Be the Change Network

aka "Kari's Blog"

Archive for August, 2010

Whose Choice Is It Anyway?

August 20, 2010 By: karig2 Category: General No Comments →

by Kari Grady Grossman

I used to think the schools in Cambodia need a computer and solar panels and a satellite dish to connect to the internet (and a generator to power that) because that’s what you need to close the digital divide and set up email pen pals with sister schools – right?   That’s what’s important to me.  Well, that is not what is important to them.   When the goal is economic sustainability, we work with what is important to them.  Schools in Cambodia don’t need computers, they need power tillers.

A power tiller is a piece of farm equipment that can be used for everything from plowing to hauling water to a school bus.  It is a simple piece of modernity with profound impact.  The main reason kids drop out of school is that the demands of farm work and daily living must be done by hand.   Access to power equipment to do the work instead of the children has a multi-layered effect, jobs around the school get done faster,  less work for kids means more time for school, and it can be rented out to the local community to generate income for the school.

An anonymous $2,000 donation got this community owned micro-business started.  The villagers seem to have an endless stream of uses for the power tiller. Now that the planting season is over, they turned it into a generator for making electricity.  The money from the rental business covers the cost of fuel to run the generator.  Their next idea is to use it to pump water from the river and add a water delivery service to the program.   Now that’s how we create sustainability – the poor know how to fix their problems, its our job to listen to them.

While broken computers and abandoned solar panels collect dust in the schools around us, look what a power tiller can do.

A message from program director Paul Chuk. The powertiller is useful to all 3 schools we are helping:

  • We plowed a piece of land behind Chrauk Tiek school to plant 100 dragon fruit trees.  We should benefit from it within 18 months to 2 years.
  • We cleared bushes and prepared the ground to grow sweet potato and other useful vegetable to help feed our teachers.
  • We helped Bontey P’nak secondary school haul poles from the forest to build the fence.
  • We plowed our land in the back of the building without having to pay someone to do it.
  • We let the village chief use it to carry jack fruit trees and distribute them to the villagers.
  • We used it to transport a volunteer guest and some students to Peam Lvea lake for the day.
  • We helped some of the poorest families get their farm work done with less service charge.
  • We’ve earned from plowing and raking the rice field, a total of 345,000 riels.  After deducting the cost of gas, paying someone to do the work and repairing the equipment, we have earned 79,500 riels ($20) profit.
  • The committee is exploring other idea to use the power tiller to haul water and sell it to people when the raining season is over.

Over the next 3 years are going to listen to the community and prove that economic sustainability of schools can be achieved by the local community when we give them the leadership, coaching and resources they need to empower their ideas. We are well on our way!