October - December, 2009
October - December, 2009
Welcome As we fast approach the end of VIDA’s fifth year of operation I am, as always, amazed at the achievements of our dedicated VIDA volunteers. This year 226 VIDA volunteers have worked tirelessly to assist our neighbours improve their livelihoods. These achievements have been made in a challenging environment which has seen additional pressure from a range of natural disasters including Tsunami, Cyclone, Floods and Earthquakes. While the debate rages whether climate change is responsible for an increase in natural disasters we cannot take our focus away from the need to ensure that the developing countries in which we work have sustainable systems and strong rural community bases, supporting agriculture and biodiversity food production systems. This will allow them to adapt to the changing environment and provide for food security. A key feature of the VIDA program has been our continual focus on poverty alleviation. Our program approach aligns our volunteer activities with those of Partner Governments and the development priorities of the Australian Government. The Australian Government priorities are designed to align with the UN Millennium Development Goals. This issue of Connect looks at priorities 1 and 7:
Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger Ensure Environmental Sustainability
Austraining has been actively engaged in the Australian Government Volunteer Programs (AGVP) since 2001 and have selected, mobilised and managed over 3000 volunteers across the Asia Pacific region. We have led the development of both the in country and regional management approaches and are now focusing on results based management that allows our volunteers to report on
development effectiveness. This approach is being piloted in the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia and will be fully implemented across the entire Program next year. New developments have seen the recent introduction of the Maldives Pilot Volunteer Program, currently in the recruitment phase, which will also be managed by Austraining. Funded by AusAID, the Maldives Pilot Volunteer Program’s goal is to improve the delivery of key public services in the Maldives by helping build and strengthen capacity in the education sector. This will be achieved through the provision of highly skilled educational specialists in areas such as teaching for children with special needs and learning disabilities; curriculum development; teaching and learning methodologies; and technical and vocational training. Next year will see a change to the VIDA program with the introduction of the new Australian Government Volunteers Program (AGVP). This commitment by the Australian Government recognises the valuable contribution volunteers make to development and will further develop the program to be streamlined, efficient and accessible to all Australians, while maintaining the key strengths of the current VIDA program. We at Austraining look forward to continuing to work closely with AusAID, Partner Governments and International Volunteer Sending Agencies in the support and development of a values driven people focused Australian Government Volunteer Program. I hope you enjoy this issue of Connect and the stories provided by our VIDA volunteers. I would like to wish all of our volunteers, Host Organisations, Australian Partner Organisations, Partner Governments, families and the community all the best for the festive season and I look forward to working with you all in 2010.
Ray Ash, VIDA Project Director
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. VIDA volunteers work with local counterparts to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable outcomes in the communities in which they work through skills and knowledge exchange, institutional strengthening and capacity development. 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 in-country support.
Rural Development Issue This issue of Connect is focused on Rural Development featuring articles from volunteers and organisations that work within this development sector. The theme of the next issue is Governance. We encourage submissions from VIDA volunteers working in the Governance sector. Alumni, Host Organisations and Australian Partner Organisations wishing to highlight their contributions within the Governance sector are also encouraged to submit articles. The deadline for submissions is 18th December 2009. Submission guidelines are available from Matt Lees at VIDA. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
VIDA volunteer Constantine Carluen takes a break from his hectic schedule as the Development Communications Officer for the Philippines-Australia Community Assistance Program to reflect on the past 2 years. VIDA volunteer Hazel Maglantay is an Organisational Development Adviser with Kaunsayan Formation for Community Development and here she highlights the work of a small fishing community in the Philippines.
Morris Lee from Host Organisation Symbiosis Bangladesh outlines
Lou Anderson, Media Liaison Officer with AusAID
VIDA volunteer Sardi Calver outlines
their work in providing a perfect meal in rural Bangladesh.
Samoa outlines the work of VIDA volunteer Cassandra
some projects being carried out in
Wiles and her Host Organisation Women in Business.
remote locations in Laos through Australian Partner Organisation CARE
Ray Ash, VIDA Project Director
Australia Partner Organisations Important Dates Editor: Design: Contributors:
Matt Lees Agency of New Design Ray Ash Sardi Calver Lou Anderson Hazel Maglantay Constantine Carluen Morris Lee
VIDA wlcomes submissionsfrom VIDA volunteers and alumni, Host Organisations and Australian Partner Organisations. Please contact VIDA marketing at email@example.com for further information.
