Be the Change Network

aka "Kari's Blog"

Impact Insights Into SSI’s Community Prosper Bank

January 25, 2017 By: karig2 Category: General

Rural economic development is no easy task. A lack of training, infrastructure, access to capital and markets are all barriers to business growth for rural entrepreneurs. Out of this specific need to provide services for the small- but thriving- Aoral province where most households survive off micro-enterprise activity, the Community Prosper Bank (CPB) was spearheaded in collaboration with U.S. financial advisers and Kong Sem, Sustainable Schools International (SSI) first alumni. Through CPB, community members can receive micro loans to help grow their businesses.  In addition, a percentage of interest earned on loans is donated back to rural schools to facilitate community development through a social enterprise model. In 2016, 20% of interest generated was donated to local schools.

Jan 2017 Blog Picture- Jeanne Crump

In 2016, CPB provided loans to 171 customers. As CPB has grown over the years, SSI began taking a deeper look at how this program was making a difference in the Aoral community.  In June 2016, an impact study was conducted by CPB Adviser, Jeanne Crump. Through the study, a sample of CPB customers were interviewed to collect both demographic household information and to gauge the impact the loans were having on their businesses. We found some very positive insights. Most notably, 100% of respondents who used the loan for business purposes reported that they felt their businesses had grown since receiving a loan. Because it is often difficult to measure business growth through annual profits in the informal sector, we used several proxy indicators to gauge this impact. Business growth was reported through an increase in household income, the ability to purchase more inventory, or through an increase of direct sales. Some customers even reported growth in more than one area.

Additional notable insights include:

  • Customers were asked who the loan has affected/helped. Nearly 80% of respondents said it has helped both their children and family.
  • Customers who had school-aged children attending school were asked whether the loan had helped their children attend/stay in school. 90% of the sample said yes.
  • Nearly 75% of respondents reported that the female in the house managed household finances, and nearly every female that we surveyed who had taken out a loan said she was responsible for repaying the loan as well.
  • The most common occupations of those receiving loans are teachers and farmers. Teachers often use loans to create small enterprises teaching private lessons. Farmers reported using the loans most often for raising livestock and growing vegetables. There were also several loans supporting food vendors.

During this study, the globally-recognized Progress Out of Poverty Index (PPI) was also implemented. The PPI is a standardized country-specific tool that aims to measure changes in poverty levels over time. A sample of households were surveyed using the PPI, and this same group will be surveyed again in 2017, after which the first results will be available. Our goal for CPB is to alleviate poverty in Aoral and foster sustainable development through community-led programs.

As CPB grows, we have several initiatives in mind to make this program even more impactful, such as developing a community savings group, providing financial literacy education, and offering an agricultural loan product to encourage the diversification of crops among farmers. CPB is an excellent example of the types of socially minded projects we hope to see our Leadership Academy students develop as they contribute back to their communities. We look forward to sharing more insights and impacts with our supporters in the coming year.

– Jeanne Crump

The Tra Paing Chor Commune…

August 31, 2015 By: Tavia Mirassou-Wolf Category: General

The votes have been cast and the verdict is in!! Community members, health professionals, and organizations agree on the public health needs of the Tra Paing Chor Commune. The top four include: the need for more trained medical professionals, access to medications, and relief from reoccurring digestive disorders and respiratory infections.

After conducting community focus groups, I was shocked that only 2 out of approximately 30 people had ever utilized the local health center, built two years ago. As I probed deeper in my quest to identify reasons behind this lack of utilization, majority of people express the same concerns, “I went to the health center but no one was present during the afternoon hours of operation”, “I heard from my neighbor that there are no medications for treatment”, “the health center is too far and I do not always have access to transportation”.   These concerns are valid. Upon discussion with health center staff, I learned that they run out of medications 1-2 times per month. In addition, even though there are over 22 services the health center is supposed to provide, lack of a doctor and enough midwives severely limits the services related to sexual and reproductive health. At the time the health center cannot preform deliveries due to lack of midwives. This forces pregnant women to travel to the regional health center, 20 Kilometers away, creating a significant strain on women’s ability to give birth in the presence of a skilled birth attendant, as transportation is a common barrier in seeking services.

