to providing the much needed dietary protein. This is because it is possible in a limited area with minimal impact to the village environment. Fish delivers the protein needed without the saturated fats associated with other


domestic livestock. They can also be produced using less inputs. We have facilitated some wonderful examples of this through village group members. They have been able to produce fish using agricultural by-products such as lentil husks, rice bran, feather meal, and animal manures. Through this many people can be fed by the production of only one relatively small pond. One of the women’s groups associated with the local Symbiosis Bangladesh project received training in fish raising from the RIGP program. They purchased 500 fingerlings from our fish hatchery and placed them in the small village pond. They managed to feed the large family with fish for 6 months. This fish protein was not present in their limited diet 12 months ago and came at limited cost to the environment without the use of fertilizers or commercial fish food. They used materials that were sourced from rice and cattle production in their village for fish food. Their story is one of sustainable integrated development with a minimal impact on the environment. Some group members stock fish for income as well as food. Villagers earnt 25,000tk ($500) from just several thousand Symbiosis fingerlings. Compared to other livestock, fish deliver highly nutritious protein with little pressure on the already fragile Bangladesh village environment. As an Australian fish farmer I am humbled by the endurance and courage of the Bengali farmer who must produce so much food using so little space under some of the most unforgiving conditions. They love their fish and must be good stewards of what they have, if they are gong to reverse the current trends. The Bangladesh Government through its ‘Bangladesh Climatic Change Strategy and Action Plan’ has as its primary initiative the ensuring of sustainable food security and social protection. Symbiosis Bangladesh also seeks to contribute to the environment and food production through the use of fish production techniques that minimize the impact on the environment. One of these is the use of recycled water in the production of good quality fingerlings which are sold to producers.

Water is filtered by a simple biological filter constructed out of local and recycled materials. The water is pumped up to a tank and gravity fed to the trays that provide circulating water to the eggs and small fish. Symbiosis has released this past year 200,000 fingerlings into 89 ponds in 6 districts amongst 587 beneficiaries. Another way that Symbiosis Bangladesh is contributing to the environment is through biodiversity and stocking of waterways with local and threatened fish species. Symbiosis through its ‘Rural Income Generation Program’ demonstrates and facilitates fish production that is integrated into the existing rural environment. Rice fields and lakes are important aquatic environments that produce large amounts of fish protein in Bangladesh. The Symbiosis Fisheries Program recognises that many species of predator fish are threatened in Bangladesh. Symbiosis has been producing fingerlings and releasing them into public water ways such as lakes and rivers. Fish belonging to the genus Chana such as the Stripped Snake Head and the Spotted Snake Head are two species we are working with to improve aquatic biodiversity. To reduce the dependence on chemical fertilizers and commercial fish foods Symbiosis Bangladesh has also been promoting in practice and education the use of natural fertilizers. These include compost and cow manure and the planting of nitrogen-fixing local legumes in ponds in the dry season when there is no water for fish growing. Such fertilizers promote the growth of natural algae and phyto-plankton when the ponds are filled with water. This is a great source of food for young growing fish. It is cost effective and does not damage the environment. These are some of the ways that Symbiosis Bangladesh is seeking to contribute to the environment of Bangladesh and increase food production. It is consistent with the overall aim of Symbiosis, “promoting human development in harmony with the environment” and part of the Australian Government’s desire to respond to the challenges presented by climate change.

Far left: Stocking the waterways Middle: Filtered water Right: Anthony with colleagues




Is community-based conservation still sexy? Returned VIDA volunteer Jo Newham looks back at her time working with PT Putri Naga Komodo in Indonesia. ‘Paradigms of community-based conservation that emerged in the 1990s proposed to link the twin goals of conservation and sustainable development and under a single rubric’ (Igoe 2006, p. 72). This was a very sexy idea, suggested anthropologist Jim Igoe, because it was seen to link the ‘protection of biodiversity and the alleviation of poverty for some of the most marginal human societies’ (p. 72). So, is this idea still sexy? What could be wrong with a new approach to conservation, one that in theory would prioritise community needs and incorporate local people’s environmental knowledge? After more than a year in the field in Indonesia, I still write hesitantly. I have had many experiences and observations yet I still have many reservations and many comments to make on the questions related to community-based conservation (CBC) in general and the overall costs and benefits of conservation for local populations in protected areas.



Previous Page : The dragon on the beach Photo by Robert Delfs Left : Promo Sticker Middle : New guides. Photo by Jo Newham Right : Drying fish. Photo by Mimi Natalia ( all photos courtesy of PT. Putri Naga Komodo)


