Thursday, April 24, 2008

Women with Disabilities Forum in Samoa

Women with disabilities often face double discrimination, because they are women and because they have disabilities. The first ever Women with Disabilities Forum took place in Apia, Samoa on 21 and 22 April 2008. As NZAID’s Megan McCoy reports, the forum provided an opportunity for women from across the Pacific to share their experiences and work together to bring about change.

Women at the forum shared what human rights mean to them - the right to go to school and participate just like any other child in school events, joining the youth group of their local church, making decisions about how they want to live their lives without their parents, being able to support themselves through employment, having a boyfriend, getting married and providing for a family.

They shared powerful stories about the discrimination they face, including how this can impact on their families. For some women, attending the meeting was the first time they had ever been out on their own without their families.

Discussions about human rights are even more pertinent today as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will finally come into force in the next week or two. This Convention draws on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenants and spells out exactly what the rights within these instruments mean for persons with disabilities.

The meeting had a special focus on Women with Disabilities in Samoa. One of the goals of the meeting was to determine whether the local Disabled Persons Organisation, Nuanua O Le Alofa (NOLA) should form a Women with Disabilities Committee. On the afternoon of the final day, this goal was reached with the Samoan women voting in a committee of seven representatives and a special committee to represent the island of Savai'i.

Overall, the meeting was extremely inspiring. For an NZAID staff member based in Wellington, reading about the issues of disability for women can provide only some insight. It is hearing from the women themselves, being witness to their dedication and passion, that has provided motivation to continue the work that NZAID is doing in the Pacific.

The learning experience continues with the Annual General Meeting of the Pacific Disability Forum (PDF) for the next two and a half days. NZAID, through the Pacific Regional Health Programme provides core funding to the PDF and this meeting will offer a valuable opportunity to see the PDF in action with their members.


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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Cambodian Silk

For centuries people in Cambodia have been creating and using exquisite silk. Incredibly beautiful, Cambodian silk is known for its quality, vibrancy and delicate feel – and the scarves, handbags, cushion covers, ties and table runners that are proudly displayed in the markets are just a small sample of what is available.

Despite a tumultuous history in Cambodia where the art of silk making almost died, we are now starting to see a revival of the traditional art and evidence of burgeoning industry - an industry which could bring big gains to people of Cambodia.

There are over 25,000 people involved in the silk sector, including weavers, producers, retailers and others. And that’s why silk has been identified as a key sector in Cambodia to generate income for poor and rural producers and contribute to poverty reduction.

Artisan’s Angkor, the silk farm and store I visited in Siem Reap, is a real success story for the industry. If others within the sector can emulate this sort of success, the future will certainly be looking brighter.

NZAID, UNDP and Swiss Secretariat of Economic Affairs, SECO have joined forces with the International Trade Centre to support the Cambodian Sector Wide Silk Project. Bringing together all elements of silk making in a bottom-up approach that includes farmers, weavers, designers, traders and the Cambodian government, this project will encourage the industry to work together improve performance and achieve better, more profitable outcomes for all.

The first step of the project has been setting up a strong foundation with the creation of a strategy. The focus of the strategy is three-fold and covers all aspects of producing silk.

Firstly, the project will increase the production of silk farming and yarn supply, including growing mulberry trees and rearing silk worms to produce the high quality golden silk yarn that is unique to Cambodia.

Secondly, the silk weavers themselves will be supported so they can supply quality silk in a timely manner. This means providing training in new weaving and dyeing techniques, improving working conditions and linking buyers with weavers.

And thirdly, developing markets and unique products will ensure the beautiful silk is sold for a fair price, both nationally and internationally, so everyone that’s involved can receive more profit.

So the strategy is in place. There is much to be done to realise the vision and work is underway. The enthusiasm of those involved in the sector is inspiring and evidence that a traditional art form can hold the key to alleviating poverty.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Responsible Tourism in Phnom Penh

Cambodia’s capital city Phnom Penh is much bigger than the tourist mecca of Siem Reap and offers its own unique charm. Colonial architecture, lively street side cafes, vibrant markets and colourful traffic jams make up this charming riverside city that sits at the meeting point of three rivers - the mighty Mekong, Tonle Sap and Tonle Bassac rivers.

In between the tourist attractions like the Grand Palace, the incredible National Museum and the famous Russian markets, there are a number of things you can do to ensure your tourist dollar is making a difference. Once again I turn to the Stay Another Day guidebook to see what else Phnom Penh offers.

