Growing Up with Chev
For most 13-year-olds, growing up is a process of finding one’s place in their community. The structure, habits, roles and tradition established by forebears expand to make room for each new member, but generally, cycles continue largely unchanged.
In Chev’s 13 years growing up in a rural Cambodian community, however, her development has run parallel to her surroundings. For the first few years of her life, her family collected their supply of potable water from an uncovered, unfiltered communal well. The reliability of the water’s source was countered by the ongoing uncertainty of its safety – without the ability to filter out impurities, debris and water-borne pathogens, every sip carried some degree of risk.
As she and her two brothers grew and replaced the mysteries of youth with the security that comes with education, her parents and neighbors made the world around them safer and more prosperous through their own studies. With facilitation from Outreach field staff, members formed a community-led development group to identify the poverty-related issues they faced, prioritize their most-pressing concerns, then mobilize to address them through coordinated action. Neighborhood children joined their parents at meetings, watching plans become goals, and goals become triumphs.
Chev was there at the first meeting, when her parents played an active role in investigating sustainable solutions to permanently improve water quality for everyone in their community. She was there when the group identified bio-sand filters as a low-cost, reliable means of removing pathogens and detritus from their water. She watched as concrete was poured into molds for each apparatus, as they were installed at homes throughout her community, as sand was added to each, and when the first drops of clean water poured from each spout. She can remember when the filters were new and novel, and notice the contrast, now that they are a part of her daily life.
In subsequent community-led projects, Chev kept pace with her family as they moved from participants in, to architects of, community-led projects. Her mother was one of the local leaders who spearheaded a community-wide effort to increase their respective levels of household income through the manufacture and sales of small, decorative boxes, woven from palm leaves. The boxes, referred to locally as “handicrafts,” have virtually no upfront material costs, and are easily made by hands of all sizes, and make for appealing gifts for customers at markets in the nearby city of Phnom Penh. As community members increase their output and widen the range of sizes and styles, her mother and other local representatives gain more leverage to negotiate higher prices from vendors.
Prior to organizing through Outreach facilitation, changes in Chev’s community were isolated and rare by comparison. For her parents, collaborating on community-led projects meant challenging their own expectations for the future, and changing their mindsets to reach new, more ambitious goals. For Chev, the world she’s come to know is one of restless tenacity and boundless capacity, where the future grows brighter by the day.
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