by Katherine Parker
One visitor to Phnom Penh described it as a giant box store, because shops for certain items seem to be clustered in districts rather that spread out over the whole city. If I want to buy a sewing machine, I go to street 210; new shock absorbers for a motorcycle are at the corner of street 144. The business model seems to be “if my neighbor has a good business I should open an identical one.” When CHAD first started implementing development projects in Cambodia, this same principle seemed to apply. Everyone caught the idea that cow groups were a great project, and now we have 33 groups raising cows!
Two years after CHAD got started, the Methodist Church in Cambodia started a huge process of merging together the many members of our Methodist family into one church, and we started working with more pastors, many who were new to the ideas of church-based community development. We continued on, but took a few steps back in terms of leadership development as the CHAD program staff took on more of the responsibility of receiving project proposals and approving funding. But this was never our desire.
Last year, Ken Cruz (missionary from The Philippines) took over the chairmanship of the SCC committee and started the process of empowering the pastor representatives from all the Methodist districts that make up the SCC to make decisions for which projects will get new funding from the CHAD program. Initially, we were faced with the problem that most of the members of the SCC didn’t have a framework for making decisions about what makes a good development project. We offered opportunities for dialogue and challenged the group by prompting them with questions they should ask about a proposal. We also supported several pastors (under the initiative of Pastor Saron) and lay leaders to attend training on community development with our partner ICC-SPPA (International Cooperation Cambodia – Skills Promotion for Poverty Alleviation). And, then the big day came for reviewing the project proposals and allocating the funds that had been donated by our partner churches in the USA, Finland and Japan.
What was the impact of this year of training?
Ken reflected on the changes he saw in Pastor Saron and other SCC members. “A highlight has been the transformation of the SCC members into the owners of the process. This is demonstrated by their improved understanding of the process.
“I think one impact of the ICC-SPPA training that Pastor Saron and others attended is that they increased their understanding of development philosophy, such that they can have better judgment about what kind of project deserves to get support from CHAD. They can also deliberate more intelligently and make an informed decision to determine how much and what kind of funds they will approve. Pastor Saron encouraged the group to think about how the proposal dealt with community participation in the project. How many people would this impact? Did it reach out beyond just the church members? Was the project transparent to the larger community? He also challenged the group to think about the responsibility of the church to contribute. Did all of the funds need to come from CHAD? What was the group ownership in the project as demonstrated by the group's contribution? He also challenged the group to assess the management capacity of the group? Were there structures in place to handle the proposed project? Did the group have the ability to follow through with the project?
Up until now it had been the CHAD staff that raised these concepts of development and encouraged the SCC members to deliberate on them. But, at this meeting, it was Pastors Sarun and Phalla who were raising the issues and challenging their fellow pastors. It is not a fast process, but the signs of transformation are all around us as the Methodist Mission in Cambodia works to develop principled Christian leaders for the church and the world.