My first stop is Friends International – a bright cheerful non-profit café staffed by ex-street kids who have been trained in hospitality. Sun-dried tomato hummus, mango salad, tuna and avocado salad, chicken in pita bread and other Asian and Western style tapa snacks make up the menu. On the walls, the names of the students cooking in the kitchen and serving customers are proudly displayed. The brightly coloured décor, fantastic service and divine foods makes this an experience to savour.

And while I’m enjoying my lunch, students are learning the tools of the trade and gaining hands-on experience. One day, these same students will be working in other restaurants or even running their own restaurants.

There are 20,000 children living and working on the streets of Phnom Penh. Friends International works with street children and their families to provide a range of support services including the provision of vocational training in hairdressing, welding, electronics, cooking and mechanics among others. They even support home based production so mothers can work at home and earn a fair income.

Next door to the café there is Friends ‘n’ Stuff – a store that sells goods repaired by the mechanics and electronics students along with handcrafts and clothing made by the students. You can even get a manicure.

On the day I visit Friends, they were closing early to celebrate the Khmer New Year with a concert performed by the children. I was invited to see the concert and it was an absolute privilege to see the joyous energy of the children performing and break dancing and the smiling faces of their families in their audience.

And there are other things to discover in the Stay Another Day. Purchase bold, beautiful silk products at NYEMO, an NGO where vulnerable women learn new skills such as sewing, embroidery and silk weaving and then sells their items in the NYEMO boutique and the Russian market. They also have a restaurant set in a lush, leafy garden so you can relax in tranquillity after your shopping. Profits help assist women who have been affected by HIV/AIDS, trafficking or abuse get the support they need to reintegrate into society.

Other options include a visit Sovanna Phum, a theatre group that is reviving, preserving and promoting traditional arts like puppet theatre. A little bit further out of town, on the way to the Killing Fields, is Lotus Blanc, a training restaurant and spa.

Useful links

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Friday, April 04, 2008

One Year Since Major Natural Disaster in Solomon Islands

One year has past since a series of earthquakes, the largest registering 8.1 on the Richter Scale, struck the Western Provinces of the Solomon Islands on 2 April 2007. The earthquakes were followed by large tsunami waves.

NZAID immediately allocated $500,000 from the Pacific Regional Environment and Vulnerability Programme (PREVP) for the immediate response. We checked in with Mike Hartfield, EMDR programme manager to find out what New Zealand contributed to the response over the last year.
"Three C130 Hercules flights were sent over the following weeks carrying relief supplies provided by NZAID - tarpaulins, tents, water containers, generators - along with supplies provided by the Red Cross, World Vision NZ and Rotary International."

"NZ also sent two NZDF Air Loading Teams to provide logistical support."

"The balance of the $500k allocation (some $368k) supported an Oxfam International water and sanitation project that has been working in 38 temporary camps.

"The programme is based on three basic areas: installing water tanks, improving access to water and sanitation. Specifically the NZ funding assisted with promoting public health, distributing hygiene kits and resources promoting good public health and hygiene and developing and implementing a series of joint work programmes with the Ministry of Health and other agencies."

"This programme has, and continues, to make a significant difference" said Mike.
NZAID also made a contribution of $450,000 to the International Red Cross Appeal to assist with water and sanitation recovery activities.

This funding was all sourced from the PREVP and doesn’t include substantial funding from the SI bilateral programme which has been provided to focus on longer term recovery and rehabilitation.
Oxfam and the Red Cross have reported on the emergency response activities. A recent visit to the affected area by NZAID staff also reported on the Oxfam project as well as projects funded from the bilateral programme.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

ADAF – Supporting New Zealand organizations to make a difference in Asia

ADAF is a contestable fund that gives New Zealand companies the opportunity to use their technical expertise to help developing countries. It’s an initiative that sows the seed for a better future.

Compared with roads in New Zealand, the roads in Cambodia are chaotic – cars, motobikes, trucks, tuk-tuks, cyclists and pedestrians weave all over the road as people get from A to B. Road safety is a major issue. The number of accidents and fatalities from road accidents is on the rise in and can have dire consequences as it is often it the main bread winner who is the victim of road accidents which can in turn leave families without income. Every day three people die and many more are injured – a startling number and one that has increased by 50 percent over the last five years.

Things are about to change and the Cambodian government is making some big changes. Soon all drivers will be required to have a license and helmets will become mandatory. Improving road safety statistics is a big job – and one New Zealand organization is working to raise awareness from the ground up.

