Chim and her husband are rice farmers, living in a rural community in the northern region of Cambodia. She is the proud mother of two young children and is always anxious to learn everything she can to provide the best for her family. About a year ago, Chim began volunteering for ADRA as a Reflect Circle facilitator in ADRA Canada’s EMBRACE project. The things that she has learned have changed her life! Until recently the province that they lived in was very isolated. Roads in were difficult and the whole region was under-developed. Medical and educational facilities were very limited. Landmines from Cambodia’s civil war were still buried throughout the district.

About a year and a half ago, ADRA Canada launched the EMBRACE project in Chim’s village. EMBRACE is a four-year project that is teaching people living in remote communities new ways to live better, healthier lives. While the project was designed to work with women of reproductive age, as well as children five and under, EMBRACE is reaching out to everyone with new knowledge on living healthy, fulfilling lives.

Villagers are invited to join small groups called “Reflect Circles”. Under the guidance of a local facilitator, trained by ADRA the group discusses important topics such as health and nutrition, sanitation, parenting, gender roles, communication skills, and how they can work together to improve their community. The EMBRACE lesson plans cover all of the things that mothers should do to ensure the health of their babies from conception through year five. It encourages expectant mothers to go for prenatal checkups and plan to have their babies at birthing clinics.

Having finished grade 8, Chim was one of the most educated people in her village and was selected to be trained as one of the Reflect Circle facilitators for her community. For each lesson that she teaches, ADRA brings her, together with other representatives from surrounding villages, for intensive training on each topic in the EMBRACE lesson plan. Together they role play the discussions they small groups to practice how they will facilitate the group back in their home villages. They are then ready to go back to their villages to share the knowledge that they have gained. Under the supervision of a specialist from ADRA Cambodia, Chim practices her lesson with a group of her neighbors, before taking the lesson to other groups in her village.

Over many years of doing community-based learning with Reflect Circles, ADRA Cambodia has found that using this approach of training local people to become the small group facilitators, generates more participation from the local people. They are more likely to join a group that is led out by someone they know and trust from their village than if it was led out by a stranger from the city. It also helps them take the training to many more villages by using local volunteers rather than ADRA staff alone.

Chim has found her experience, working as a Reflect Circle Facilitator, life changing. She says:

“From my observation, I believe that the reflect circle approach is very effective. As we come together as women in the village, we are able to get to know each other better. As we share the struggles that each of us have, we become stronger. As we learn together, we all become more confident in everything that we do as mothers, as wives, as members of a community.

In the first lesson, we did an analysis of our village. We drew a map that marked out each house and building. We determined together which houses had latrines and wells. This helped us take stock of what we have as a village and gives us an idea of where we need to go.

In the second lesson was what is called, “Learning through Play”. It was all about parenting skills. This information was all very new to us. It was so helpful to learn how to become better parents!

The third lesson was all about hygiene and sanitation. How it is so important to good health to keep our bodies, our homes, our yards and our village clean. We learned about the importance of washing hands and boiling drinking water.

The fourth lesson was about nutrition and making sure that we prepare meals that draw from the three main food groups each day. Some of us had heard about food groups in the past, but we didn’t really know much about them or what foods were in each group or why it was important to have a balance. Now we know. As part of this training we encouraged each member to start a kitchen garden so they could have a convenient source of food for their meals.

One of the other really nice things about the EMBRACE project is the children’s group. While the mothers are busy in their reflect circle groups, their children are gathered together for their own group. They have stories, they learn songs and do activities that teach them about things like hygiene, handwashing, and sanitation. This not only helps the mothers focus on our material, it gives the children, some of whom are not able to go to school, the opportunity to learn important life lessons.

Even with just these first four lessons I have seen a lot of positive changes in my own family as well as our community. In my family we have focused a lot on having better hygiene and sanitation. We are much healthier now as a result. We have started our own kitchen garden for our daily food. I have noticed that people are boiling water for drinking. Everyone is now talking about getting a toilet built by their home.

The EMBRACE program will be running for two more years, so I am looking forward to learning many more good things in the upcoming units.

I would like to thank the donors, ADRA Canada and the Government of Canada who have supported this project and brought EMBRACE to our village. Thank you very much! I wish you a good life, a healthy, long, prosperous life. Please remember us here in Cambodia and keep helping us with these projects!”