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20 March 2014

Seeing for myself in Cambodia

Working across the world member organisation Tearfund helps bring relief to some of the poorest communities as well as responding to humanitarian disasters and providing emergency aid. I am privileged this week to be part of their bloggers' trip to Cambodia to see first-hand the role Tearfund play and how the support many UK Christians provide makes such a significant difference to the lives of many.

In Cambodia Tearfund work with local partner organisations to deliver programmes so that they keep the closest possible connection to the communities they are trying to assist. We're visiting communities working with International Cooperation Cambodia's (ICC) Village Integrated Development Programme which is supported by Tearfund, and the purpose of this trip is to raise the profile of the work and encourage more people to support it.

The process communities work through as part of this programme is grounded in the local church: a volunteer facilitator and the church pastor work with the church to develop a vision for their community, to dream about what life could be like if the problems that hinder them are overcome. Where this programme differs from many is that while the facilitator is supported and trained by ICC, they are not given any resources to solve the problems identified by the church and the community.

One of the first questions churches and communities are encouraged to ask is: what do you have? And, in the process of doing so overcoming the hurdle of thinking they have nothing, and are therefore in need of external help. Meeting communities needs is integral to the work. Today we visited a pair of villages where the church from one village asked the community from the next what they most wanted and the answer was better education. Seeing the school in action was phenomenal. On the front porch of a couple from the church's house were two classes. The children go to the local state school in the morning but parents were worried they were not getting a good education, so the church stepped in. Supported by the church this couple are serving their community.

In another village a lady has been able to set up a tailoring business from the financial investment of four families. This community has also come together to rear chickens and ducks, after learning an early lesson that fish didn't work too well in their particular climate.

When asked what the biggest challenges were in bringing the church and the community together around these projects one of the answers from the church pastor we spoke to was other aid organisations. The community were used to organisations coming in, asking what the needs were, and then doing what they could to solve the problem. But this did not create lasting and sustainable change. When asked what had changed as a result of the programme the local facilitator said that before when they needed something a charity gave it to them, but that now they work out how they can get it themselves.

The work that Tearfund are supporting in Cambodia is simple: it is working with churches to change their communities. It is effective; it is helping communities become self-reliant; and it is empowering because it refuses quick fixes.

You can follow the bloggers' trip at www.tearfund.org/bloggers and if you are able to, a gift of £3 a month would help Tearfund train up more facilitators and change more communities through the power of local churches.

Danny Webster is advocacy programme manager at the Evangelical Alliance, you can read more from his trip to Cambodia with Tearfund on his blog