Farewell, World Vision!

Farewell, World Vision!

That’s what an entire community said as they celebrated the transformation over the last fifteen years.

Ten years ago it would take you three hours to get to Leuk Daek from the nearest paved road. During the rainy season, flooding made it impassible. The road follows the Mekong River, and when it rained, became the Mekong River.

Those living in the Leuk Daek district were nearly isolated – accessible most reliantly by boat, and destitute. In 2000, when World Vision began work in the area, only 36.3% of the homes had clean drinking water. A sobering 12.3% of homes had access to a toilet.

9 in 10 homes did not have a toilet of any kind. That includes an outhouse – otherwise known as a designated hole in the ground. I’m let you figure out the implications of that on your own.

Because life was about survival, educating children wasn’t valued. Two out of five students dropped out of primary school (elementary school). This wasn’t just a community of vulnerable families, this was a vulnerable community.

But, today, that’s no longer true. The community isn’t just surviving, it’s thriving; to the degree that World Vision is no longer needed in Leuk Daek.

When you drive the now paved road through the district, it’s hard to imagine what it was like a mere decade ago. Changing a community takes time – lot’s of time. Think about your community. How long would it take to change the effectiveness of your school? The rate of sexual abuse among girls? Drug use? Access to food for needy children and families? Would you say 10 years? How about 15? World Vision has been in Leuk Daek for 15 years and the community is completely transformed. Now, 91% of homes have clean drinking water, 94.1% of homes have access to a toilet, and 93.4% of girls are finishing primary school.

As impressive as those statistics are, they aren’t the story. The story is that World Vision is no longer needed. Let me explain.

When World Vision begins to work with a group of people, they don’t come in as the expert who knows what needs to be done. There are already experts there who are fully aware of the problems and needs of the community: the people who live there. Working with leaders, volunteers, and residents World Vision provides an assessment of the issues, determining what to address first. In one community it may be irrigation for crops. In another it may be building a road. And, in another it may be education. Every situation is different because the problems of every community are different.

Equipping local residents to take responsibility for the development of their community is a priority of World Vision. It would be easy to hear that people need water, show up with the equipment and dig the well; people would have clean water, problem solved. What sets World Vision apart is their commitment to bettering the lives of people by empowering them to solve their own problems. Does World Vision help? Yes. They will teach community leaders how to utilize its governmental resources, advocating on their behalf at the national level when necessary. They’ll teach the people skills they need – like best farming practices to increase yields, for example – but they won’t do the work for the people. It’s the difference between doing your kids homework for them, which is quick and much easier than walking them through each simple addition problem, and helping them with their homework. This process takes time, but, from what I’ve seen, its the process that transforms communities.

Photo Credit: Laura Reinhardt / World Vision

The Leuk Daek Agriculture Co-operative (AC) is one example of how effective World Vision’s strategy is. Just four years ago the AC was started and registered with the Cambodian government as a business. Residents could buy shares which would make them members of the AC, sharing in its profits, decisions, and work. When it began in 2011 it had 162 members, 143 of which were women, with a total of 394 shares. Today there are 177 members with 470 shares. The AC provides loans, cheaper fertilizer, water filtration, and is expanding to broker their own corn. Leadership is elected and shared by people who don’t take a salary because they believe what they are doing is important.

And it is. It’s changing lives.

More than that, it’s changing a community.

I sat across the table from the AC leaders, furiously taking notes on my phone, astounded by the impact this group was having on their community. There are so many ways I’m just going to list the ones they told us about:

  • Provide various farming loans

  • Buy fertilizer to see at a lower price to commune (village) farmers

  • Advocate for children in school

  • Work to improve the community one day every week (pick up trash, build latrine, etc.)

  • Set 2% of their profit aside to help children in need. Right now that means 3 children are being cared for by the AC

  • Help the most vulnerable families in the community by providing jobs

  • When the Mekong River caused the shore to erode and collapse a community family’s house, they built a new house.

  • Helped 2 members of the AC who died by giving their family wood for the coffin

  • Put drain tiling in so water can flow out of fields which helps the entire community

  • Help a divorced woman who has four children by employing her, enabling her two youngest to attend school

  • Sell purified water in two communities near border of Vietnam

  • Give free water to families affected by HIV

  • Sell water at a discount to poor families

  • Give free water to schools

You see? They don’t need World Vision. They have each other.

I couldn’t help wondering, “Do our churches have this kind of impact on our communities? Are we known for loving our community this much? Installing this much pride, this much hope, this much generosity in our community?”

The AC is just one group in the community. You could go the facilitators of the youth club and hear their stories. Ask them why they, young adults, are hanging out with children and you’ll hear their desire to be role models and to see their community continue to improve. This is no longer an isolated community. It’s a community full of pride and hope, with all the resources necessary to flourish on their own.

There’s something here for us to learn. Transformation happens when we take responsibility for the world around us. Whether its our spiritual lives, our relationships, or our community, transformation isn’t just going to happen. No one sits in front of the TV and is transformed. Transformation is not a passive process. It requires everything of us. Like Jesus said, “In order to find your life, you must be willing to lose it.” I can’t help but wonder, what would it look if we, the church, were more active in transformation – personal and communal – and committed to the flourishing of our communities for 10-15 years?

Maybe churches wouldn’t get farewelled by our community and culture. Maybe we’d get asked to stay.