With the support of VIDA, I spent a thoroughly enjoyable and extremely educational year with the not-for-profit company PT Putri Naga Komodo (PNK) the Komodo Dragon Princess which is working with its collaborative management partners to manage the UNESCO World Heritage Site Komodo National Park (the Park) in Eastern Indonesia. Most well-known as home to the legendary Komodo dragon, the Park covers 1,817 squared kilometres and is one of the world’s most diverse and rich marine environments. The traditional fishing communities living inside the Park, numbering more than 3,500, are almost wholly dependent upon local marine systems for survival. However, destructive fishing practices (which have certainly decreased markedly yet are almost impossible to stop completely), rapidly growing island populations and expanding commercial fishing companies are threatening these vital resources. Established in 2005, PNK is a kind of test-pilot management approach to conservation. A joint venture, PNK has been designed as a sustainable management support unit by the global conservation organisation The Nature Conservancy (TNC) which has been involved in supporting Park management for more than a decade. Working closely with all key stakeholder groups, national and local government departments, local communities and the tourism sector, PNK is charged with implementing an innovative and multi-disciplinary approach to achieve long-term financial sustainability of the Park through professional park management, sustainable ecotourism development, destination marketing, and coordination

of activities related to community development and the conservation of the Park’s unique marine and terrestrial biodiversity assets. I worked as a community development officer at PNK in a small team which offered me an up-close and personal view of CBC in action. In my pre-departure preparation I read numerous reports and articles commenting on the history of TNC and the formation of PNK, the role of a global conservation organisation such as TNC designing and managing a new marine park and a general questioning ‘who are they conserving the Park for’? I was curious about my upcoming position, keen to know more and explore these nagging comments for myself. As part of the all encompassing collaborative management plan, community development is a major component where a number of CBC mechanisms are in place. Supported by PNK through micro-financing there are a number of sustainable enterprises operating in the Park. Funding proposals from the communities are selected on their potential to generate economic returns and contribute to the conservation of the Park and are generally small-scale, village based economic activities. PNK has also initiated a range of projects aimed at promoting alternative livelihoods to destructive fishing practices which include an upcoming village based mariculture project, a variety of textile and handicraft production and naturalist guide training. Corresponding to these activities, PNK has a number of village-based community organisers, usually two or three from each village around the Park, and

they play a potentially important role. Designed to act as general communication conduits, the organisers, with the support of their village head, mainly work to educate the villagers on the rules and regulations that govern the zoning system around the Park (i.e.: where they can and cannot legally fish).

seen as being embedded in a much larger system, responding to pressures and incentives. The next step would be to move beyond calls for participation and instead recognise the inherent political and social complexities that inevitably characterise communities with which conservationists seek to work.

However, I am still left questioning how much of these enterprises and activities, and other programs like them in similar Parks, are actually ‘working’ and ‘sustainable’. How do we define any measure of success? As much as the call for community participation is generally adhered to, the main focus of conservation organisations still remains on the protection and preservation of the bio-diversity sphere. Little is actually known about the social impacts of protected areas such as Komodo National Park. The current PNK community programs are surely a sign of commitment by the management team. However, despite this increasing awareness that conservation organisations appear to have of the intimate relationships among biodiversity, ecosystem services, rural livelihoods and political governance there still seems to be a lack of opportunities for community members to interact in an on-going meaningful way with the full range of relevant management personnel.

I am confident that criticisms and comments will continue to be played out in this field of conservation as community development objectives are not necessarily consistent with conservation objectives. Moreover, CBC will remain an ongoing topic of controversy and I believe it is still seen as ‘sexy’. However, it appears that the real costs and benefits of conservation for the local communities involved remains an unexplored field, warranting critical ongoing research. Of course, this will take considerable time, effort and collaboration plus a major shift in contemporary conservationist thinking. From being in the field I have seen that change can happen, yet at the broad cultural level change often evolves slowly.

Igoe, J. 2006 ‘Measuring the Costs and Benefits of Conservation to Local Communities’ Journal of Ecological Anthropology, vol. 10, pp 72-77 See: for more information, particularly the tab ‘Supportive of Local Communities’

Upon reflection, perhaps it is time for conservationists to consider a more nuanced understanding of people, communities and organisations at various levels. The first step could be for conservationists to re-consider what ‘communities’ mean – are they seen as isolated, remote and simple agents or perhaps they can be




Attempting conservation in Laos VIDA volunteer Kelly Spence has spent 3 years working with the Wildlife Conservation Society in Laos as a Curriculum Development Officer. As my time as a VIDA volunteer comes to an end, I have had some time to reflect on my experience living in a foreign culture. I have lived in Laos for 4 years, three years spent as a VIDA at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Prior to joining WCS I worked in a variety of jobs and places – some would say I was a gypsy. Now that I’ve been with WCS for three years, I suppose you could say that I have found work that I am happy doing! Laos, once known as Lang Xang - the land of a million elephants, no longer boasts such healthy numbers of wild elephants. Indeed, all wildlife in Laos is under serious threat from unsustainable wildlife hunting and habitat loss. As Biodiversity Curriculum Advisor I work with faculty teaching staff at the National University of Laos (NUoL) to strengthen curriculum in biodiversity conservation. Over the last two years I have been developing material suitable for NUoL teaching staff and practicing conservation managers working in National Protected Areas (NPAs) in Laos. This amazing opportunity has enabled me to work closely with 7 NPAs, and 6 Provincial Protected Areas (PPAs), thereby gaining insight into problems faced by these Protected Areas. WCS, because of its partnership with NUoL, is in a unique position to support the continual upgrading of educational material with current examples from the field. In order to continue this work, one of my roles has been to seek out and secure longer term funding for the project. As a volunteer working in a foreign country I think it is natural to feel that what you give is not as great as what you receive. I hope that I have been able to make small differences to those that I have direct contact with. On a professional level, I supported a colleague to study English for 1.5 years by providing him with a scholarship at Vientiane College. Through this connection I have seen Souksavath grow and improve his English abilities. He is employed by WCS as a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) assistant, a highly technical field where most relevant literature is written in English. It is just one part of his professional development through WCS, and will hopefully contribute to a bright future working on conservation issues in Laos. Personally, my professional development has been a wonderful journey. I have been allowed to take responsibility for staff, projects and fund raising, under the careful guidance of my supervisor. I do not think I would have had these same opportunities at this point in my career in Australia.