October - December 2009 1st of November
Assignments advertised on VIDA website 14th of November
Returned VIDA volunteer debrief These details are correct at time of printing. Please check the VIDA website, www.vidavolunteers.com.au for the latest information.
VIDA Pre-Departure Briefing
Assignments advertised on VIDA website 25th of December
Cover Photo Credit : Istockphoto
VIDA would like to thank our active Australian Partner Organisations for their support and involvement:
22nd to the 25th of November
1st of December
Connect Magazine is printed on recycled paper.
To find out more about how your organisation could benefit by becoming an Australian Partner Organisation with VIDA, please contact the VIDA Team firstname.lastname@example.org or freecall (in Australia) 1800 995 536.
Christmas Day 28th of December
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
The Perfect Meal in Bangladesh Morris Lee from Host Organisation Symbiosis Bangladesh
the solution in which the rice is growing. During hot days the
outlines their work in providing a perfect meal in rural
shallower water can be too hot, so they return to the deeper
water. If the water level in the middle of the field declines then they go back to the ditch. If the water level is declining quickly then the
The people of rural Bangladesh love fish and rice. There is a
farmer can harvest some of the fish from the ditch to reduce the
proverb which says that these make the Bengali. Add some
nutritious vegetables and it makes the perfect meal. In an overwhelmingly rural society such as Bangladesh with the highest
In Bangladesh, there is no lower limit to the size of edible fish.
population density of any country in the world, maximizing
Even what in Australia would be regarded as a â€œtiddlerâ€? or a
nutritious food production is vital. Anthony Jenyns, VIDA
refugee from a gold fish bowl, a small fish can make a handy
volunteer working with Symbiosis Bangladesh (APO Symbiosis
addition to a villagerâ€™s meal. Not only do the small fish provide
International), is demonstrating to villagers how fish can be grown
protein but also the small bones are consumed contributing to
in a flooded paddy field in association with rice while at the same
time growing vegetables on trellises around the edges of the rice field.
To further utilize the sunlight, water and space of the paddy field area, a simple bamboo trellis is erected on the banks of the
The country of Bangladesh is one of the largest deltas in the
paddy and then a climbing bean or some other vegetable such as
world. It has three major rivers flowing through it. They are the
squash, pumpkin or marrow is planted to trail over the trellis.
Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna Rivers. The Ganges and
Brahmaputra in Bangladesh are known respectively as the Padma
In this current year (2009) the centre has been growing a
and the Jamuna. These combined river systems over the millennia
traditional rice variety which grows quite tall in the deeper water
have created the alluvial plain that is largely Bangladesh. Though
of the rainy season. It also has less tillers than the high yielding
this seeming homogeneity in topography and land type would
varieties. The field has also been stocked with two types of fish, a
seem to indicate a sameness of ecology over the whole country,
local variety, Sharpunti and a common exotic commercial variety,
this is not so. True there are not major differences such as large
Tilapia. With ditches constructed at opposite ends of the field, the
mountain ranges criss crossing the country or deserts. However,
fish have been growing very well, feeding in the paddy field with
there are subtle and important differences in the various locations
some fish food supplement added to the ditch areas.
throughout the country. These have to do with rainfall variations, floodwater heights, soil type, subtle variations in land height. It is
The bank area of the paddy field has been planted with a very
these subtle differences that have to be taken into account when
early season climbing bean variety. This particular bean is very
seeking to maximize food production.
nutritious and normally grows very late in the year. However, the early variety that has planted has been flowering and producing
One of the projects of Symbiosis Bangladesh is devoted entirely
bean pods since late July. This has meant that the one paddy field
to improving food production and income levels in the rural areas.
will have produced by the end of the year, a fish harvest from two
The project is named the Rural Income Generation Project (RIGP).
types of fish, vegetable protein from the bean and then finally a
Anthony Jenyns works in association with the Bangladeshi staff
at this project. The infrastructure consists of land for horticulture (vegetable gardens and small number of fruit trees), ponds and
All of this has been done without the addition of any chemical
rice fields and a teaching classroom with accommodation.
fertilizer. The only addition to the system has been cow manure and some feed supplement for the fish. This makes for a
The RIGP centre has been trialling the use of an integrated food
sustainable balanced system. Of course it is dependent on an
production system during the rainy season when there is generally
adequate supply of water for about 3 to 4 months, making it more
a reliable supply of water. The system consists of a paddy (rice)
of an option during the wet season. Though the traditional rice
field with at least one ditch dug in the paddy field at the side/s of
variety does not give as much rice as the high yielding modern
the field. The field is planted with a suitable wet season rice variety
varieties, it does not require chemical fertilizer, can tolerate higher
and then the field is also stocked with small fish. The aim is to
levels of water and the plant type allows for greater fish pathways
produce not only the rice crop but to have also a harvest of fish
in the water at the base of the plant.