Male focus group

Male focus group

The local Health Center

The local Health Center

Chanthou and I with Tropang Cho Health Center staff

Chanthou and myself with Tropang Cho Health Center staff

Last on the list, but certainly not least is the provision of education and structural changes that will support the elimination of reoccurring digestive disorders and respiratory infections. Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WaSH) are still a problem in Cambodia despite the on going efforts to improve access and quality of these resources. Several community members still do not have access to the use of a latrine or proper facilities to wash their hands correctly. In addition to the need of improving WaSH, USAID and other organizations are conducting research with the intention of learning how to effectively integrate WaSH into multiple sectors. The innovations and implementation of these programs are much needed, especially in the rural area of the Tra Paing Chor Commune.

Dry pit latrine constructed out of cardboard... This is a temporary option while one saves up for a more permanent structure

Dry pit latrine constructed out of cardboard… This is a temporary option while one saves up for a more permanent structure

As I look at the public health landscape with a critical eye it is extremely important to be culturally aware and not cease to remember the countless assets this community has to offer. From what I have observed, the Cambodian culture is one of collectivism and respect. I have observed an innate since humanity amongst the people I have worked with and there is a beauty that shines through from their souls.   In addition to individuals’ strengths, the community as a whole offers resourcefulness through the collection of rainwater and growing their own food, ability to adapt to change, and willingness to work together.

Rim- A SSI student who graciously gave up 3 days of his holiday to assist us with transportation

Rim- A SSI student who graciously gave up 3 days of his holiday to assist us with transportation

Me and the Girls!

Me and the Girls!

If WE can build upon what this great community already has to offer, I am positive we can work together to create a sustainable difference. The difference I am referring to is substantial. It is the difference between health and disease, access to clean water and drinking dirty water, privacy and open defecation, and in some cases the difference between life and death.

I will leave you with this thought… Solutions are not created overnight, while there are certainly many needs in the Tra Paing Chor Commune, let’s address the most dire needs, while we work to build upon the strengths of the community.

Thank you for your involvement of this project (even if your involvement is reading my posts and creating awareness) and I look forward to working with you in the future!

Meet our nursing students!

August 18, 2015 By: Tavia Mirassou-Wolf Category: General

Meet our nursing students Chanthou, Sokhom, and Srey Pom! These motivated individuals attend International University and are 3 out of the 34 individuals who live at the Leadership Academy in Phnom Penh. All of these students hail from Tra Paing Chor Commune in the Aoral District of the Kampong Speu Province. This is a rural area where students often do not attend school beyond the 6th grade due to other responsibilities.   I feel extremely honored and privileged to be a part of their journey.

Chanthou: Chanthou was the Leadership Academy’s first female high school graduate to continue onto college. She continues to shine as she approaches graduation where she will receive her associates in nursing. Chanthou will graduate in December and take the International exam in January. When I asked Chanthou what her top three goals are she reported: teaching community members information on proper dietary habits, getting a job with a good salary, and going back to school to become a doctor. When Chanthou is at home during a holiday she enjoys helping her mother with her private practice and volunteering at the local primary school where she delivers books and teaches children proper sanitation practices.

Sokhom: With only one more year to go, Sokhom finds herself passionate about maternal and child health. With this passion her top three goals are to return to her village to serve her community, learn more about the health needs of her commune by interviewing expecting mothers, and pursue her bachelors of nursing with a focus in midwifery. When Sokhom receives a break, it’s likely you will find her in her village relaxing down by the stream with her family.

Srey Pom: Srey Pom is the youngest out of the nursing students but that doesn’t make her any less ambitious. She is excited to learn about how health practices affect her community and even more excited to put these practices into play. Srey Pom is also interested in providing health education related to nutrition and going back to school to become a doctor. After she receives her doctorate degree she wants to start her own practice.