With a background in raising Australian Wildlife, in the last year I raised twin Pygmy Lorises (Nycticebus pygmaeus). These animals are incredibly difficult to raise due to their small size; I was thrilled to get them to a stage where they could both be released back to the wild. While the WCS mandate is not to rescue wildlife, my boss was supportive of me taking on the role ‘adoptive mum’. These twins, rescued by a young Lao man, narrowly avoided being boiled up for dinner – they really had no comprehension of how lucky they were!

Left : One of the twin Pygmy Lorises starting to get a personality... Photo: Kelly Spence

Victories are small, however working in Laos I have seen that there is hope with small number of young people who are committed to conservation. They have a huge task ahead of them, but it is encouraging to watch these individuals make their way into the conservation field and bring about change of attitude and behaviour with regard to natural resource use. At the same time that I have advanced my professional development my personal growth over the last four years is immeasurable. I would like to say that I have managed to adopt the elusive Lao style of patience, but I think I have only managed to ‘tame my inner beast’. All foreigners have a heightened ‘fire button’ compared to a Lao person (which is genetic), so we foreigners can only practice patience. Nor have I learnt the grace of a Lao woman - an impossible feat. It still amazes me the elegance to which they can find themselves sitting side saddle on the back of a motor bike, wearing an ankle length silk ‘sinh’ (traditional Lao Skirt), stilettos, often holding their 1yr old child in one arm, and an umbrella for the sun in the other hand. I have had a wonderful time as a VIDA volunteer. I have faced challenges in the work place with learning truly what it means ‘flexible and adaptable’. If I see this written in a Terms of Reference for a future job – I will be asking more questions, like ‘what exactly do you mean by this statement?’ I have had great support from my friends, our in-country manager, and the people I work closely with at WCS and NUoL. I have also made a life long friendship with my former Lao teacher, now known as my ‘Euai Huk’ (Loving sister). I am taking on a contract with WCS for another year. When it does come time to leave Laos, it will be with the knowledge that it has changed me more than I ever anticipated.



Inspired by Water and Sanitation Challenges Tom Winkler is a VIDA volunteer working with UNICEF as a Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Officer in Laos.


It was the issue of rural water, sanitation and hygiene that first brought me to Lao PDR, developing access to basic infrastructure for drinking water and toilets. This has become my current field of work, previously having some experience working in an Australian water utility. All the drinking water of traditional villages comes from their immediate environment, which must also absorb all the wastes, including bodily wastes. The contamination of stomachs and water sources with harmful bacteria can be prevented with simple practical solutions, often profoundly affecting the quality of life in villages. The mostly rural population of Lao PDR tends to live in close knit communities subsisting from agricultural practices and a diversity of cultures that date back many centuries. Many of these people live very close to their environment and produce most of what they need within the village so reducing their reliance upon the outside world. This was a new exposure to me coming from suburban Australia. While these communities are faced with many challenges which outside influences can address, I personally feel there are also many lessons of sustainability from these communities to be applied in the industrialised word. Each village member here holds multiple skills that equip the whole community to survive tough times. I started working for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in July 2007 assisting with their Water, Sanitation and Hygiene program for Lao PDR, first as an AYAD (Australian Youth Ambassador for Development).

This UNICEF program is focused on reaching Millennium Development Goal 7 also aiming to reduce child mortality and poverty due to a lack of access to improved water and sanitation. After my AYAD post I was so happy with being involved in this work, I decided to apply to the VIDA program in order to continue. I feel that now as a VIDA volunteer I am much more familiar with the situation here and far better positioned to achieve more and establish new capability in the sector working with the government authorities. My role is broad extending from improving documentation standards and technical reporting in offices, project monitoring and planning, through to communications and field photography. This unique experience has really helped shape my career. UNICEF’s program is a major support to the water and sanitation sector in Lao PDR. It works at many levels from high level development and advocacy through to direct support to communities on the ground. Ultimately the program builds the effectiveness of the government in reaching rural communities with water sources such as boreholes and gravity fed systems, but also simple toilets in villages and schools. This program also supports a specially designed interactive teaching package through which rural Lao primary school children can learn effective hygiene behavior. A project close to my heart is an initiative to greatly scale up household water treatment and rainwater harvesting. Many traditional water sources, such as small rivers and dug wells are not safe to drink and are only seasonally available. Environmental disturbance is increasingly putting these sources at risk. The rainy season drenches the whole country indiscriminately and this water can be carefully managed for

