Saturday, January 8, 2011

UMCOR helps Social Concerns Committee respond to drought

by Katherine Parker
On January 6 and 7th we had a meeting of the Social Concerns Committee (SCC) where Rev. (Mr.) Pho Phala is the new chair (last year missionary Ken Cruz was the chairperson). This is another exciting area of increased Cambodian leadership.

The Social Concerns Committee was awarded a grant from UMCOR this winter in order to respond to anticipated food insecurities in the coming year due to drought during the 2010 rice growing season. As I have been conversing with various congregations it is apparent that this is a real concern since there has been a decreased harvest this December, in some cases 50% of the previous year yield. This is due in large part because of the variability in the rain we had last year. Some rains came early but then they stopped and so many seedlings died before they could be transplanted and heavy rains came very late in the growing season when it is typically time for the grains to be ripening. As you know from my other writing and sharing, food insecurity is already a problem in Cambodia and many families are not normally able to produce enough rice to eat for the year so the end up borrowing rice at exorbitant rates (50%-100% interest).

The Social Concerns Committee plans to use the UMCOR grant for three purposes, one is to provide rice-aid to highly vulnerable families who face severe shortfalls this year, a second is to provide rice-seed to farmers that suffered significant loss the previous year and would benefit from access to improved varieties and the other is to start about 100 new rice-banks (at about one-ton each rather than our typical three-tons), which will double the amount of rice available through rice-banks for low-interest community loans in the communities where the Methodist Mission Cambodia is working.

It is a big job for the pastors of the Social Concerns Committee to set up all of these and I have continued to meet with pastors in the districts where I am working to coach them and discuss the details of how we can quickly achieve this plan. One of the challenges to this kind of work is that the pastors will need to travel to visit communities in order to facilitate the planning meetings to initiate the new rice-banks. There are funds in the UMCOR grant to support travel to the initial meeting (about 100 meetings conducted by 18 different pastors over the next 3 months), but I am worried that there will be insufficient funds left for the pastors to travel to visit the rice-banks for the 6 month and 1 year monitoring visits, so there is a need to raise additional travel funds to support the pastors of the SCC to monitor the new rice banks. The next SCC meeting will be on February 3rd.

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