protein during and at the end of the wet season. This integrated system does give a better balance of foods from The ditch (or ditches) dug at the edge of the paddy are shelter
the one area of land than just a single high yielding rice crop. In
places for the fish. When the paddy is fully flooded the fish roam
fact in the mind (and stomach) of the Bangladeshi it makes almost
all over the paddy field area navigating between the rice plants.
the perfect meal! It is also in the long term more ecologically
The rice plant stems below the water are also good places for
sustainable. Symbiosis Bangladesh regards this type of system
algae to grow and become a source of food for the fish. The fish
as one more piece in the jigsaw picture that is Integrated Rural
of course recycle their food into the water which contributes to
Development in Bangladesh.
Fish to Catch VIDA volunteer Hazel Maglantay is an Organisational Development Adviser with Kaunsayan Formation for Community Development and here she highlights the work of a small fishing community in the Philippines.
In 2001-2003, Kaunsayan Formation for Community Development (KAFCODE) implemented a Community-Based Coastal Resource Management (CBCRM) project in selected rural areas in Oriental Mindoro, to ensure the health and sustainability of the coastal environment of the province. One of the components of the project is mangrove and fish sanctuary management and artificial reef establishment. The fisherfolks in the area experienced an increase in fish catch by 30%. However, all related infrastructures were destroyed when successive typhoons hit the area. Fisherfolks experienced a decline in fish catch putting heavy pressure on the fishing grounds. In March 2008, this project was replicated in the municipality of Bansud, approximately 85kms south of the capital Calapan City. According to an underwater evaluation conducted by the Provincial Fisheries Office, less than 10% of live corals remain in the fishing grounds of a small coastal barangay of Aplaya, Salcedo in Bansud. In response to this, KAFCODE undertook a one year project with support from the Australian Embassy, Manila through their Direct Aid Program (DAP) to establish concrete reef blocks or artificial reef modules not only to rehabilitate the depleted fishing grounds but also to translate meaningful gains in resource management and conservation in order to meet the economic needs of stakeholders, particularly this small fishing community.
With the assistance of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), the exact coordinates of the designated marine reserve was identified. The marine reserve measures 3.09 hectares, the core reserve measures 116m from the different stations; the distance between stations 1-2 measures 140m; stations 2-3 is 369m; stations 3-4 505m and stations 4-1 is 676m. Within the reserve lies 179 concrete reef blocks reinforced by some live corals, which were collected in nearby shores and deployed in depths of approximately 15 metres. The reef blocks contain holes on each side and the crevices provide habitat, shelter and breeding grounds for various marine species, while the corals provide food and additional shelter. The presence of artificial reefs allowed the restoration of the marine ecosystem which in turn increased stock of diverse fish species for maximum sustainable fishing yield, thereby also addressing economic needs of fisherfolks in the area. Together with the community organiser, my role as VIDA volunteer involved community consultation and focus group discussions with stakeholders, coordination with barangay councils and municipal line agencies, project presentations, writing funding proposals, and project monitoring. We formed an association of People’s Organisation (PO) with 35 fisherfolk members – ISDA, which literally means “fish” (Isang Samahang Dagat sa Aplaya, Salcedo) or Association of Fisherfolks in Aplaya, Salcedo.
assisted our PO in drawing up action plans to enforce fishery laws through the issuance of a barangay ordinance. KAFCODE has committed to regulate fishing in the area and encourage fisherfolks, through the conduct of training and seminars and to participate in the conservation and management of the area’s coastal resources. Together with the fishing community, KAFCODE also identified and provided skills training to enable beneficiaries to engage in policy formulation, sectoral capability building, partnership building and advocacy. Although the benefits of this project to the stakeholders was not felt straightaway (as they had to wait at least 5 months for fish stocks to increase), members of the association continued to enforce the barangay ordinance and through their trainings, became informed advocates on communitybased coastal resource management for the rest of the community. Some of the highlights of my work included being able to bond with community members and experiencing many joys among the long days and hard work. I was always humbled by the dedication and active role of this small fishing community. In many occasions I witnessed “bayanihan” in action (a term that refers to a spirit of communal unity and cooperation to achieve a common objective) during and after project implementation. Through their sense of project ownership, it is possible that in the future they can become a self-sustaining and an active community.