Left : A woman shows her very clean rural toilet in what was previously a very unsanitary village, far south of Lao PDR. Photo by: Tom Greenwood / UNICEF Right : Tom Winkler inspecting a protected spring source in an Akha ethnic village in far northern Lao PDR. Photo by: Tom Greenwood / UNICEF

safe drinking for most of the year. When combined with basic filters, households and villages can become secure with safe water. The initiative includes training teams of local masons to build 2,000L concrete rainwater jars. These village people can extend their skills to earn an income building jars while also providing safe drinking water sources, as has been very successful in neighboring Thailand and Vietnam. Skills will also be developed to build large ferro-cement tanks in some of the poorest ‘water source challenged’ areas. I arrived as someone interested in water resource management with engineering training and an environmental bent. Gradually the issue of sanitation has come to arrest my interest. Half of the population here and 2.6 billion people globally, regularly practice open defecation. Many people in parts of rural Lao PDR are so familiar with the regular symptoms of diarrhea that it is considered a normal and unavoidable phenomenon. It is a daunting challenge to get toilets in place and used along with regular hand washing with soap in villages where these things never existed before. This global sanitation issue has only begun to receive serious attention in recent times. One reason I feel exceptionally lucky with my job is that I often get to travel into remote and poor parts of Lao PDR for monitoring projects, providing technical input and learning. I have met many people who have never seen a foreigner before (no electricity or TV) and some look at me like I’m a ghost. Through this travel I can see up-close the efforts made in the office. Perhaps the most inspirational visit was to a region affected by a cholera outbreak related to very poor sanitation conditions. I returned to this place one year after the outbreak with the water and sanitation support completed. I

conducted interviews with cholera affected families and there was a dramatic and inspirational improvement. It was an effort largely driven within the community given the right support; it is now a much healthier village environment. Coming from South Australia where long term droughts are becoming regular, I was blown away when I first saw the monsoon break over central Lao PDR. For almost 3 months the clouds heave millions of tones of water over the land and can deliver daily torrential downpours, flooding every rice paddy. With one of the highest per capita water sources of all countries, Lao PDR is very fortunately endowed with water resources. The soil too is composed of rich volcanic clays and fertile river sands, such a contrast to the vast arid stretches of Australia. Despite the abundant natural resources, access and quality of rural drinking water and effective sanitation remain a real threat to human survival here. I am positively hopeful that practical, simple and low cost solutions will become accessible and adopted by communities in Lao PDR and all other developing countries to meet their needs and improve quality of life.



Working with an Iconic Emblem Having previously volunteered with AYAD Ingrid Suter is now a VIDA volunteer working with ElefantAsia in Laos.


The Lao PDR is a nation most people usually don’t know much about. While people may be aware of the Laotian’s warm, hospitable nature; the mighty Mekong River and the UNESCO World Heritage city of Luang Prabang, not many people understand much about Laos’s Asian elephant populations. This includes Asian elephant specialists, who struggle to place an accurate estimate on existing population numbers. While population counts can significantly vary, one thing is universally agreed on – Laos is losing its iconic emblem at a very fast rate. I am a VIDA volunteer with ElefantAsia. ElefantAsia is a French-based INGO and the only organisation dedicated solely to the protection and conservation of Asian elephants in Laos. Projects we have initiated include a mobile veterinary unit to treat sick and injured elephants, environmental education for local communities and the famous annual Elephant Festivals. With only an approximate 600 wild and 500 domesticated elephants remaining in Laos, action needs to be taken immediately if Laos is to have any Asian elephant populations in the future. In some provinces of Laos domesticated elephants are still used as typical forms of livestock, similar to buffalo and ox. These days however, domesticated elephants are more likely to be employed in the logging industry and to a smaller degree, tourism. Unfortunately

the legal and illegal logging is still flourishing in Laos. Unsustainable logging quotas has seen forest cover in Laos decline from 70% to just 43% in the last 50 years. The Sayaboury Province in north-west Laos is home to an approximate 360 domesticated elephants and is where most of ElefantAsia’s activities are based. This remote and mountainous province has allowed Sayaboury to be relatively isolated from the broad-scale logging practises occurring in the flatter regions of Laos. But the employment of domesticated elephants and mahouts (elephant handlers) in the logging industry has seen Sayaboury’s forests becoming increasingly vulnerable to unsustainable logging practises. Domesticated elephants can access the hilly, densely forested areas of Sayaboury where trucks and machinery are unable, making the elephant an ideal instrument for use in the logging industry. A lack of environmental policy or compliance means steep areas subject to logging can experience ongoing and sometimes severe threatening processes associated with deforestation and clearing on slopes. As the Sayaboury Province is one of the Lao PDR’s poorest provinces, mahouts have very little choice but to rely on income gained from unsustainable logging practices. Not only does this contribute to the rapid deforestation of Laos’s remaining forests, but also contributes to the decline in wild elephants and their habitat. Domesticated elephants employed in the logging industry often suffer severe injuries and illnesses, which can remain untreated due to the isolation of logging camps and the

