23 May 2014

"It's Better When We're Together"

By Kristina Novak

I have always admired the dedication and focus of people willing to put aside small differences and be ready to connect with others to increase the quality and impact of their work. Margaret Mead, a great anthropologist and social reformer, understood well, the power of dedicated individuals working together for a common purpose.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

Now imagine that there is not one but many groups of dedicated individuals - each person is different, yet working together for a common goal.  What happens when such a coalition forms? The impact increases, lessons are shared, accountability grows and gaps are filled with the various skill sets.

This is the case for Chab Dai. In Khmer, the name literally means “joining of hands” and that’s what it really is -  a set of connected organizations that vary in expertise and have one common purpose - to fight human trafficking and exploitation. I love witnessing how this ethos results in providing better protection from exploitation and care for survivors.

One of the ways Chab Dai facilitates better connectivity between its members is through various forums such as Child Protection, Aftercare and our Social Work forum. The day is usually spent in sharing lessons learned and looking at best practices and challenges that may lay ahead as well as create space for the forming of new partnerships.  

When it comes to collaboration, there is one forum that I really appreciate right now, which is our Outreach Forum. The Chab Dai members that work in direct outreach to the vulnerable and exploited children, women, men and the transgender community here in Cambodia (altogether 44 participants from 17 organizations), spent a day sharing their work and learning from each other’s field experience.
Collaboration was unfolding right in front of my eyes. As I was taking notes of the meeting and hearing stories from the field, I could not help but admire each individual’s hard work and dedication to serving and protecting our most vulnerable. Their dedication is mirrored by the long hours they invest in their field and by the their resilience and faith they hold for those they help. All of this came across in the presentations they shared.

But there was something else that gave the meeting its energy and focus. It was this unfolding of collaborationWith such a variety of organizations that Chab Dai coalition encompasses - even just within its outreach field - the mutually beneficial lessons, skills and resources of the forum members were quickly recognized. Participants presented on their programs, including their outreach on the streets and in entertainment establishments, running day centres, dorm houses and health clinics, and providing education and employment training. 
Q & A sessions followed each presentation which fostered dialogue on the conceptualization of collaboration for their projects. 

Alongside the building of partnerships, a short training was provided by a member organization on legal issues surrounding outreach and work with vulnerable populations. Such knowledge is essential for protection of outreach workers as well as for educating clients on their own rights in Cambodian law. 

Apart from the presentations, participants engaged in a “Service Mapping” exercise by marking out the geographical areas of their outreach on maps of Phnom Penh and Cambodia. They also used colour coded papers to show data about their services:  Orange indicated "Who For?" (client group), Pink - "Where?" (The establishment), Green answered the "What?" (services and programs), and Yellow indicated "When?" (Night or day). On its completion, the final product had a clear visual of the existing services and mapped out areas of possible collaboration.

It is truly inspiring to see the manifold impact a simple connection can have.  After all, as a line from one song goes, “it’s better when we’re together.” The Outreach Forum organized by Chab Dai was one such space where, even as the forum was progressing, new partnerships formed and the lessons shared were turned into action strategies. I call that a time well spent. Together.