The community has no electricity so the lateness of the evening depended upon how long the solar lantern’s power could extend, so we (project staff, community organisers and children from the community) would sit around in the balcony telling stories until the power runs out. In the early mornings I could be seen doing my 6am swim so I was affectionately known as “Dyesebel”, after a popular mermaid character in the Philippines. Almost 19 months after we dropped the concrete reef blocks into the marine reserve, many varieties of fish such as “Lapulapu”, “Dalagang Bukid”, “Maya-Maya” and many others had been sighted. The ISDA members continue to maintain the reserve by making sure other fisherfoks observe fishery laws and fish only within the boundaries of the reserve. They regularly monitor the reef blocks to see if they are positioned well in the sea bed, especially after typhoons have passed in their coastal area. The president of ISDA, Eduardo Rocero says “We are truly grateful to DAP for giving us the opportunity to establish this project..we are happy because we thought that there were no fishes left to catch, so when we see them jumping out and swimming around the artificial reef, it gives us hope that our children will have a future...Even if they do not end up finishing their schooling, at the very least they will still have fish to catch”.
Due to the absence of coastal protection and preservation programs from the municipal government of Bansud, we For more information about Kaunsayan Formation for Development (KAFCODE), please send an email to: email@example.com or contact the office on +63 43 286 7190
Photo Credits: Hazel Maglantay
Organic farming sows new markets Lou Anderson, Media Liaison Officer with AusAID Samoa outlines the work of VIDA volunteer Cassandra Wiles and her Host Organisation Women in Business.
Every second Friday is organic market day in Apia and the islandâ€™s growing numbers of organic farmers are now reaping the benefits of their organic crops. On market day, farmers travel to Apia with their fruit and vegetables to sell under the Pulu trees opposite Chan Mow supermarket. Large crowds visit, buying organically grown fruit, vegetables and herbs. Organic farming, which not only bans the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides but also promotes soil health and water conservation, is less harmful to the environment and a healthier option for people. Supported by Women in Business, the organic farmers are provided with ongoing training and support and are quickly embracing new techniques to maximise the fruit and vegetables produced, promote sustainability and reduce damage to both the land and their health. Australian volunteer Cassandra Wiles, who is working as an organic crops development officer with Women in Business, said while organic farming is increasingly popular overseas with organic fruit and vegetables widely produced and consumed, Samoa has only recently started to raise awareness of organic farming. â€œTraditionally Samoa has being farming organically for years, but has only recently focussed efforts on vegetable production and opening up international niche markets with products being exported, such as organic virgin coconut oil and Misiluki bananas,â€? Cass said.
Photo Credits: Lou Anderson
Photo Credits : Lou Anderson
“More and more people in Samoa are now enjoying the benefits of organically grown fruit and vegetables, which is much better for their health and also nurtures and protects the land. Organic produce is richer in vitamins, minerals and fibre and that eating organically grown fruit and vegetables does help reduce the risk of poor health.”
farming methods, including working with organic farmers to grow vegetables previously imported, like zucchini. She is also developing materials for an organics awareness program and hopes to introduce a seed saving network amongst Samoa’s organic farmers.
“Importantly, it also gives the farmers extra income on a regular basis and gives a real boost to both the family and the whole village. This has also helped create more interest and we are now seeing a lot more people keen to get certified for organic farming.”
“We recently trained 17 organic farmers to make compost on their farms, which is a simple, cost effective and easy way to preserve the soil. This contributes significantly to a more robust, healthy plant that is more likely to be resistant to pests and disease. This compost is rich in natural nutrients and when applied to crops, it will make a big difference to the quality and yields of fruit and vegetables produced.”
For the last two years, Peka Meafou from Falesiu village has been working tirelessly on her fruit and vegetable farm. She is one of 204 farmers in Samoa that have been certified as organic producers by the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture (NASAA) in Australia. Another 150 farmers are currently on the waiting list and she is a regular contributor to the weekly organic baskets that are available for purchase through Women in Business.
“I’m very passionate about the benefits of organic farming for both the environment and for the health of people, especially our children. I really like the openness and friendliness of the farmers and their enthusiasm to try new things, so it’s very rewarding to see the farmers come together to make the compost bins.”
