Our Twist on “It Takes a Village”
Call it a ground swell, a surround effect, holistic development…pick your buzzword. But when a Cambodian government official pays a visit to offer a complement, rather than a new special “tax” just for you, you tend to pay attention.
Just about everyone would agree that it’s good to help vulnerable children…that part is easy to see. Over the last few years the organization that we’re partnering with has placed over 220 children in families. That’s real rescue, and long term care. In and of itself is cause to celebrate. 1, 2, 3…woot woot.
But there’s more…a community effect. There’s a famous African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Communities are where families interface with culture. They can have a compounding affect on the outcomes of a child, for better or for worse.
That’s why we can’t just focus on placing children in families, but must look beyond the families to their local communities.
It takes a village to see big changes
And this one community is special for a few reasons. First, of the 165+ families in the community, we’ve worked with over 35. Just to feed my nerd side, that’s 21.21%! In the photo below you can see how dense that is. Each one of those dots represents a child in a family….and that shot there is only 1.5 miles wide. We figured it be a good place to do an analysis on the Cambodian version of “it takes a village.”
As our staff walk alongside of these families, they’re not just helping with some basic financial support, but working towards real development. They help to instill the value of education and hygiene. They talk to families about the importance of their identity, and how to help kids heal from their past. There’s a lot going on.
The coolest part now is we’re starting to see what happens when you engage a critical mass of a community. Having over 20% of families in a community taking their child’s education seriously, caring about the cleanliness of their homes, wanting to make sure their kids receive healthy discipline–it rubs off.
Imagine the neighbours on both sides of you have a clean yard, you’ll feel some pressure to have a clean yard too. We’re seeing the same thing happen with education, hygiene, etc. That’s what the mayor noticed….and that’s what gets us really pumped.
After all, in a “saving face” culture, they don’t want to be the only ones on the block with a messy yard. They want their kids to do well in school like the ones next door, etc. It’s amazing how it’s been rubbing off. So much so, in fact, that even the local village “mayor” noticed. In a way he started to understand how it takes a village.
6 Reason “It takes a village” works.
We’re committed to this model of placing children in families, and working with families in the same communities. It’s not always possible to have such a high concentration of families, but when we can we know there are advantages.
1. Proximity to staff
When we have enough families in the same area, we can make sure there are at least a few staff members near by. That means less time traveling and more time spent with families and children. When our staff live nearby that means there are also formal and informal relationships. That means as our staff are “off hours” they still know what’s going on with the families and children in our programs.
2. Better Accountability
In Cambodian village life, people are involved in each others lives. It might be helping with a harvest, or hearing the music blasting from a wedding party. Like it or not, if you live in a village your life is on display in some way to your neighbors. That means that we have lots of eyes and ears in the community. And while no system is perfect in completely preventing abuse or other issues, this “community watch” system is a great step in providing a bigger safety net for children.
3. The “rub off” effect
Generally speaking, people want the best for their children and families. Often times, families are stuck in a rut because that’s all they know. When they see something other than the status quo modelled right in their own community by people who come from the same background, it can be very powerful. Not only are their neighbours dealing with the same issues as they are, but they’re actually seeing some results by implementing basic steps. This rub off effect can be a powerful behaviour change motivation.
4. Greater Community Involvement
Once people see change start happening in their own community they are more likely to get involved with the change themselves. We’ve seen this with recruiting families for foster care or kinship care. If there are already several others in a community doing foster care, then recruiting good families within the same community becomes a lot easier. The same is true for asking people to lend a helping hand with other needs in the community. It creates a different mood within the community.
5. “Stacking” Services
By locating our work close to each other we can bring in other orgs that focus in different areas. For instance, we can bring in an org that focuses on helping schools. We can show them that we’re already working with many families in the community and so their work will be multiplied by the work we’re already doing in side the homes. This means that not only our kids benefit, but also all the children in the community. The same can happen with hygiene projects. Once we arrived at a critical mass, it was easier to convince other orgs to come in and put in several latrine systems. With one trip and one area of focus, with follow up training by our staff they know their project can be more successful.
As you’ll often find with “simple” one-off projects like drilling a water well, the hard part is actually helping to change behaviours. With our ongoing work with families in the community, “it takes a village” can be a much more holistic way to change the way an entire community thinks and acts. This translates into better results for all the other services that come into an area.
6. Social Integration
One of the most important parts of helping children grown and develop comes from the development of their own identity. If they grow up thinking, “I’m an orphan.” They will carry that identity with them their entire lives which can affect their decisions, their school work etc. If on the other hand they are fully integrated and seen as just another person in the community, it leaves room for the to develop a more natural identity. This is where “it takes a village” can really help.
We’re not there yet for all of our projects. But as you can see by our map, we’re working in that direction. We’d love for all our cases to be grouped in communities of care so that we can more long-term change happen around the country!