Trailblazer Foundation aims to accomplish a better quality of life for rural populations living in absolute poverty in Siem Reap province, Cambodia by addressing the need for clean water, food security, education and income generation. We chose to help the poorest of the poor because they are the least likely to get assistance and are focused on survival. We will accomplish a better quality of life in Cambodia for these rural families by drilling wells, installing bio-sand water filters, building latrines, teaching proper hygiene, providing homestead garden trainings, constructing schools, providing bicycles and partnering with villagers to help them start a new business. As the basic need of water is satisfied, Trailblazer works with village leadership to establish or enhance the village committee structure to address further community development. These leaders ultimately take over the management and sustainability of projects with little to no need for ongoing international aid.
Trailblazer Foundation's proven model of a bottom-up grassroots approach for sustainable development ensures villagers are vested in the successful outcome of the project. Trailblazer has gained a high level of trust with the people served by maximizing villager/village empowerment, participatory involvement in project implementation and preserving the cultural integrity of the villages where we work. Communities and marginalized families are identified through the existing priority development matrix standards set by local and national government protocol. This model, called the District Integrated Workshop process, allows villagers to identify their needs, which are then provided to the commune level and given to district officials. Each year Trailblazer is invited to attend District Integrated Workshops to review lists of identified needs and sign agreements to help. This process occurs each November and we then set out to find the funding necessary to complete these projects.
The bulk of our program work is conducted by our Cambodian affiliate Trailblazer Angkor, which we helped launch, and whose staff of twelve are all locals. Our partnership with this indigenous NGO is representative of Trailblazer Foundation’s agreement with a basic tenant of the international development community: that “development” is most effective when it involves and enhances all aspects of the recipient country. We consider our relationship with Trailblazer Angkor an unofficial part of our Economic Development program, one that enhances the effectiveness and credibility of our work overall.
Trailblazer has had a strong data collection process with respect to acquiring baseline data before we implement our programs, and for monitoring continued use of our products during the first year or two. As well, we have strong records of our outputs over the years, namely how many products and services we provided to how many people.
Given that we cannot expect our recipients to collect data for us (high illiteracy rates preclude this strategy), we are focused on gathering qualitative information as much as quantitative. For example, we cannot expect families who received a new water filter to keep track of how many days their child(ren) missed school due to sickness (so we can compare that information with our baseline survey). Rather, we focus much of our monitoring efforts on interviews, where we collect impressions, best guesses, and stories regarding the impact of a product or service on the recipient’s life (“Our daughter barely misses school anymore, whereas before she was sick about half the time.”).
We are developing evaluation questions and monitoring methods that identify the types of changes in the quality of living that have occurred in our partner villages, versus how many units of which product or service we delivered. With respect to our enhanced monitoring and evaluation, our goal is to develop a suite of standard questions that builds upon our existing baseline survey, questions we would ask during follow-up surveys at three, six and twelve months after we install a product or offer a service.
We are also re-evaluating what “success” looks like for Trailblazer. Historically, we have defined success on how well we met our obligations made to the Cambodian government. We want to broaden our criteria to include a suite of objectives related to when a village has effectively shifted from “survival to sustainable.”
Trailblazer's work has resulted in access to clean water through installation of over 100 wells annually and delivery of over 400 bio-sand filters each year; establishment of several micro-businesses and village-run self-sustaining bank funds; increased education through construction of nine government primary schools [and counting] and two libraries, delivering hundreds of bicycles to keep students in school; advancement of women's vocational training by providing sewing machines to the Women's Development Center training facilities in Siem Reap and Kampong Speu; improved health conditions by distributing hundreds of mosquito nets and flip flops; and improved food security by teaching techniques and proven practices to an average of over 700 farmers each year that yield higher nutrition and income generation.