Village Focus Cambodia works in six provinces in Cambodia and provides education and activities in many schools.
AMONG the many thousands of non-profit, non-governmental and charity organisations working in all facets of life in Southeast Asian countries, there are some that stand out in their mission, vision and achievements, and the depth of their ever-increasing involvement and commitment in programs, projects, financial input and personnel.
Village Focus International (VFI) is such an organisation.
In 2000, VFI became the first international organisation to be founded in Laos, and it began working in Cambodia in 2003.
VFI’s annual budget has grown from $US125,000 in 2000 to more than two million dollars today.
It now has close to 80 staff members serving about 200 vill-ages and about 50,000 people – a dramatic increase from 15 villages and about 4000 people in 2000.
Despite this growth, VFI has remained true to its founding spirit: to emphasise local leadership, decision-making and project ownership in both Laos and Cambodia.
There are three powerful words that define and encapsulate Village Focus International’s mission: protect, educate, empower.
It focuses on anti-trafficking and child protection; integrated village development (education, health and food security); and land and natural resource rights, with a commitment to working with, and serving, the poorest, most vulnerable people of Laos and Cambodia.
VFI invests in local leaders to achieve this, believing well-trained, dynamic and motivated Lao and Cambodian leaders must lead the way because of their unique commitment to the long-term wellbeing of their own communities, knowing their own needs and priorities, and understanding the most effective strategies to achieve them.
It is committed to strengthening the capacity of poor and marginalised rural communities as well as local NGOs in Southeast Asia and works with rural communities whose needs are greatest and whose assistance is the lowest.
VFI believes a strong, empowered people, with the capacity to plan, implement and manage their own lives, should be the foundation of all development work.
To this end, it provides training and education in sectors identified by the community, including health care, sustainable agriculture and natural-resource management, all with a special emphasis on the participation and protection of women and children.
Although VFI does build schools, conduct health-care training sessions, dig wells and support other tangible activities in every village in which it operates, it says that improving quality of life for the long term can be accomplished only if local people have the skills to lead and maintain their own development initiatives.
VFI began working in Cambodia by providing technical expertise to the Royal Government of Cambodia and NGOs on the drafting and public negotiations of reform to natural-resource legislation, and in 2003 opened a Cambodia country office in order to work more closely with local partner NGOs.
In one of its major Cambodian projects, recently completed after more than two years, VFI became involved in the European Union- supported ECOSORN program: Economic and Social Relaunch in Northwest provinces of Cambodia.
The 1.6 million euro project in Cambodia’s remote villages included VFI’s involvement in the construction of water supply and sanitation facilities.
During the life of the ECOSORN project, VFI produced a village water and sanitation implementation plan for 78 target villages and introduced innovative technologies to implement it.
By the time the project was completed, more than 6,000 very poor families had access to sanitation infrastructure and nearly 5,000 families had access to water supply.
The Lao program focuses on poor, vulnerable and minority marginalised communities in the remote southern uplands.
VFI Laos has three core program areas: Healthy Village and Local Leadership, which is an integrated development initiative focusing on local leadership; Land and Livelihoods, which focuses on land rights and natural-resource management; and Protection and Empowerment of Women and Children (PEWC), which includes building shelters.
Its highly successful safe-house project is in the process of being duplicated in Phnom Penh.