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Journeys Within Our Community
September 27, 2012

JWOC’s seemingly eclectic program has a unifying theme of providing assistance to improve the capacity and self-reliance of populations in need. The central focus is education to prepare people to participate in the expanding economy. They deliver their programs with a small professional staff and a large number of scholarship recipients who give back to the community through JWOC projects. I have had the opportunity to visit several JWOC operations. I will describe four that I observed: Clean Water Program; village tour; Micro-Finance; and School

1. Clean Water Program: I visited a village about 45 min from the school by tuk tuk. Several months after a well is installed, an inspection team returns to see how the well is working and to answer questions. JWOC gets a warranty on the wells and so it is important to correct any problems while the wells are under warranty. I went with a review team to a village where JWOC had installed a number of wells. The village was geographically close to Siem Reap but remote by virtue of the poor dirt road providing access. The students examined each of the wells and visited with each of the family group served by the wells. The students completed inspection forms and we finished in less than two hours. The benefits of this project were obvious and profound. The availability of clean water has dramatically reduced sickness in the village improving attendance at school and work.

I spoke with a young woman (maybe 17-19 years old) who gave me some insight into the nature and scale of the problems faced in rural Cambodia. After sitting quietly while the students talked with her parents in Khmer she said something in English. I asked her where she learned English and she responded that she had learned it in school. I ask if she was still in school and she respond that she quit after 7th or 8th grade because her family didn’t have the money for her to continue with secondary school. I asked what she did now and she said that she was the English teacher in the local primary school. She proudly showed some of here lessons that she had carefully lettered on a small chalk board. They consisted of lists of numbers and days of the week. JWOC’s scholarship program is designed to address the problem faced by the young woman when she left school before completing her studies.

2. Squatters’ Village Tour: I went with the Executive Director and a woman from Korea who represented a charitable organization looking to address some problems women face in Cambodia. The village is near JWOC’s headquarters and has grown rapidly in the last several years. Today perhaps a few thousand people live there. JWOC’s services are evident in the village: wells; micro finance; and education. The circumstances of this village are that the government has a grid of 50 meter rights-of-way in an undeveloped area. Most of the privately owned land is unused but the rights-of-way are lined along both sides with small huts. A dirt path runs down the middle. There is no formal drainage but some people have dug ditches to channel storm run off away from the path and the houses. Amazingly, many of the houses have electricity. A small-time entrepreneur brings power to individual homes who agree to pay him. It isn’t clear whether he buys or steals the power he sells. The housing ranges from extremely modest to abysmal.

3. Micro-Finance: I returned to the village later with the micro-finance group. On a regular schedule students visit the people who have received loans to check on the business and to collect payments. One of the more impressive visits was to a bead jewelry making business. I believe this woman was on her third loan. She had expanded from making the jewelry herself to five women working the day I was there. They make beads from magazine paper and string them into bracelets that are sold for a couple of dollars in the market or somewhat less to a wholesaler. The loans allowed them buy supplies and expand the business. Other businesses assisted by loans included recyclers and small stores. Most, but not all, of the recipients are women. The loans allow these women to contribute economically while staying home with children. The students collect money and information which is checked and documented when they return to the school. The program clearly benefits the borrowers. Significantly, it also provides real-world business experience for the students who coordinate the program.

4. School: I toured the school and participated in an English conversation class taught by one of the JWOC graduates. The school serves about 700 students per week. The school offers a computer lab; a library; a sewing center; and a mufti-purpose classrooms for the primary school and English instruction. The school has become a mufti-generational community resource whose impact would be difficult to overstate.

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