The homegrown NGO tackling the Kingdom’s rural concerns

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Among Trailblazer Cambodia Organisation’s projects is fostering community fish refuges, which have been found to improve water access, sanitation and food production. The NGO has arranged for over 200 refuges to be built across the Kingdom. Photo supplied

Non-governmental organisation Trailblazer Cambodia Organisation (TCO) is implementing four main projects based on five core strategies to improve the lives of rural Cambodians.

Currently, TCO’s initiatives are carried out in four target provinces – Siem Reap, Kampong Thom, Pursat and Battambang – with the hope of expanding the projects’ scope one day with the help of partner organisations.

The main projects in operation right now are Eco-Soap Bank, Home Vegetable Garden, Rice Field Fishery Enhancement and Aquatic Agriculture Systems.

“We are acting on five key issues: natural resource management, livelihood and food security development, education programmes, water and sanitation hygiene, and sustainable development,” TCO co-founder Chanrattana Ung told The Post.

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TCO co-founder Chanrattana Ung partners with organisations and social enterprises with the broader goal of improving the livelihoods of vulnerable Cambodians. Photo supplied

Ung said that initially, he and fellow TCO founding members experienced a steep learning curve when finding out how to run an NGO, with there times where they nearly ran out of funds before sustainable strategies were implemented.

With the broader goal of providing rural people with an adequate lifestyle, TCO works with partners on a number of projects.

Ung said that TCO is collaborating with Eco-Soap Bank to run the project under the latter’s name.

Eco-Soap Bank is a humanitarian, eco-conscious NGO working to salvage, sanitise and distribute recycled hotel soap. It partners with 29 different hotel companies in Siem Reap alone to reduce waste and acquire resources for soap production.

The project contributes to the improvement of water, sanitation, and hygiene (Wash) services in Cambodia.

Wash is the focus of dedicated targets within the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

TCO programme coordinator Mailbopha Chep told The Post that the Eco-Soap Bank project was established in 2013 by American entrepreneur Samir Lakhani.

Lakhani observed that a large number of used soap was thrown away after being used in hotels while thousands of rural children lived in sub-standard hygiene conditions, so he started the Eco-Soap Bank project for their benefit.

CFRs are bodies of water that protect wild fish during dry periods, as well as providing them with a suitable habitat to breed, spawn and grow.

“For the Home Vegetable Garden project, we have approximately 500 households in Puok and Angkor Chum districts [in Siem Reap]. We help to ensure their vegetable gardens serve as a source of food nutrition and a source of additional income through selling harvested vegetables,” said Ung.

First, TCO provides the local farming community with materials and vegetable seeds. But as the project progresses, the locals start to manage their home vegetable garden all by themselves.

Besides helping farming communities by raising their understanding of the importance of food nutrition, establishing CFRs and arranging home vegetable gardens, TCO is also promoting Aquatic Agriculture Systems.

Chep said that under the Aquatic Agriculture Systems initiative, CFRs fulfilled their potential by providing sources for the watering of crops, providing drinking water for animals and people, as well as other purposes including growing crops on the fish refuges’ irrigation barrier.

After 10 years of working as a project manager for a number of organisations in Siem Reap, Ung founded TCO with the purpose of promoting food nutrition awareness among Cambodia’s farming community.

He said that he is supported by team members including agricultural scientists, community development experts, business administrators and volunteers who strive to lift farmers out of poverty by giving them the tools they need to be successful in earning a livelihood.

Ung earned a bachelor’s degree in Fishery Science from the Royal University of Agriculture in 2002 and earned a master’s degree in Business Administration majoring in General Management from Build Bright University in Siem Reap town.

“At that time, I was working in the multi-development sector. One of the donors worked with us to dig wells and build homes for poor villagers.

“They offered us a budget to run a project. Soon, we founded the Trailblazer Cambodia Organisation and registered it with the Ministry of Interior in 2008,” said Ung, who is also the executive director of TCO.

For more information or to make a donation, visit TCO’s website (www.tcocambodia.org) or their Facebook page (@TCOCambodia).