QSA partners with established local secular community-based institutions, being independent Community Based Organisations (CBOs), NGOs or provincial government departments. Within each country, project partners of varying capacity are supported, with QSA-arranged Hub meetings, cross-learning opportunities and the sharing of resources. Meetings with the QSA appointed project manager encourage mutual sharing of knowledge and understanding, and the potential for joint activities. Website: qsa.org.au
Quaker Service Australia (QSA) works with the Department of Women’s Affairs in Pursat province, Cambodia, to enhance women’s economic and social empowerment and address the impact of climate change through permaculture agriculture. Training enables poor rural women to establish home fruit and vegetable gardens for year-round food security, and education increases awareness of human rights, equity and inclusiveness, and environmental and child protection.
QSA conducted an evaluation to see if the program had changed these women’s lives by assessing the following indicators: their economic power/independence, family health, involvement in family decision-making, community participation, and domestic violence incidents. The results revealed significant impacts. Evidence gathered in focus groups shows women feel more confident, have more skills, feel they are contributing, and feel more valued.
Quotes from project participants show the benefits of participation: “It changed as after this training, men started to take care of women and the household. Women are now more involved in decision-making and are braver in terms of their rights.” “I am satisfied with life now as people in my family have the same equal rights, so they all get on better now—expect life to be better and better in the future.”
COVID-19 presents myriad challenges for the partners of Quaker Service Australia (QSA) who have by and large managed to adapt and innovate in order to continue working safely with their communities for much of the past turbulent year. Travel and movement restrictions have posed significant challenges, including for partners in Cambodia. In that country, partners engage local youth volunteers to liaise with and assist their rural communities in participating in online workshops: for example, regarding much-needed nutritional awareness for young mothers, pregnant women, and their partners. In Uganda, QSA partners are continuing agricultural training for smallholder rural farmers through social media recordings as well as COVID-19-safe training in small outdoor groups. Farmers are learning how to run their own practical experiments with improved and climate-resilient banana and plantain varieties, reviving one of Uganda’s staple crops, whilst boosting both food and income security. QSA’s partnership arrangements are already such that the majority of decision making and direction are locally led. It is that one critical touchpoint of a face-to-face visit to partners during the year, however, that is missing. As an Australia-based NGO with no overseas offices, such visits foster and strengthen even QSA’s long-standing relationships. As with many relationships with family and friends, QSA is relying more on digital technologies to bridge this gap.
Working with project partner Khmer Community Development (KCD), Quaker Service Australia (QSA) has supported the subsistence farming community of Prek Chrey in southeast Cambodia over the past ten years with permaculture training and livelihood initiatives. New techniques have improved the quantity and quality of produce, improved nutrition, reduced the need for chemicals, and resulted in surpluses.
With no market in the immediate area to sell surplus produce, the community created their own, establishing a small but successful organic vegetable cooperative shop in 2018 with support from QSA and KCD. Strong demand has since developed among the locals, who now have a greater awareness of the benefits of organic farming and produce. Also, using social media, vegetables are sold as far away as Phnom Penh city, over 60 kilometers (about 37 miles) away.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the co-op was severely impacted. With border closures and a general economic downturn, many in the community suffered a severe income reduction and the initiative was under financial threat.
With support from QSA, KCD supplemented staff wages to continue running the shop, enabling the initiative to survive the pandemic and continue supporting a network of approximately 35 local farmers and their families in Prek Chrey. The community also utilizes training provided by KCD to manage its own cow bank, rice bank, and micro and credit facility.
Cambodia is fortunate with few COVID-19 cases and no deaths to date. However, with borders closed and major industries halted (including garment manufacturing and tourism), economic and social impacts in this poor country have been severe. Quaker Service Australia (QSA) supports four local partners to reduce poverty and improve livelihoods in poor agricultural communities, providing training in permaculture techniques to improve nutrition and build livelihoods.
Cambodian partners acted quickly to deal with immediate demands caused by the epidemic, providing education and materials, particularly in isolated areas without access to information provided by authorities. Staff traveled by motorbike to isolated villages, using megaphones to spread hygiene messages. In small groups and open areas they demonstrated hand washing techniques, and distributed masks, soap, and hand sanitizer.
Families whose food security was already precarious were severely impacted by job losses, market and border closures, and returning economic migrants. Some partners distributed emergency food, but the focus was on helping people become more food self-sufficient with seeds, seedlings, and implements to help establish home food gardens. One partner produced videos on several topics, including hand washing, promoted via Facebook. Another video aims to motivate children to continue studying and maintain attachment during school closures. QSA is now working with partners to address ongoing social issues, including the risk of increased domestic violence, child abuse, and undocumented migration.