“I’ve never missed a market day and I have seen the real value added to my fruit and vegetables. The money I receive is much more than I ever imagined. Now I earn a regular income and save money in my Women in Business microfinance account. It is very uplifting to have money in my purse after all the bills are paid,” Peka said. Cass said regular inspections are carried out by NASAA, with audits undertaken every year. This is supported by Women in Business, who offer training and undertake site visits to ensure farmers are maintaining best organic farming practices. “As more and more farms become certified, more organic produce will be available - a reliable supply of organic fruit and vegetable is the key to growing the market and meeting demand”. Cass, who comes from Byron Bay in New South Wales, started her AusAID funded volunteer placement with Women in Business in April this year. She is spending the next two years in Samoa providing technical training for staff and farmers on sound organic
“Samoa has such rich, fertile soil to produce amazing fruit and vegetables, but we need to look after the land. My challenge is to encourage more and more people to grow organic produce by adopting organic farming practices, which includes starting to compost and using renewable resources as much as possible.” “We are also trying to establish an ongoing relationship between some of the resorts/beach fales and local farmers in their area to provide them with an ongoing supply of fruit and vegetables.” Cass, who came to Samoa with her five-year old son Zachariah, has quickly settled into Pacific life. “I spend my leisure time in my garden with Zacha growing food! I am a bit obsessed with organic food! I love the beaches here in Samoa and also love exploring the underwater world, either snorkelling or diving when I get the chance.” The weekly organic baskets can be ordered through Women in Business on 21959 or email organics@womeninbusiness. ws. The organic markets are held every second Friday under the Pulu trees, opposite Chan Mow supermarket.
VIDA volunteer Constantine Carluen takes a break from his hectic schedule as the Development Communications Officer for the Philippines-Australia Community Assistance Program to reflect on the past 2 years.
through agroforestry, assisted natural rehabilitation (ANR) and rattan rehabilitation, in effect, they have also augmented their income for labor in maintenance, seedling production, and staking/out-planting.”
The Philippines: a second rebirth
“In addition to environmental benefits, the project also provided fishing gear to sustain the community’s basic necessities. Medical outreach teams have visited to ensure the well-being of the community is maintained and a spring box water system has also been implemented to meet the community’s basic services needs” she excitedly counts off.
When friends and family from back home ask me what is it I do in the Philippines, I jokingly reply “I tell the human story of where your taxes go!” Although, I soon found out that writing and photography will only play a small part in the work I do. One of the ‘perks’ of my job is I a spend a lot of time traveling to projects around the country, I have travelled all over Luzon and the Visayas but due to the continuing conflict in Mindanao, this culturally diverse region still remains elusive. Through my travels, I have seen first-hand how Australia’s oldest and most successful community development initiative in the Philippines has been successfully contributing to rural development by empowering communities.
I grew up in Australia although I was born in the Philippines which made returning to the Philippines seem like a test of how Filipino I really am. Understanding the official national language certainly proved a bonus but in a country with 12 major regional languages and over 170 dialects, often I was caught asking for a translation and thinking to myself ‘now I understand how it must feel for those non-Filipino volunteers!’
Community empowerment battles poverty a silent beast. Returning as a VIDA helped me connect to the real Philippines, forcing me to see the widespread poverty head on. It is with no exaggeration to say that poverty in the Philippines can be seen at every street corner in the big cities but it is when you travel to the provinces that poverty lies as a silent beast. The smiling faces of farmers drying their palay (rice husks) on the roadside as you drive by hide the stark realities that they are the ones who you hear about who earn less than $1 a day. A highlight of my time here has been visiting a PACAP-assisted indigenous community deep in the Cagayan Valley. When I say deep, I do not say this loosely. Imagine travelling for 30 hours to get to a site! This involved a 20 hour drive to the northernmost tip of the mainland, followed by a 10 hour pumpboat ride over open seas. For the uninitiated a pumpboat is an outrigger motor boat powered by a 14HP engine measuring only 25 feet by 3 feet at its widest - usually reserved for short trips to dive sites. The project here has been of tremendous importance to the beneficiaries as it has contributed to their social development and environmental conservation. But as I was told by Ms Libertad Alcantara, the project’s coordinator it was only able to succeed due to community participation. Ms Alcantara added, “The project enhanced the Agtas skills and knowledge to manage their ancestral domain. You see, by mobilizing the community to rehabilitate their natural resources
Photo Credits : Process Luzon & Constantine Carluen
Ms Alcantara goes on to say that, the project has had strong support from different levels of Government. I have seen that this ability to develop relationships with different levels of government is one of the unifying strengths PACAP has. Take for example, in the island province of Bohol where PACAP has a strong presence. The Bridging Enterprises for Sustained Tourism (BEST) in Bohol, one of the funded projects looks at the more straightforward principle of rural development contributing to economic growth. BEST in Bohol has been a marked success because of strong links with the Provincial Government, national line agencies, such as the Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Science and Technology and the Bohol Tourism Office and with local government units. Ms Leonila Amputsa the project’s coordinator proudly boasts “The project has had many successes. It has seen people’s organisatons being formed from scratch and become a social enterprise trading to leading tourist hubs.” However, the most tangible outcomes is the amount each beneficiary has earned. It’s quite simple really, the capability building trainings for the people’s organization members led to a diversification in the products they made. “In only two years of implementation the POs (people’s organization) have a capital build up of nearly 37,0000 pesos (or 1,000 AUD) with an accumulated savings of 17,5000 (500 AUD), and for some beneficiaries this is more than a 100% increase in their income,” Ms Amputsa concluded.