pressure placed on mahouts to undertake huge workloads. Elephant reproduction is not encouraged in the logging industry, as pregnant or lactating cows cannot work, contributing to the decline in an already endangered species. ElefantAsia is aiming to reconvert logging elephants into more environmentally friendly and sustainable industries such as elephant trekking. But first a clear understanding of how many domesticated elephants actually remain must be established. One of my current duties at ElefantAsia is to create a database of all domesticated elephants in Laos. In conjunction with the Lao Department of Livestock and Fisheries, ElefantAsia has undergone several years of establishing a registration program for domesticated elephants. All domesticated elephants in Laos are meant to be registered with the livestock department, however many elephants work in rural and remote logging camps, so are never registered or included in the national count. Conversely, some elephants are registered twice, as different owners of the same elephant will unintentionally register the one elephant on two separate occasions. Compiling an accurate database of all domesticated elephants in Laos, their age, gender and location will be a big step in creating effective species conservation management to save this species from regional extinction. Potential breeding partners can be paired, and ElefantAsia can offer mahouts incentives to breed their female elephants. Beside the database, another exciting project I am working on is the establishment

Left to Right : Photos by Ingrid Suter MaeDok, (Mrs Flower). ElefantAsia’s 38yr old elephant at the 2009 Elephant Festival, Sayaboury. Elephant bathing in the Nam Hung River, Elephant Festival 2009, Sayaboury. ElefantAsia making a pit stop in Sayaboury ElefantAsia’s mobile vet unit assisting a sick elephant in Sayaboury, Lao Bears destroying a food basket – Jodie Ellen

Having previously volunteered with VIDA Jodie and Peter Ellen have returned as VIDA volunteers for Free the Bears Fund Inc. in Cambodia.

of community-based elephant trekking in Sayaboury. It is our aim to reconvert logging elephants into elephant trekking by assisting local mahouts and communities to create their own tourism opportunities. So far we have had a very positive response from mahouts, and aim to eventually reconvert 80 logging elephant into full-time elephant trekking. This will benefit the environment, as less logging will occur; female elephants can reproduce and still make money for their owners; elephants will be nearer to veterinary care, and mahouts can live close to their families and not in isolated logging camps.

Volunteering to conserve the environment can have you working in a variety of different ways and the VIDA positions my husband Peter and I took highlight this well. In October 2008, Peter and I moved to Cambodia to work for Free the Bears Fund Inc. My VIDA assignment was to work closely alongside the bear manager and assist with the animal husbandry of the bears that have been rescued. Peter’s VIDA assignment was to assist in setting up and running a volunteer program for eco-tourists who come to Cambodia to experience what it is like working with bears. As we both have animal backgrounds, Peter and I have combined our roles so that we share both positions allowing us to best utilise our skills both with the animal husbandry and also coordinating the volunteers. The bears that come into the Free the Bears centre are rescued from the wildlife traffic trade which is still very prevalent throughout Asia. Most of the bears have been rescued from being caged as pets or from restaurants where they could have ended up as part of a

I was previously an AYAD with ElefantAsia for 12 months, and was motivated to extend my stay with the organisation and apply to become a VIDA volunteer for many reasons. Mainly, it’s because I believe the projects achieved by ElefantAsia make a real difference in the lives of mahouts, their communities and towards the conservation of the Asian elephant in Laos. While Laos is a great place to live and work, sometimes the problems of living in a lesser developed nation can seem insurmountable. But when I see the accomplishments of our projects, I know that real change is being achieved and I am happy to be here and helping.

meal or from being trafficked across the Cambodian borders where they may have ended up in bile farms “milked” for their bile. Currently there are 102 bears at the centre. The 8 local Cambodian staff do a wonderful job caring for the bears and we work alongside them aiming to improve the overall husbandry of the bears such as moving the bears onto a more varied diet or making enrichment programs to keep the bears busy and mentally stimulated or wherever else our skills are needed. We also strive to keep the foreign volunteers busy and mentally stimulated too! While working with volunteers is not something you would traditionally think of when imagining environmental work, it is proving to be a very important component of our work. The volunteers generally arrive knowing little about the plight of bears in the wild or the work Free the Bears do to conserve them. So by making sure they have a rewarding and valuable experience they go home more passionate about conservation and help raise awareness in their home countries about Free the Bears work.

Without properly understanding the population dynamics of domesticated elephants in Laos, the population is likely to continue to decline. I am confident that ElefantAsia can help save this endangered species from extinction.

Our biggest goal that we hope to achieve in the year that we have left in Cambodia is to develop more educational opportunities for the many people that visit the centre each year. The Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre which is home to the Free the Bears centre can have upwards of 300,000 people visit annually and most of these people are Cambodian. We aspire to have every person who enters the gates to take home one or two pieces of information about bears or conservation as a whole. Education and a change in attitudes towards animals and habitat protection is the key to long term success and the only hope in truly saving the wilderness and all the species it contains.


Game, Set & Match in East Timor

Returning the Scent of Pine Daniele Marechal is a VIDA volunteer with Host Organisation Child and Family Services Philippines (CFSPI) working as a Communications Developer/Advisor.


