Heading to this small village in Cambodia was not originally on the itinerary…but when the local government told us how drastically the Agricultural Cooperative (AC) program we’d funded through World Vision had changed one man’s life, we were intrigued to meet this person and hear his story.
As we pulled up at a wooden shack suspended by stilts eight feet off the ground, we were greeted by his daughters, his wife and a few of his grandchildren. They kindly invited us to sit down at their dinner table in the shaded area beneath their home.
A few brief moments passed before a man appeared from the house. This was Mr Kem Voun. The man we had travelled to meet.
Slowly making his way down the lone staircase we could see that he had just woken up from an afternoon nap.
As he greeted us and sat down, we were struck by this steely eyed and somewhat serious demeanour. Though what took us by surprise was how this seemingly reserved man so honestly and openly began to unfold his life’s story…
“I wanted to tell you what was happening before. My family was in poverty, I lacked many things. I am 55 years old, I have 7 members in my family. For me myself, I am disabled, I was involved in the war. I lost my leg in 1987 so I depended on the locals and neighbourhood to survive.
I was disappointed in myself. I had a small hope because my children were small during that time. I was hopeless but I still worked hard. Because I have children, I have to work hard…
Sometimes they came back from school to help me in the field. Because of this, my children could not study well. And they dropped out of school early.
Food was ok, it was not much. The whole family just ate whatever we had in order to fill our stomachs.
Before I had a toilet, the family went to the jungle to do their business, so we got sick; fever, malaria, and diarrhoea.”
It was at this point Mr Voun got up and led us on a walk through his farm and around his property sharing the changes his family had experienced since joining the AC community — stopping on occasion to show us the longan trees he’d produced and the irrigation systems he had in place.
“We joined the AC community in 2011 and the whole family is getting better.
Our health is fine. We do not get sick easily. My children can go to secondary school. I have a home, I have a shelter, it is not big but it is suitable for the family."
The AC program focuses on increasing the food security of the community by educating rural farmers on techniques to improve agricultural yields. Farmers are taught about choosing the right crops to plant, using fertilisers, and irrigation systems. The learning is conducted in ‘co-operatives’ (groups), which are self-formed and self-represented by farmers from different villages.
Through the program Mr Voun also learnt how to harvest export-quality fruit and vegetables and was provided a low-interest loan to purchase the necessary tools and equipment. This provided him with the opportunity to increase his family’s livelihood ensuring food security for his family. Beyond knowledge and access to financial resources, the most exciting outcome of this program was that Mr Voun had a real sense of ownership over his future.
“I have learned a lot. I got all the knowledge from the AC community and I started to practice it. And at the end I got the results. I feel confident, because all of the crops are my own. I think because I have a role in the AC community I feel hopeful. I called other people to join, the AC community does not discriminate. They include everyone, disabled or able bodied.”
We headed back to the house and shared a moment of soccer with his nieces and grandkids. Mr Voun, seemingly stern and steely eyed at the start, smiled and laughed while he held his 9-month-old grandson and watched on from the shaded area beneath his home.
We walked away feeling inspired by Mr Kem Voun and his legacy. This was a man who had weathered the hardships of life; a man who had stories…and who fought for the security and freedom of future generations.
Photography by Kim Cartmell.