It is easy to get overwhelmed when visiting Cambodia. Although the country has developed substantially over the past few years, there are still many people living below the poverty line, or just above it. That is where grassroots charities come in. Whether they provide university scholarships, food support, education or microfinance loans, they all claim to make a difference.
There are a few grassroots charities that stand high above the rest, and one of them is Human and Hope Association in Siem Reap. Their aim is to ’empower Cambodians to create sustainable futures for themselves’, and do so through implementing projects at their community centre focusing on education, vocational training and community support. If you wanted to make a difference in the lives of Cambodians, THIS is who you should support. Here is why.
1. It is run by locals, for locals
That’s right, Human and Hope Association is entirely run by a local Cambodian team. The staff members are committed to developing their community, and are able to do so in a culturally appropriate way. Some of the staff are founding members of the organisation, who have progressed from English teaching volunteers to members of management. Others are former sewing students, who are now teaching sewing themselves, knowing exactly what challenges their students are facing.
You will rarely see an organisation in Cambodia that is entirely run by a local team, and Human and Hope Association has paved the way for other NGO’s to see that having a local team is the most sustainable approach.
2. They don’t just rely on handouts
Sourcing donations is hard. Earning your own income is even more difficult. However, that is what Human and Hope Association does. They know that it isn’t sustainable to only rely on donations, and that is why they do what they can to generate an income of their own, all from their community centre! They have a sewing business, with gorgeous handicrafts being sold at shops in Cambodia and online in Australia. They also have a farm, growing chemical-free vegetables for sale and to use in staff lunches. The clothes made by their sewing students in their lessons are sold back to the students at cost price. Their sewing machine microfinance loans generate a small profit and have a 100% repayment rate.
Not only this, Human and Hope Association is passionate about not giving handouts to their community, either. Everything is done with empowerment in mind. The students in their sewing program receive a stipend of rice or vegetables every day, and are responsible for taking care of the vegetable farm themselves. The participants in their family farm program must repay the cost of seeds and tools they use. The students in the English program pay 50 cents tuition a month, to encourage their parents to be responsible for their students education, and to ensure the students are accountable for coming to class. There are so many other ways that Human and Hope Association invests in their community as opposed to providing direct aid, though I would be here all day if I was to write about them.
3. They support whole families, not just individuals
Human and Hope Association believes that for their change to make a lasting impact, whole families must be involved. Often you will find that a woman in their sewing program will also have a child in the preschool program and another child in their English and Khmer language programs. Their husbands will also attend ‘family happiness’ workshops or participate in the family farm program.
4. They are focused on outcomes, not outputs
It is easy to achieve outputs. What is NOT easy is achieving outcomes. Sure, Human and Hope Association could educate 250 children instead of the 150 children they currently do, but that would involve cramming a lot more children into classes, affecting the standard of teaching. This would then affect the outcomes of how much students are learning. Instead, Human and Hope Association only allows a maximum of six students in sewing, 11 students in preschool, 18 students in language classes so that each student receives the support they deserve. In 2016 they retained ALL of their sewing students, all their preschool students graduated and made the transition to public school, and 88% of students in their language programs were able to move up to the next level.
5. They are invested in their staff
Every Sunday the team at Human and Hope Association participate in workshops, where they learn a wide variety of topics such as first aid, leadership and management, teamwork and financial management. These workshops are taught by the team themselves, their governing board members and professional Khmer volunteers.
In addition to this, several staff members have been supported with university scholarships, with the first scholarship student due to graduate in late 2017. They also have a yearly budget for staff development, with each staff member able to undertake training with external organisations. They then take the information they have learnt to run workshops for their team!
Human and Hope Association believes in investing in their staff as much as they do the community, and it has paid off.