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Sustainable community development

Photo: Dustin Barter/OxfamAUS

The village situation

Oxfam started work in the area around Chumrun village in 1997, when there were no other organisations working in area. It was challenging work – travel was arduous, sporadic fighting was still happening and many displaced communities were only just starting to rebuild. In Chumrun, the local irrigation system was destroyed and farmers could only grow one crop per year with minimal water management. Most people faced food shortages of six to nine months per year.

Starting work

There was a dire need for support in Chumrun, but what would be the best way to deliver sustainable change? Oxfam started with extensive consultations for the community to express what they needed and how it could be done. Eleven villages were involved, bringing together previously isolated communities, which started to improve their collective solidarity to create change. The communities indicated that repairing the dam and irrigation system was an urgent priority. This would allow them to improve their current rice yields through better water management and grow two crops per year. All the villages and Oxfam agreed to make it happen – no easy feat at the time.

Making sustainable change

Rehabilitating a dam and irrigation system is one thing, but making it sustainable is the real challenge. To enhance sustainability Oxfam set up a water user group. Group member, Heng Koap, explained the group to me;

“We manage the dam and canals. If there are any problems, we call a meeting with all people benefiting from the irrigation system. Villagers then help according to their capacity. We can also write to the District Council (local Government) for support… The project is successful because everyone shares responsibility and contributes time and rice (that can be sold) to maintain the system. The skills and knowledge we gained from Oxfam are shared with the rest of the village. There’s strong community spirit and everyone works together.”

Lasting change

Five years on since Oxfam finished working in Chumrun village and the irrigation system and group are still strong. Many people are now able to grow two rice crops per year, which has reduced food shortages and generated income to improve people’s livelihoods in other areas, like education. The sustainability of the project and the ever-growing community spirit are inspiring. With a bit of initial support, the Chumrun community is continuing to develop their village and have high hopes for the future.