While these amazing women may have different interests they all have one thing in common… Their enthusiasm to serve fellow community members in their home villages.

Stay tuned for the next step of this project.

Chanthou on the left Srey Pom on the right

Chanthou on the left
Srey Pom on the right

Tavia on the left Sokhom on the right

If you would like more information about the leadership academy you can find it at

A very brief summary of my project…

August 16, 2015 By: Tavia Mirassou-Wolf Category: General

My name is Tavia Mirassou- Wolf and I am a Graduate Research Assistant at the Colorado School of Public Health studying for my Master’s of Public Health.  I will be working with Colorado State University and Sustainable Schools International over the course of the next year.

The project I am humbly apart of aims to improve the health of communities, specifically in the Aoral District of the Kampong Speu Providence. My involvement during this trip includes international collaboration which encompasses a rapid village needs assessment, resource identification, and the public health mentorship of new health professionals. I would like to begin this blog by encouraging you to be apart of my journey while I lead you through my three week Cambodian travel experience.  During this experience I will spend two weeks in the capital, Phnom Penh, and one week in a rural village.  I would absolutely love to hear your reactions, thoughts, comments, and ideas!

Volunteer Tom Conner: The Next Phase

September 02, 2014 By: karig2 Category: Cambodia Volunteer Program

Last summer I worked as volunteer at the SSI Leadership Academy outside Phnom Penh and had a very good experience. School starts up again in a few days and for the first time in many years I kind of dread going back to the “same old” routine. So, inspired by my experience last summer and to give my students a flavor of daily life in an emerging nation in Southeast Asia I have decided to implement a section on Cambodia in all of my courses.

Paul Chuk, SSI Country Director

My language students at St. Norbert College will be given an opportunity to volunteer as language partners of SSI students back in Phnom Penh, Skyping once a week or so. In my advanced French civilization class a section on French colonialism will focus on the transition of Cambodia from the relative calm of the colonial world to the chaos following in the wake of the French departure. In addition, I am in the beginning stages of planning a three-week immersion trip to Cambodia next summer. It remains to be seen if I can secure permission from College administration. Parents are awfully squeamish these days (not without reason) and, not knowing much about the outside world, naturally assume the worst. And who can blame them, which is precisely why their children need to travel but stay safe and out of harm’s way.

Still, Cambodia today is a far cry from what it was and exercising normal caution should be enough to ensure personal safety. Of course, I must also recruit enough students to make this trip economically feasible. But I remain guardedly optimistic provided I can include some kind of service component. Service Learning (SL) is all the rage today and inspires a number of student trips both domestic and international. Student participants will have an opportunity to visit tourist sites, such as Angkor Wat and follow in Indiana Jones’ footsteps. On a more sinister note, they also have a chance to follow the rampage of the Khmer Rouge. In addition, they will have a chance to do some teaching and to interact with SSI Leadership Academy students, who might well be able to accompany them on some field trips and create lasting bonds of friendship. My students are more or less the same age so who knows, some of my students may want to return as volunteers on their own one day in the near future after they see for themselves how much they can learn even during a short stay. Ideally I would also like to incorporate other service opportunities, but the trick will be to find something worthwhile that is both beneficial to my students and easy to arrange for my local counterparts in SSI.

I returned from Cambodia about a month ago but left almost immediately for France. I teach French and need to stay in touch with “my” culture even though I feel very much at home in Asia. But the main purpose of my trip to France was to continue my research on French intellectuals. My last book on the Dreyfus Affair appeared in April. My forthcoming book is about French intellectuals and what I call the “totalitarian temptation,” a Faustian bargain to gain power and magically achieve paradise on earth. This is a topic well in line with the national tragedy Cambodia suffered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge in the second half of the 1970s and might well become the subject of my next book.

I am excited about these new projects and will keep you all posted on my progress.

Stay safe and always keep a book going!