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Economic Development Program....
Once Trailblazer has helped our village partners secure abundant clean water and sufficient nutritious food (through our Health and Food Security programs), the next step for our adult constituents along the progression from “survival to sustainability” is to support them in establishing livelihoods – jobs, a source of income.
A little more than one third (38%) of Cambodia’s approximately 15 million citizens continue to live below The World Bank designated “international poverty line” of USD $1.90/day. In Cambodia’s Siem Reap province, where Trailblazer focuses its efforts, and one of the three poorest provinces in Cambodia, 45% of the people live in poverty. The average wage of rural villagers in Siem Reap province is less than USD 25¢ a day, or less than USD $2 a week. However, it is important to remember that, when discussing the average income, we need to differentiate between those people living in the town of Siem Reap, and Trailblazer’s constituents who live in the villages outside of town.
One of the great ironies about life in Siem Reap province is that, while more than two million tourists travel through Siem Reap town each year to experience Angkor Wat, very little of that economic influx makes its way into the nearby rural villages. Without some sort of technical and financial support, these rural communities cannot develop beyond a level of subsistence, and remain in a state of poverty where they struggle to merely survival.
To address this issue, Trailblazer supports our partner villages in managing their own local “Village Fund” micro-finance programs. Through this effort, we provide technical and financial guidance for villagers who wish to start or expand a new small-scale business, or turn a craft into an income.
Strengthening and Expanding Our Village Funds
One of the greatest challenges to economic development is access to capital, even small amounts of funding. To address this, Trailblazer helps rural communities establish a Village Fund, an innovative approach to microfinance that enables villagers to get the capital they need to start or grow a business. Loans are given to villagers to support such enterprises as buying livestock, or fertilizers for their crops, securing medical care, starting a small business, or purchasing a motorbike or bicycle so they can have better access to work and school.
Since Trailblazer was founded twelve years ago, we have helped launch 24 Village Funds. Each Village Fund is owned and managed by that village, and makes loans to both savings groups and individuals within the village. Trailblazer Foundation’s role is to encourage and mentor our partner villages in developing their fund. Additionally, Trailblazer requires that each villager who receives our assistance in other areas (wells, water filters, latrines, etc.) make a small contribution to the Fund – thereby ensuring our work helps provide the capital for these Funds (instead of Trailblazer providing the capital).
Each year, Trailblazer provides trainings to communities who either  want to start a new Village Fund, or  need further training on how to manage their existing fund. In 2017, we will provide capacity building training to each of the twenty-four Villages Funds we have helped launch. These trainings will address overall fund management, loan management, and transaction management. Additionally, we plan to introduce the Village Fund concept to twenty-one villages. We expect that four to nine of these villages will decide to establish a Village Fund. Villages with whom Trailblazer is already working will be more likely to establish a new fund, because – as explained above – they can use payments for Trailblazer’s products and services to build up the new fund’s cash reserves.
Trailblazer distributed twenty-one sewing machines to graduates of a six-month training, hosted by the local Women’s Development Center; which were paid for by our supporters, those people who earlier this year participated in our first ever raffle. Trailblazer is pleased to pay that support forward to these twenty-one graduates, each of whom can now make a living with their new sewing skills and machines.
Earlier in 2017 we launched a Farmers Community Group pilot project. The project is designed to support village farmers as they grow crops to sell at higher end markets in nearby Siem Reap City. During the first year, we were reminded of a truth about humans - that change can be both exciting and unsettling. Some farmers decided they didn’t want to diversify their crops. Yet, a few were happy to expand their selection of crops. These are the farmers Trailblazer will continue to work with in 2018, with the belief that once other farmers see the success these committed farmers are having, some – or even many – will want to adopt these practices and diversify their crops.