When most people imagine the Philippine environment, they think of tropical beaches and untouched crystal waters, maybe even a fresh coconut cocktail on the beach. But upon arriving at the airport in Manila many of these preconceived fantasies are thrown out the window along with the millions of taxi drivers’ cigarette butts and breath-mint wrappers. Paradise does exist in these amazing 7,107 islands (7,100 in high tide) but these places are not the norm anymore, not for the majority of the population who now live in urban sprawls. We’d all prefer to live in a fresh and green environment but Island paradise is simply not as important as feeding your children. It’s the modern conundrum for many people who suffer a decline in environment to chase an improvement in lifestyle. Moving to the city to look for a better opportunity; living in a tiny room with no light or running water; jumping on a smoke-belching jeepney to get to work. Rapid urbanization and deep pockets of polluted urban holes exist all over the country side by side with the once clean rivers and oceans. Every year you have to go that little bit further for the fresh, the untouched the clean and breathable. Yet sometimes you forget that you are living in a developing country. After all you can get Aussie cheese at the big supermarket, internet at home and decent shampoo. But when there’s no electricity or water for a day or so, the garbage hasn’t been collected again, or you almost die of carbon monoxide poisoning on a morning run, you quickly remember you’re a volunteer in a developing country. Not just any volunteer though, but an urban volunteer: iron lunged and modern shoed on a mission. Clean and Green Communities: A child’s right and responsibility!

I still believe some of the poorest and sickest children I’ve seen are the ones in the big cities. They might live closer to the modern hospitals or be crammed in classes of 60 with albeit a better curriculum, but many of these children are slowly dying: They are being suffocated by the city. The state of the Philippine environment is rapidly developing into a crisis situation. Over time, various environmental problems have heightened into unmanageable proportions. Baguio, Benguet, like much of the Philippines suffers from massive deforestation, pervasive and health-impairing pollution, indiscriminate discharging of pollutants into the rivers and lakes, pesticide poisonings, degradation and erosion of agricultural lands, loss of biodiversity, and more. What makes things worse is that the declining environmental quality manifests itself in recurrent environmental disasters like destructive floods and landslides. People always die and valuable infrastructures and properties including poor people’s major sources of livelihood are always destroyed. Everyone is affected but environmental problems seem to have the greatest impact on the lives of the poor because they are more exposed to the risks. Article 24 of the UN convention on the Rights of Children advises us that children have the right to clean water and a clean environment. But more importantly, the convention reminds us that “If children have a right to a clean environment, then they also have a responsibility to do what they can to look after their environment.” “The garbage hasn’t been collected in our area because there is too much so people are burning their garbage before the dogs spread it. So now we have a lot of air pollution” 15 year old Samuel told me. “Our dream is a clean environment with no pollution and children preserving the environment, that’s why we started the IB-A Youth Organisation” said the 17 year old president of IB-A youth organisation.



Left : The Children of La Trin Photo By : Daniele Marechal

IB-A means brother-sister in Kankan-ey (a Northern Philippine dialect) it is an organization formed by youth for youth through my host organisation Child and Family Services Philippines in Baguio City. IB-A promotes, educates and advocates adolescent reproductive health, children’s rights and responsibilities and a clean and green environment. Goal: To create social awareness in adolescent reproductive health a Clean and Green environment and Children’s Rights through advocacy and contribute in the development of our communities. IB-A advocate a clean and green environment by working with local government officials to find solutions where IB-A can help fix environmental problems such as waste management, water and air pollution. The kids focus on actions and solutions holding clean up drives in different communities. “We post signs and clean up the area to encourage other youth to keep their space clean” We do this with the local government so that children’s voices are heard and we can express our rights” said IB-A member Jonthan. The children also help by planting trees and holding seminars for other young people on upholding their rights and responsibilities as children. “It is our right but it is also our responsibility to have a clean environment.” 16 year old member Hylyn told me. Samuel says that we need to have a clean area “so that tourists will want to visit our place”. The City Government calls it “returning the scent of pine to Baguio” an effort to restore and maintain the tourism that the city and surrounding areas rely on. But planting trees and managing waste are only remedies to an already growing issue of lack of environmental education especially amongst youth. “We envision a united barangay, where children’s rights are respected; children are demonstrating good values and preserving the environment…” (extract from IB-As Vision)

IB-A is committed to learning and teaching other children about their environmental rights and responsibilities. IB-A started its advocacy project in early 2008. “We have already started coordinating with other stakeholders like the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, some barangay’s of La Trinidad and the National Science High School, for an information education campaign of our commitment in our municipality.” Said IB-A president Samuel. As a VIDA communications volunteer, I’ve been working with the youth of IB-A to create advocacy and awareness campaigns so that more people can be learn from IB-A. So far we have made an IB-A brochure which states their organisations’ mission, vision and goals and now we are working on a whole advocacy campaign to promote the organizations values and activities and to raise money to paint the space IB-A shares with a local school for their regular meetings and activities. “We want to beautify our space so that when we meet we are inspired to beautify our communities. When other children attend our activities we want them to see how we promote a clean and green environment with our own space.” Jonthan told me. Baguio is a little city in a big country with a whole lot of charm…and unfortunately some major environmental problems as well. But I wouldn’t want to volunteer anywhere else in the Philippines; I love the coolness of the mountain air, the charms of city life and the inspiration of children trying their best to save their future. “Children are our hope” said Hylyn “so future generations of children can smell fresh air. What does that smell like I asked her “well here, fresh air smells like pine trees.” If you are interested in or would like to help the IB-A youth organisation in any way, please visit the Child and Family Service Philippines website



