Community development takes many years of work before you start seeing its fruits. We sometimes become discouraged at the slow pace of change, especially when working in remote and challenging contexts. The continued success of villages like those in FRB's Laos Xieng Khouang program gives us hope that our approach works in the long run.
In the 80s, ZOA, a Dutch relief organization, began working with Laotian villagers who were returning to barren lands after the Vietnam war to rebuild their lives. ZOA’s focus was livelihoods. The program at that time included building a large dam to irrigate new rice paddies for over 100 families, planting pines for firewood, and setting up savings-and-loan funds to support raising animals for food. World Relief (WR) started partnering with ZOA after 1997 as part of a transition toward long-term development, and began receiving FRB support in 2009.
A recent village exchange between leaders of former and current program communities demonstrated that all continue to enjoy the long-term results of “seeds” planted almost twenty years ago. During the exchange, the basic question for the original communities was, “How have you continued development activities on your own?” They said two elements have contributed to their sustainable development: capable leadership and community cohesion. The savings-and-loan funds begun a decade ago are still growing, village leadership rotates and remains strong, and community togetherness is high.
The former and current communities shared uplifting stories. One village’s revolving fund had about $800 at the end of the ZOA/WR project in 2004, and has grown to about $2200 today. With loans from their fund, villagers have expanded fish production into a community business that brings in several hundred dollars per household. Village leaders make sure poorer families also have their own fish ponds by encouraging them to take out loans to dig them. Average income per capita in this village is 50% above the poverty line.
In another village, community leaders who aren’t paid a salary by the government receive a small rice allowance collected from every household to demonstrate their appreciation for their work. They agree that community development has lasting results.
by James Zwier, World Renew
Laos Xieng Khouang encompasses 29 communities, 1408 households and 9390 individuals.