Family bonds, friendships made, future plans Working with the highly skilled staff at PACAP I was left wondering what skills I could possibly transfer. Though in the end, it wasn’t what I was able to transfer but the friendships I made with friends who were more like family. Friends who went out of their way to make sure everything was ok in my time with them. Growing up in Sydney, I always thought I was a city kid but after living in the craziness that is Manila for over two years and seeing first-hand the difference community engagement makes to rural development, it has made me rethink if I’m a city kid after all! Maybe my next move might be to contribute to rural development instead of being a mere witness…
‘Beeh samlap kaai’ ‘Beeh samlap kaai’ - Goats for Sale
There are a couple of really interesting and innovative initiatives
and the diets are limited to the simple foods that can be grown
Saket and Sasout are small bans, with about 70 households in
we are currently implementing, and one that is proving to be very
(rice and maybe corn) with foraging providing most of their daily
each village. As we approach them from the opposite side of
successful is the Goat Bank for the Poorest.
the range the villages appear to be clinging to the side of the
Soon six villages in our target areas will be calling out “Goats for
The poor here are really poor and it is almost impossible for the
The mountain crests are incredibly narrow, and as a result the
Sale” and with this new catch-cry we will know that one of our
Prai villagers to escape the poverty spiral. A very strong sense
available flat land is just about non existent. The houses are built
I am lucky enough to be working as a VIDA volunteer in the
newest and most innovative projects has been successful and
of familial solidarity eases some of the pain and burden but in
wherever there is room and the walk from one side of the village
Sayaboury Province of Laos with Care International. I left my
is starting to make a tangible impact on the communities we are
communities where the poor earn less than 8 cents a day, where
to the other involves some serious effort. I watch a couple of the
corporate career 9 months ago to embark on a volunteer
striving to empower.
80% of the children are malnourished, stunted or underweight as
children kicking a ball around see them spending more time
measured by the World Health Organization, life is tough.
retrieving it by scuttling down near vertical slopes than playing
VIDA volunteer Sardi Calver outlines some projects being carried out in remote locations in Laos through Australian Partner Organisation CARE International.
mountain, as we get closer we can see that they literally are.
assignment wanting to use my skills, experience and enthusiasm to really make a difference and the great news is I am doing that
The Goat Banks for the Poor have been really well received and
but the extra benefit is how good I feel about myself and the
promise to positively impact the villages. If we can get this right
Today we are working with 2 new villages that will join the Goat
world in the process and how much I am continuing to learn.
and demonstrate their success, the implication and possibility for
Bank for the Poorest- Saket and Sasout these 2 target villages
with it on a flat surface. (I don’t think any Reynaldo’s will herald from this part of the world.)
a broader implementation and application is enormous. It’s simple
are nestled precariously near the top of one of the highest ranges
The village houses are made it seems of straw, as if the big bad
I live and work in a pretty remote location, just 3 other foreigners
and exciting and has CARE, the village chiefs and recipients
in the remote mountains in the northern region of the Sayabouly
wolf could huff and puff and blow them down in one breath. Built
in town, a 4 hour bus ride to the nearest city (although depending
excited, hopeful and nervous.