Evergreen Rainforest survey Photo by: Jeremy Holden

Experiencing the Cambodian Rainforest Ecologist and VIDA volunteer Toby Eastoe is working in the Cardamom Mountains and Islands of Cambodia for Fauna & Flora International


As an Ecologist with the Species, Habitats and Ecosystems team at Fauna & Flora International (FFI) I have tracked down elephants in the forest, wrestled crocs, halted loggers and wildlife poachers and surveyed the biodiversity and interacting communities of the Cardamom Mountains and islands of Cambodia. Cambodia’s wildlife populations and habitats are being decimated as decentralization and confused planning have left large areas of forest and protected areas vulnerable. A culture of indiscriminate wildlife use combined with poverty, population growth and rapid economic development has created a wave of pressure on natural ecosystems. Threats come from poorly controlled agricultural expansion and land grabbing, infrastructure developments in the shape of dams, roads and tourist facilities and by illegal activities such as poaching and timber theft. Fauna & Flora International, my host organization, is working with a range of partners to secure natural habitats and protect beleaguered wildlife across Cambodia. The four projects at FFI Cambodia include the Cardamom Mountains Wildlife Sanctuary Project (CMWSP), an Asian elephant group, a Siamese crocodile group, and a university capacity building project. The ecology/biology research group where I work, serves all of these 4 projects, providing biological and ecological research capacity. My focus has been to manage ecological projects and conduct surveys which provide information on biodiversity that can be utilised for conservation management.

Managing a protected area requires accurate information on the biological resources that are being protected and the communities that are interacting with them. FFI’s largest project, CMWSP, manages the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary in the north-west Cardamom Mountains, in partnership with the Ministry of Environment. The project’s main facet is the protection of the 332,566 ha sanctuary which employs Ministry of Environment rangers to patrol and police its forests. To strategically manage its resources the project requires information on both the biodiversity and communities of the sanctuary. My group’s research has primarily been directed at gathering information on the status and distribution of threatened and iconic species in the Sanctuary. This data has been used to create management zones, distinguished by the type of activity allowed and the level of protection afforded. The core zone for example, is based on the home ranges of certain species and requires the highest level of protection. Large mammals such as Asian Elephants, Gaur, Banteng, Muntjac, Leopards and Tigers are monitored for any fluctuations in abundance by tracking along set transects. The community is also monitored for interactions with wildlife and to evaluate their sustainable use of the forest in designated Community Protected Areas and surrounds. One of the fascinating aspects for a biologist in this remote area of intact Cambodian rainforest is that you can still find species that are new to science. In Australia I used to get excited when I saw a Green and Golden Bell Frog or a Swift Parrot but half the animals we are tracking are rare and many plants, amphibians and insects are yet to be classified. My counterpart, Neang Thy, recently wrote the first guide to Amphibians for Cambodia and has helped find a couple of frogs new to science. I keep telling him to name one “Thy’s Little Frog” but he already has a gecko,

Cnemaspis neangthyi. I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to survey areas such as the mountain rainforests and large islands off the coast of Cambodia before they are changed by tourism, agricultural expansion and hydropower dams as Cambodia develops its resources. The quieter portion of my work happens back in FFI’s head office in Phnom Penh where I am involved in the constant battle of fundraising for conservation as well as reporting on surveys and managing grants. Luckily I get to help out the Crocodile and Elephant teams when needed, such as the recent crocodile roundup at the Phnom Tamao Rescue Center. The wild population of critically endangered Siamese crocodiles in Cambodia is steadily declining so a captive breeding program is being developed at the zoo. The 70 resident crocodiles at the zoo were tested to see if they were pure Siamese or the local hybrid crocodiles used in farms. If the majority prove to be pure Siamese it could jump start the breeding program, and lead to the release of crocodiles into the wild by 2012. Although I have only been here 7 months I find Cambodia to have a unique set of challenges both in environmental management and everyday living, that I haven’t seen in other countries. It’s amazing to consider what Cambodia was like 15 years ago and it’s great to be here at a time when both the people and the country are finding their feet. Thanks to VIDA my wife is also here on a placement, with the UN World Food Program, so I get to hear about village life while I tell her stories about persistent leeches and leopard tracks next to my hammock when I wake in the forest. Next week I am off to Siem Reap to look for tasty frogs in markets for a nationwide frog consumption survey we are conducting. Ecology is a broad environmental profession.


