This mill is helping support livelihoods in the area by enabling the community to process better quality rice at a cheaper rate. Photo by Khaing Min Htoo, World Vision
Before coming on board as CEO, I was aware, as a World Vision sponsor, that too many children lived in poverty, without access to essentials like safe water, education, and good health and nutrition: things we take for granted.
But it wasn’t until I visited the field that I truly grasped just how profoundly transformational our work is for so many people and their communities.
My trip to Myanmar, formally known as Burma, was the perfect induction to the World Vision way of working: the effort and resources we pour into building the trust, skills and resilience of individuals and their communities, empowering them to be the change makers that can transform their lives and those of others.
Our first stop was to the community of Loikaw, where we have been working for the past seven years. Visiting a rice mill funded by our Australian supporters, it was great to see how the new mill enables the community to process better quality rice more cheaply both for their own consumption and to sell for more profit. A community-based organisation which we helped establish runs and manages the mill. They have organised the community to provide the labour to run it, the land and a building to house it. The Loikaw community-based organisation is now investing funds generated by the mill back into community health and education programs, as well as making small loans available to community members.
Community development is at the core of World Vision’s work. World Vision operates a long term community development model, which means we work closely with local the communities to help them identify their areas of highest need and design a long term program to address these in a sustainable way. These are the programs that are funded through child sponsorship, that ensure that children have access to healthcare, clean water and education.
Over the course of my trip, I was blown away by how effective this model is. By working with local partners and community-based organisations we are able to build ownership into these Area Development Programs from the start. This, in turn, creates long-term sustainability when the time comes for us to withdraw, having watched the community leaders proudly grow their responsibility, guidance and ownership of their resources. It’s simple and powerful.
I witnessed another impressive example of our community development when I met with the farmers at a nearby seed bank. Thanks to the generous support of so many Australians their bank has 1,500 deposits – enough to cover a disaster and for farmers to draw upon at the beginning of each season to start their crops. The bank’s seed stock is now able to be maintained by the farmers themselves who redeposit seeds at harvest time.
In the same community, a child-care centre funded with Australian Aid allows parents, especially mothers, to farm during the day while their children are fed nutritious meals and begin their education.
There’s nothing like seeing things with your own eyes. Our community development partnerships create the greatest impact to benefit all children and their families in the community. (It also prevents any sense of injustice that might arise if funds were given to individuals rather than communities.)
My next field visit will be Sri Lanka, where we are running a pilot project called ARISE. This is the next stage on from micro-financing, providing finance to successful entrepreneurs who don’t have the collateral or credit history to access finance through mainstream banks. This allows them to become larger enterprises providing much needed employment in their communities. As a banker, I am excited about the possibilities of ARISE and look forward to seeing how it works on the ground.
Our long-term goal is to ensure the ongoing well-being of 20 million children by 2021. We know the most effective way to change children’s lives is to change their world – their family, their community, and the local area.
And we know that real transformation happens – and lasts – when communities are empowered to change their own circumstances. And then to sustain and build on that change. I am excited to be a part of this.