It is only after I visited Sen Sok and listened to the village people that I understood what makes CFI so remarkable among nonprofits. It goes beyond just building and delivering stuff to the locals. The way CFI works is really changing people's lives on a permanent basis. Women can build an income where they live and can let go of the migrant worker's life which can be so dangerous as we hear on the news. All of CFI projects use local suppliers and are run by Cambodians for Cambodians, bringing skills and expertise in the deep countryside where it is most needed. I cannot wait to return and volunteer some time to this amazing project.
In January 2013, I had the privilege of visiting the Sen Sok villages in Cambodia where Community First Initiatives work. It was amazing to see what they have accomplished --- constructed several wells to bring water to villages where there was no clean water before; introduced sanitation; built tanks to collect rain water; built irrigation systems to increase the yield from agriculture; and introduced a bio-digester to process manure and other organic materials on one end, and yield high-grade, all natural fertilizer on the other and also generate methane gas for cooking and lighting. This is a real transformation for these villages, and a transformation that is future-oriented and can be sustained by villagers themselves once all these innovations take root. To help create jobs, CFI also built a sewing center where local women manufacture mosquito nets and uniforms for companies in Thailand. Mosquito nets are a very important component of the CFI health program as they are the best way to prevent malaria.
What impressed me the most about this organization is their integrated vision for community development, their innovative approach and their ability to work with local communities and implement these innovations in partnership with community leaders and villagers. It is not an easy task. I have worked with and seen a number of American nonprofits working in Asia and not all of them are able to forge such a collaborative relationship and build trust and community support. Kudos to CFI. I am also quite impressed with how lean CFI’s operation is. Administration is minimal. Pierre, the CFI’s Executive Director is amazing. He is not only someone with a vision, drive, ability to build relationships and commitment, but also the type of person who goes out to the field and works alongside everybody else. CFI works in one of the poorest parts of the world, in villages where there was no water, no electricity, no sanitation, no health services, no jobs and helps them build a better future for themselves and their children. It’s definitely worth supporting.
Community First is an organization that is making a real difference in the lives of a very poor and neglected population. They have already brought fresh water to several villages and are working on developing small industry and food production in those same villages. They have a well thought out model which is based on the needs determined by those being served. More importantly, their model is scalable and repeatable in underdeveloped nations with desparate rural communities. I have the utmost respect for the people running CFI and their dedication to the cause.