Tackling the challenge of climate change

Josie Huxtable is a VIDA volunteer with CARE International in Vietnam assisting poor and vulnerable communities to adapt to a changing climate. Demolished walls, collapsed roofs, gouged riverbanks, and scattered timber and metal give the impression that this village was abandoned in great haste. But Mr Nguyen and his family still live here. They managed to escape from the floods but their home and all their possessions were destroyed, any poultry and rice they had was washed away…three years later they are still living in a temporary leaf dwelling unable to save enough money to rebuild. “The flood is our neighbour and we must live together. When I was young the beautiful floods brought us fish and life. But now I’m old and the floods are stronger and earlier, they destroy the rice crops instead of feeding them, then the sun is too hot and the soil becomes sour…I don’t know why…life is difficult’.



As the world turns its attention towards Copenhagen for COP 15

community. Assessments are conducted separately for men

Left: Walking Floodwaaters

where global leaders will try to decide on a new treaty to replace

and women, as well as other marginalised groups. Adaptation

Photo : Josie Huxtable

the Kyoto Protocol, poor rural communities in Vietnam are

strategies developed through this process target priority issues

already facing the lived reality of climate change. The droughts

and highly vulnerable social groups.

are prolonged, the rainy season is shorter and more intensive, and the cyclones, typhoons and floods are becoming more

The CVCAs we have undertaken to date have revealed that

frequent and violent, reaching areas previously unaffected.

many natural hazards like cyclones and floods are increasing in intensity and frequency in Vietnam. These local community

Climate change is often viewed as an environmental issue, but

observations are supported by scientific data which indicates

given that human societies are affected directly and indirectly by

these trends are likely to continue. Adaptation strategies

the climate system – and given that human activities are driving

developed by the CARE International team in partnership

climate change – I believe it is fundamentally a human issue.

with local communities so far include: early warning systems,

While climate change has been caused by past greenhouse

improved shelters, and food and seed banks. Such activities are

gas emissions mainly in developed countries, it is developing

critical in reducing the risks of disasters and minimizing the long-

countries like Vietnam that stand to bear the worst of future

term consequences for poor households.

impacts. The rural poor in Vietnam are most at risk due to their heavy reliance on climate sensitive natural resources such as

Of course, adaptation to climate change involves more than

rainfed agriculture and fisheries, their tendency to be located

dealing with catastrophic events. Whilst violent storms grab

in exposed areas like flood plains and their limited access to

newspaper headlines in Vietnam, gradual chronic changes in

resources. Women are also likely to face a greater decline in

climate – such as higher temperatures and unpredictable rainfall

economic security and heavier workloads as men migrate in

patterns – pose an even greater, more widespread threat to poor

search of work, and diminishing future opportunities, as girls are

people’s food security and existence. Based on the CVCA data

more likely to be withdrawn from school when livelihoods are

collected through my placement, CARE International in Vietnam


is working with local communities to rejuvenate traditional knowledge, promote innovative agricultural practices and

CARE International in Vietnam is working towards empowering

diversify income sources.

the poorest people to adapt to climate change…and there is plenty to do. A greater variety of crops resilient to drought must

Another aim of my placement is to assist CARE International

be sown; livestock must be adapted; hillsides and coastal areas

in Vietnam reduce its carbon footprint. Citing concerns about

must be planted; mangroves to protect against storm surges

‘walking the talk’ and a desire to ‘do the right thing’ many

must be planted; dwellings must be strengthened or relocated

CARE staff expressed interest in reducing CARE International’s

and people need to be warned before disaster strikes.

greenhouse gas emissions. To achieve this we have established green teams in the head office and each field office. Green teams

For the past ten months I’ve been volunteering with CARE

raise staff awareness on climate change and seek to change

International in Vietnam as their Climate Change Program

behaviour across a number of areas including energy, water,

Officer, focusing on building the organisation’s capacity for

waste and transport. Green team members conduct informal

community-based adaptation and developing guidelines for

and fun training for fellow staff on topics such as ‘how to print

mainstreaming climate change across rural development, health

double sided” “how to recycle” “how to use the air conditioner

and disaster risk reduction projects. My time so far has been

responsibly”. The enthusiasm of the green teams has been a

spent strengthening staff understanding of climate change and

source of inspiration and an important step in bringing an overall

why it is relevant to their work, developing simple tools to assess

awareness of climate change issues to the organisation more

project and program vulnerability to climate change, assisting


staff to design and adjust projects to be resilient to a range of climate change scenarios, and securing funding to ensure that

Working as a VIDA volunteer with the staff of CARE International

adaptation projects can be implemented.

in Vietnam and hearing the stories and voices of poor and vulnerable people has strengthened my belief that communities

A large component of my work involves piloting and refining

must be at the heart of efforts to build their resilience to climate

participatory methods for identifying project vulnerability to

change. Their stories show what can be achieved when you

climate change. This involves undertaking climate vulnerability

combine the belief that change is possible with the determination

and capacity assessments (CVCAs) at the village level in order

to make it happen. Climate change will affect us all whether we

to collect grassroots information about local livelihoods, climate

live in the poorest or the richest nations…but that also means

risks and existing coping strategies. The tools that we have

we are all part of the solution…and that means we can all take

developed make it easier for village members to understand

action for a better future.

climate change and the specific consequences it has for their



Connect Magazine is published three times a year and highlights the achievements of Australian Volunteers for International Development, man...