Province. They are amongst some of the poorest Bans (villages) in
on bamboo stilts for both ventilation and to avoid wet season
the target area.
flooding, with thatched roofing and woven bamboo walls they are
on the weather and road conditions this can easily double) and 4 – 8hours by 4wd to the target villages up in the mountains by car,
In principle the “Goat Banks for the Poorest” concept is
on occasion we have to walk another 5 – 8 hours to get to some
simple. They are consultative and engage the entire community
We travel by the CARE 4 WD the 5 hours from the local CARE
comprise of a small inside area which is used for sleeping, sitting
of the villages as they are only accessible by foot over some pretty
but require good planning, a strong educative component,
office in Sayabouly Town to the bans of Sasout and Saket. Each
and cooking. Most families possess little more than a couple
difficult terrain. It’s a great project taking an integrated approach
collaborative support and training. In the most basic form goats
time I head to the villages I am reminded about how harsh the
of pots, blankets and water collection materials, they make the
to poverty reduction in the rural and mountainous area working
are sourced for the recipients, a goat raiser is appointed to look
conditions are, the roads can be treacherous, winding like a
opulence of even the most humble of western houses seem
specifically with a marginalized ethnic group, the Prai.
after them and support is given to build appropriate facilities to
crazy conga line up near vertical inclines , rough and ragged and
….well extreme to say the least. There are some basic water
raise the goats and training on how to look after them is provided.
painfully bone jarring, either incredibly dusty or muddy, with the
sources for the village (mountain streams diverted to bamboo
We are working with the villagers on a range of projects and in
Over time, as the goats reproduce a percentage of the goats are
much needed rain turning the roads to quagmires for the most
pipes) but no sanitation to speak of and certainly no electricity.
a variety of ways to help them develop their communities, build
kept, to ensure the number of the goats in the banks grow and
part. We get in, close our eyes (except for the driver thankfully)
livelihoods, improve health and of course this is directly linked
the village sells the surplus goats with the profits being divided
hang on and hope for the best. Every bend sees cars, scooters
Rice is their major foods source Khao Neow (sticky rice), it’s hard
to improved food security. I am lucky enough in my volunteering
amongst the beneficiaries and the goat raiser.
and hand tractors fighting the road and each other for space and
to grow in upland farming, labour intensive and low in yield. For
traction, we dodge goats, pigs, buffalo, chickens, dogs, cows,
those that are unable to participate in rice growing or foraging
The people with whom we work have so little and their lives are
men women and children. It’s self evident, he who is biggest, and
activities their hard life is exacerbated as they have no ability to
Our project takes an integrated approach to alleviating poverty
so very hard, yet they are so welcoming and generous with what
honks the loudest and has the least fear wins, well it’s either that
source food for their subsistence living, nor any way to make
and aims to implement programs that build sustainable means
little they do have. Their homes are basic to say the least, often
or just plain luck. Most of our work in the field has to be done
money to buy the rice and basic commodities they need to exist.
by which the villagers are empowered, capable and committed
there is insufficient food, and for the most part men women and
in the dry season; we can’t risk the journey in the wet which
They are entirely at the mercy of the generosity of extended
to help implement and drive change and improve their
children, young and old have to work incredibly hard just to eek
compounds some of the issues we face as we implement new
familial groups and other villagers.
out the most basic of existences. Availability of food is scarce
assignment to assist with these projects in a variety of ways…
the most basic of structures. They are generally 1 or 2 rooms and
Photo Credits : Sardi Calver
The Goat Banks for the Poorest have been established to help
project that will gain momentum over time creating a sustainable
Or the story of Mrs. Jang, she is 65 and had two daughters one is
communities that have so little there is no sense of anything other
these people, those that can not take on the physical labour
and compounding revenue stream. The Goat Banks have the
still alive and her other daughter died in child in childbirth, leaving
than happiness and a degree of relief, that the poorest members
required to earn a living or grow or forage for food, the poorest
potential to increase the beneficiaries’ income by 333% in the
this capable but aging widow with 1 handicapped grandson,
of their community will have some way to support themselves.
and most vulnerable of the community members. This group
first year and as the goats breed the number of goats in the bank
3 young grand daughters (all under 8 years old) and her young
They want this to be successful, if it is, the entire village benefits
comprises of orphans, the mentally and physically disabled, the
increase and the surplus goats are sold and traded the income
daughter to raise on her own with no income or other family to
as the new income stream for the poorest means that some of
elderly and infirm and those families that simply do not posses
stream continues grow. The other benefit is that the target group
the burden they carry to help look after the poor is lifted from their
enough labour to support their families.