Funded through NZAID’s ADAF scheme, Educating New Zealand has been promoting road safety in four provinces in Cambodia. Working with Handicap International, Educating New Zealand has developed an innovative school curriculum that teaches awareness and the road code to Cambodian children. The learning modules are interactive and encourage participation to create an engaging learning experience – a change from the rote learning model often taught in schools. The police and the ministry of education are on board and teachers are taught new methods to introduce the concepts to their students. The project is starting to see some real results and through the support of the EU will soon be rolled out throughout the entire country.

Another innovative project funded by ADAF is an experimental rural road development in the north of the Cambodia. The roads here are bumpy and under-developed. New roads are expensive and time-consuming to build. More importantly, new roads only have a limited lifespan - often lasting no longer than three years before pot holes become the norm. It’s the dry season at the moment but in the wet season, these roads become muddy clay ponds that are often impassable.

Fraser Thomas has built 10 kilometres of road using stabilization technology that is the norm in New Zealand, Australia and other countries. This new technique is a cost effective sustainable solution that will see the roads last much longer than the existing roads.

Roads are critical to development. They allow farmers to get to market, children to get to school, and sick people to get to hospital. Community leaders from the villages near the demonstration road tell me that they are happy with their new roads – children can get to school with ease and it’s much easier to get to the market. The contractors who have learnt new skills through ongoing training workshops and hands-on training are equally positive. They are now able to create stabilized roads and are looking forward to starting work on new contracts to build more roads that link communities. The Asian Development Bank and the Cambodian National Roading Board are about to start building a further 50 kilometres of road using this technology and there is another 30 kilometres in the pipeline - proof that good ideas and new technology from New Zealand can make a positive difference.

For more information on NZAID’s ADAF fund, go to
You can also read more about Educating New Zealand here

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Growing a better future – Agriculture in Cambodia

Agriculture is the backbone of the Cambodian economy. Most people here are subsistence farmers who grow rice and vegetables to feed their own households and supply the local market. Very little is left over.

The United Nations says that the average income in Cambodia is just $1 US dollar a day and over half the countries GDP comes from aid. Inflation is a major problem. The price of rice, a staple in the Cambodian diet, has almost doubled in recent times yet income remains at the same level.

So how do farmers use their skills to improve the income opportunities for themselves and their families?

Supported by NZAID, Cambodia Agribusiness Development Facility (CADF) is playing a valuable role improving the supply chain for entrepreneurial farmers. This involves providing technical assistance and business advice to strengthen links between farmers and markets and alleviate constraints.

Today we visited two initiatives supported by CADF to see how farmers are embracing new ideas to improve their own livelihoods.
Twenty minutes out of the tourist oasis of Siem Reap, we travel along a bumpy red track, past water buffalo, crops and traditional style small homes to visit an entrepreneurial farmer, Mr Lorn Saruth, who is using plastic to grow crops like cucumber, beans and lettuce all year round – an innovative new way to make his farm more profitable.

After he joined CADF he took part in a trip to Viet Nam to see how plastic could improve his farming techniques and the production of his small farm. This innovative new way of farming has generated a lot of interest from the village and now other farmers are coming to his place to learn about the new techniques so they in turn can emulate his success. Right now it’s the dry season and there are rows of broad beans popping up through the reflective silver plastic.

The plastic is relatively expensive but Mr Saruth believes the savings in production make it worthwhile. The plastic keeps the moisture in the ground and controls the weeds and grass around the crops. Before he started using the plastic, he used to water the crops everyday. Now he only needs to water every other day. And he saves money on fertiliser. With the money he earns, his children will be able to go to university.

The second farm we visit is FFF farming association - an organic growing vegetable farm that is using New Zealand seeds to produce European style vegetables like mesculan and fancy lettuce, bok choy and herbs for the lucrative hotel and tourist market.

The seeds are sourced from Kings Seeds in New Zealand and are germinated on site before selling the seedlings to local farmers to produce. Once the plants are fully grown, the association buys back the plants and prepares the plants for market.

Workers are busy sifting cow dung that will be used for fertilizer. Trays of seedlings are flourishing under shade cloth. 14 workers from remote parts of Cambodia are employed all year round to take care of the farm. This is a model farm that produces seedlings all year round. Farmers are provided technical assistance to learn to grow the unique plants and expand their expertise and tap into the opportunities offered by a burgeoning tourist industry.

Both the farmers I meet today are optimistic about the future and are confident that their farms will continue to flourish. In turn this can make a big difference to Cambodia.

For more information, including a recent National Radio feature by Dean Williams, click on the links below.

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