Danmission has had a presence in Cambodia since 1993, working with Christian churches on religious dialogue and strengthening people's abilities to become self-sufficient and to have increased access to basic public services.
In close cooperation with our partners in Cambodia, it is our goal to empower the least-served communities, poor and very poor families, to produce sufficient food and secure incomes sufficient to meet their own needs and for the inhabitants to experience improved physical and spiritual well-being. Through our work we want marginalised and vulnerable groups to increase and diversify their income sources, increasingly using their rights to participate in the development of society, including expressing themselves, improving their access to natural resources in a peaceful manner, and for local authorities to be more responsive to the situations of all citizens.
Danmission has made a strategic choice to engage with various sectors of Cambodian civil society: NGOs, movements and networks. Interaction and cooperation between these sectors is limited, hampering efforts to build a strong and viable civil society. Danmission is thus making efforts to bring these sectors together with a view to creating synergy and undertaking joint initiatives where possible. Civil society is generally viewed as weak and fragmented, limiting their efforts to, inter alia, hold the government to account. Danmission therefore wants to encourage activities to strengthen, among other things, the legitimacy and leverage of civil society actors.
Danmission’s project activities are implemented in a political environment in which the government has almost complete control over the legislative, executive and judicial powers, leaving very limited room for individuals or groups of individuals to express themselves.
Danmission’s six poverty reduction partners (local partner organisations) in Cambodia have established a common learning forum where they meet twice a year to exchange experiences and learning, create joint initiatives and acquire new knowledge. The learning forum is led by a committee elected by the six partners, and Danmission’s role is primarily to provide financial and logistical support. The six partners have decided to launch a joint project in fishing communities in southern Cambodia. Danida has previously been active in this area with a shore protection project but parts of the coast have now been given as a concession to a private company, which has had a number of negative consequences for the communities involved, including declining incomes from fishing. This cooperation marks the first time Danmission and its six poverty partners have implemented a joint project.
Danmission’s poverty reduction programme in Cambodia is based on the following components with the aim of reducing poverty and strengthening civil society:
Along with our local partners, Danmission is working to strengthen the relatively new Christian Church in Cambodia by training the staff, supporting Bible schools, and supporting dialogue and conflict management between Buddhists, Muslims and Christians.
As result of Danmission’s presence in the 1990s, Abundant Life Church (ALC) was founded in 2001. Danmission supports ALC through a twinning relationship with Abildgaard church in Denmark, and donations from Abildgaard are used to build the capacity of the church leadership and its members and to cover some of the costs of the church’s outreach programme. ALC is reaching out to 18 of its neighbouring communes and, in cooperation with other partners, has been able to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ and offer medical services to areas beyond the borders of Preah Sdach. ALC remains the only church in the district which is another reason why its presence is much needed.
The CLO project was founded in January 2010 by Anne Mette Jürgensen and is now an organisation governed by a local board that has employed a local director. Since its founding, CLO has strived to enhance the skills of Bible school alumni. CLO’s target group consists of those Bible school alumni who are working as pastors and church leaders in any of the five focus provinces of CLO’s programme. The training programme is conducted through workshops in which the participants have a chance to work together and discuss the many challenges they encounter.
For the last couple of years, CLO has been working to address three main topics:
In many ways “church planting” has been the key word when describing the development of the church in Cambodia since the early 1990s. Many churches have been established since the Cambodian people have been given the freedom to once again gather and worship together, and so there has been a great deal of “planting” although not so much “planning”. One of the major issues is the lack of proper and sufficient education and training of pastors and church leaders given their responsibilities and CLO is therefore running workshops that focus on organising and developing the local churches.
The focus on doing ministry with the family is also much needed in Cambodia, one dominant reason being the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime, which left many families reduced and deeply scarred. The Family Ministry is targeting Christian families, as communication between husband and wife is often difficult and an awareness of Christian family values almost non-existent. Violence, verbal or physical, is widespread in Cambodia and among Christian families, too, this tends to be the way to handle conflicts. As one pastor put it: “They never learned other ways to communicate”. The tools for fruitful communication that our Family Ministry provides through its workshops and the awareness of family dynamics that is instilled in the participants are important and effective in order to protect and nurture Cambodia’s families – the future of the country.
Religious peacebuilding is targeting the communities in order to build up peace between the different religious groups, mainly Buddhists, Christians and Muslims. We seldom hear about physical violence between different religious groups in Cambodia but tensions are strong in many families and communities, and the potential for violence is definitely there. Instead of religious conflicts, we would like to see religious people contributing to the development of their community together. CLO is trying to facilitate this development, among other things, through workshops on religious peacebuilding.
Cambodia is developing financially but there is still a long way to go among some sectors of society and many social issues to fight for. It is Danmission’s experience that the church could play a much more active and significant role and raise its voice when injustice takes place. One issue among many others that affect the lives of many Cambodians is the illegal logging of vast forest areas. Many activists are trying to fight corruption and illegal logging in order to preserve the forest and protect the livelihoods of poor people, plus the negative effects of illegal logging also affect the church. This is why there is a need for the church to organise and create a network to fight social injustice in order also to help its members to fight the root causes of poverty.
Danmission is piloting the Church & Society project with the intention of mapping church-related social activities and helping to coordinate and give the church in Cambodia a voice so that it can hopefully cooperate with other social partners to lift its local community out of the poor conditions and hardships that many find themselves in in today’s Cambodia.