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Friday, March 1, 2013

Cambodia: The Health Fund for a Healing Society

Poverty doesn’t end when you merely enrich or enable the individual. An organized and interdependent community is the best hope against chronic need.

Cambodians had their strong sense of community perverted and destroyed by the Khmer Rouge era. People in this country want for many things, but trust in one another is the lack that possibly cuts deepest. When we see our work in Cambodia begin to repair these social bonds, we are truly encouraged.

The Health Fund our partnering families have created is a wonderful testament to the power of interdependence. Pech Van, a 57-year old widow from the village of Prey Omal, knows its power first-hand. Pech is not an abjectly poor woman; she has a good home garden and a chicken-raising business. But in the past when her family members fell sick, she felt the brunt of a different kind of poverty, a more pervasive kind: she lived in a village without a ‘safety net’. If her family members became sick at a time when she couldn’t sell chickens or harvest her garden, she had no means for paying doctors. In other words, she had no health insurance and no place to get any.

In May 2008, Pech joined one of HOPE International Development Agency’s new village health funds. Every month, Pech started paying 25 cents into the fund, along with almost 100 other families in her village; HOPE added money to this fund as well. From these pooled funds, the village health fund gives no-interest loans to fund contributors to pay for healthcare expenses. This has been a lifesaver for Pech’s family. In January 2009, Pech borrowed $40 to treat her mother for typhoid. She was able to pay this back in April, as soon as she harvested her vegetable crop. In August 2009, Pech again borrowed money from the fund - this time, she borrowed $50 to bring her young grandson, who had dengue, to the hospital. And again, Pech was able to pay back the loan within a few months with money from her home garden and chicken raising business. Since then, Pech has again borrowed and repaid money, and plans to do so in the future.

The Health Fund is an indication of a village that is confidently organizing itself. This is beyond good news for a place where in former decades neighbors were killing each other. There is trust in these communities, and a growing sense that they can move forward together.

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