At ACCI Missions and Relief we believe in the transformation of men, women and children through our Village Life Community Transformation program. We work to address broad issues that affect whole communities, such as limited access to water, educational opportunities and healthcare. We achieve this by empowering local people to be active agents of change in their own lives. ACCI projects work alongside local community members as they self determine their own development goals and plans. 

Through ACCI’s Village Life program in Cambodia, rural villages are being transformed as communities establish a wide range of community-led initiatives. In many instances this includes the establishment of fish ponds and permaculture gardens, digging of wells, community pre-schools and daycare programs, health education programs and adult literacy classes. These activities address issues such as wide-spread food insecurity and lack of income and aim to break the cycle of poverty and marginalisation. 

"When one is poor, she has no say in public, she feels inferior. She has no food, so there is famine in her house; no clothing, and no progress in her family." - Uganda[1] 

"[The poor have] a feeling of powerlessness and an inability to make themselves heard." - Camaroon[2] 

"For a poor person everything is terrible - illness, humiliation, shame. we are cripples; we are afraid of everything; we depend on everyone. No one needs us. We are like garbage that everyone wants to get rid of." - Moldova[3] 

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Poverty and dis-empowerment

The more you listen to the experiences of those living in poverty, the clearer it becomes that poverty is not just about the absence of material wealth and economic opportunity - it is largely about access to power. Power to make decisions that affect your life, power to change your circumstances, power to assert your claim to equality and basic human rights.

Dis-empowerment is one of the most defining characteristics of entrenched poverty. Over an extended period of time, the experience of inequality and oppression is often internalised, and fatalism and low self worth can result. This can serve to further entrench poverty, and an ongoing cycle is created.

To alleviate it we must go beyond addressing material classifications of poverty and address the full experience of poverty, which is both physical and psycho-social. It is not just about the individual, but about the systems and structures in which people live. We must empower local people, recognise their worth and equality and allow them opportunities to participate in decision making and hold power over the development process itself.

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ACCI's Village Life Program

To achieve this ACCIR developed the Village Life program, which at its core seeks to empower local communities to take control over the course and nature of their own development. Village Life projects have no set programs or development agendas because this is up to each community to determine collectively.

So how does it work in practice? Once relationships are established in a community, ACCI field workers partner alongside local people to build consensus on their vision and hopes for their future. Based off this, we then facilitate community planning where local people map out solutions and develop strategies. We assist the community to meet any gaps in the resources, skills or the networks they need to outwork their plans. As they implement, we provide encouragement and assistance along the way. And as they progress and accomplish their goals, we applaud and celebrate what the community has achieved- for these are their accomplishments, not ours.

The combined impact is empowered local people with an increased self- worth and capacity, the ability to work collectively for a common goal and tangible results such as increased access to clean water, income generation, education, health care, food security and literacy skills. 

Church Partnerships

And what about the role of the church in Australia in this process? Importantly, a church who decides to partner with the Village Life program acknowledges that worthwhile development is a long-term process, and requires a long- term commitment. A friendship and partnership develops over time, with support available without predetermined outcomes set by those who are not community or village members. In this way, communities are supported and empowered to improve their own futures. Long term, significant and holistic change can be initiated. Dependencies are avoided, and positive partnerships created.

Village Life is currently being run in numerous communities in Cambodia and Vietnam with programs soon to be established in other countries including India, Sri Lanka and Uganda. 

 


[1] As quoted in Deepa Narayan with Raj Patel, Kai Schafft, Anne Rademacher, Sarah Kock-Shulte, Voices of the Poor: Can Anyone Hear Us? (New York: Oxford University Press for the World Bank, 2000, 38).  [2] Ibid., 39.  [3] Ibid., 65.