does not have to provide any physical input as the raising of the
goats is “outsourced” to a local farmer who will raise the goats
Her daughter who is just 13 years old helps the family by taking
We arrive as arranged and meet with the village chief; he has
on behalf of the group. As a result he also benefits from the
goods from the villages by foot ( and 15- 18 hour return journey),
In working with the team and the villagers on the goat bank
selected community members to join him to be part of the village
enterprise as he is paid a percentage of the profits.
over the border to Thailand and selling them on behalf of the
project we can’t but help but to reflect on how complicated and
other villagers. She may earn up to 25,000 kip per trip ($4.00)
demanding western life styles are and the enormous expectations
determine the potential beneficiaries and we are directed to
There is a sense of anticipation, can they look after the goats, and
and she may make up to 4 trips a year. She also offers to help
we have, not just on ourselves but in everything we do.
school building which will act as our training room for the day.
can they sell them, how many goats may they have, will the goats
around the village and they pay her a small sum for any work she
Many of the villagers have turned out, some out of pure interest
be healthy, when may they start to see the proceeds of the bank?
does. She contributes $20 $30 per annum to the family income
For many of us, its not just about living and looking after ourselves
and others because they will be receiving the goats... there’s lots
To get an idea of the impact the goat bank will have we talk to
which is the sole income and as a result of this small income,
and family but its about how much we have and always wanting
of work still to do, many discussions to be had, lots of questions
some of the recipients who shyly share their thoughts with us.
the family is extremely reliant on support from the villages for any
more, our life is complicated and we make it that way often
other needs they have. Mrs. Jang is so very happy to be selected
without realizing we have. The simplicity of life in the traditional
I meet with Ms Doa Bod, 23 and her beautiful baby girl, Nout who
as a beneficiary of the goat bank, with the money that will start
villages is confronting but refreshing and helps to put all we have
Over the course of the day we have some great animated
14 months old. Dao’s husband abandoned her and Nout as a 3
to flow through to her family her priorities will be to buy food and
and our lives back into perspective.
discussions on how the goat bank will be managed and the
month old baby, leaving Doa to raise the child on her own. Dao
medicines to make her family healthier and purchase some school
profits shared, what tasks need to be completed to establish
has been unable to do this without the support of the extended
materials so her children can attend school. It’s a hard life for her
We just hope that the goat banks combined with a range of the
the bank, building of the area, sourcing the goats, training on
familial group, she is living with her younger sister and her family
but one she and her family can look to a brighter future and she
other projects deliver to the villages... its not so much to ask for
how to raise the goats including animal health, when and how
in Saket and while extremely poor themselves, and they have
continues to embrace with passion
to be healthy, have a full stomach and be able to provide for your
they can sell the goats and divide the proceeds… Our role is not
been giving her rice, basic clothes and shelter. She spent most of
to do this for them but to provide a set of guidelines to enable
the last year working as much as she was able, endeavoring to
Everyone has a story to tell and is happy to share their experience
to have a hand in and we cant wait to return to the villages and
the community to manage and implement the required activities
grow rice for herself and her daughter, but after months of hard
and thoughts with us. They are excited and apprehensive about
hearing them shout “Goats for Sale!!”.
with CARE’s guidance and support, making this a sustainable
laboring her only produced 3 tins of rice, with an approximate
the difference the goat banks will make to them and their families.
enterprise and building capacity and capability in the village.
value an approximate value of $8 USD.
It will take sometime for the banks to reach their full potential but
CARE will facilitate the purchase of the goats, including payment
Dao’s hopes are simple; she just wants to have enough money
see incremental benefits and with this will come the incentive to
and fund the of building the goat enclosures using food for work
to be able to provide for herself and her daughter, basic food and
keep working at the goat banks to make them successful.
activities, so the entire village benefits from the initial activities.
clothing and perhaps when Nout is old enough, money so she
management structure. They have worked hard to collaboratively
to answer and expectations to manage.
family. It’s something that the team and I are extremely proud
with the baby goats being sold every 6 months the villagers will
can send her to school. It’s not much to ask and we are confident
It’s a great project and while it requires significant input upfront,
We meet and talk with the villagers who will benefit from the
that the goat bank project will allow her to realize her most simple
once up and running it gives the villagers another way to help
Goat Banks. It is difficult to understand just what a difference the
each other and help themselves. We speak to some of the other
income will make to their lives; it is not a quick fix but rather a
villagers to see what they think of the goat bank, resoundingly in