Years ago, Sustainable Schools International adopted a vision for the rural village of Aoral: to facilitate the development of a resource center that was entirely run by the community and available to all of its members. This dream was spurred by the desire to establish greater quality of life and create communal access to necessary yet lacking resources. Sustainable Schools International was prompted to purchase a plot of land in the village, and we are pleased to say that, with a lot of hard work, significant progress has been made in the past several months; turning a vision into a refreshing reality.
A primary concern in rural Cambodia continues to be human resources; finding locals who possessed the skills required for community development, and in this case, to conquer the agricultural feat ahead. In 2017, Sokea, one of our many ambitious students, was the very first SSI graduate to obtain a bachelor's degree in agricultural. Moving beyond traditional education, Sokea traveled to Colorado to learn under the wing of Jessica Davis, Chair of the Department of Agriculture at CSU and longtime SSI supporter. He was also awarded an internship with CEDAC, an organization dedicated to the study and development of sustainable agriculture in Cambodia. His acquired knowledge and experience through both of these opportunities would prove to be paramount in the success of this project. With a diploma in hand, along with a burning desire to make a difference, Sokea returned to Aoral and immediately began the development of an Agricultural Demonstration Site at the Community Impact Hub (CIH).
With development underway, and the knowledgeable Sokea at the head of construction, the demonstration site is progressively taking shape. The project’s overall purpose is fourfold: to focus on sustainable practices that protect the fragile environment, implement innovative practices to increase crop yield, expand crop diversity in order to improve nutritional outcomes and teach local farmers how to deploy the afore mentioned practices. During its infancy, Sokea is experimenting with the capabilities of the environment, planting both tomatoes and eggplants, and raising chickens as a source of meat and eggs. This pilot yield is sold to the community, with a portion donated to SSI’s Leadership Academy; reducing cost of food and ensuring that students receive a nutritious and organic diet, while simultaneously supporting local agriculture.
While still in the pilot phase of the project, we are continuing to secure more relationships with vendors who will purchase and sell our produce in both Aoral and Phnom Penh, further developing the social enterprise portion of the farm for sustainability. These relationships will also prove beneficial for local farmers who will join a co-op model, thereby improving market access, increasing their income.
This development would not have been possible without the unconditional and generous support from Elder and Sister Thurston of the humanitarian division of LDS Cambodia. Elder Thurstons established water, sanitation, and hygiene resources at the Community Impact Hub; for that we are eternally grateful. In January of this year, we held a ceremony at the site, complete with monk blessings, to honor LDS for their contribution and dedicate the center to the Aoral community.
Moving forward, our goal is to equip more SSI students, like Sokea, with a greater understanding of agriculture and business so they can continue to sow seeds of change throughout Cambodia. What we have accomplished so far, and what we will accomplish in the future, can easily be attributed to our amazing donors and volunteers. Your support is the backbone of our success, and we are deeply appreciative of your belief in our students. If this project has touched you, please feel free to get involved, whether through donation or simply through encouragement. Also, if you have a background in agriculture or social enterprise development and want to make a sustainable impact please contact us here, we would love to connect!
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