VILLAGE Focus International entered Cambodia in 2003 with the aim of identifying and supporting key Cambodian leaders around whom it could build a country program.
Since then, Village Focus Cambodia (VFC), has become a local NGO in the Kingdom in its own right, having emerged out of VFI in 2007 and having been formally registered in 2009.
In the past few years, VFI has actively promoted the creation and empowerment of VFC, whose director, Dr Meas Nee, is reharded as one of the most visionary development leaders in Cambodia.
VFC’s mission is to empower community groups and leaders by linking them to the broader civil society, and by facilitating knowledge-sharing among groups.
VFI believes this is especially urgent in regard to indigenous land rights in northeast Cambodia, where VFC is a key player in developing and maintaining partnerships and identifying fledgling civil society leaders at the national level and in target communities.
It commits to local empowerment by focusing on strengthening village-level leadership, integrating street children into the community, empowering indigenous peoples to address their land rights, and supporting alternative livelihoods.
With the support of its international partner, VFC has carried out its development activities in six provinces: Battambang, Siem Reap, Banteay Meanchey, Phreah Vihea, Mondulkiri and Rattanakiri.
The schools they support are run by Empowering Youth Cambodia, a project of Village Focus Cambodia that is partly funded by VFI Cambodia.
VFI, while sharing an office and administrative staff with VFC, continue to focus on the water and sanitation sector (ECOSORN), as well as running the Angkor Wat Bike Race and Ride to support vulnerable young people in Phnom Penh and Battambang, in the western sector of the Kingdom.
In Laos, one of VFI’s successes has been the protection and empowerment of young people and the establishment of a shelter for trafficked survivors that houses 35 people.
Cambodia is poised to follow that lead. It is in the process of researching, planning and fund-raising to set up a safe house for women and children who are survivors of trafficking, exploitation and abuse.
Talia Smith is the project co-ordinator who came to Cambodia to head up the establishment of the safe house after working for 11 months in Laos, where the first VFI safe-house project was initiated.
Smith, who has worked on trafficking with other NGOs, says human trafficking in Cambodia is worse than in Laos.
She says that initially, VFC will provide a small safe house/shelter for about 15 live-in children, but will then move on to offering not only a safe and secure environment but counselling, basic health care, vocational training and a rehabilitation plan.
Schools are at the core of VFC’s project work in Cambodia.
The Young Bamboo Shoots School (YBSS) is a project that emerged from VFC’s fellowship program. It serves vulnerable children living in a slum area of Battambang, in northwestern Cambodia, and was started by Battambang University students during their participation in the fellowship program.
The YBSS, and other VFI-supported slum-school projects, provide scholarships to children of poor families, English, dance and computer classes, vocational skills training, health and nutrition services, and addresses the issue of child trafficking in vulnerable urban communities.
The school focuses on 125 children whose families live in a slum area near Battambang’s central railway station.
The Aziza School, in Tonle Bassac, has been providing free English lessons, leadership training, computers, life skills, and medical services since May, 2006.
The school provides classes and activities from morning until evening every day of the week, with Khmer nationals teaching all the classes. It aloso utilises Khmer and foreign volunteers.
Lakeside School, at Beoung Kok, opened in June, 2008. It offers all the NGO’s programs and has been run by a Youth Team Leader committee and funded by partner Camkids with support for extra-curricular activities from other donors.
The Boeung Kok Youth School, opened in October, 2009 is a grassroots effort to provide education and community organising in Boeung Kok’s Village 14.
Youth team leaders from the Lakeside School have been demonstrating their leadership skills to involve the community and share the skills they have acquired with a new group of young people in a neighbouring community.
VFC is continuing its aim as a vibrant, Phnom Penh-based NGO to help enable Cambodian people to create and maintain a sustainable Cambodian society, especially in remote rural communities.