A warm, sugary smell took me by surprise as I stepped onto the dusty road that winds through Ta Soam village, a rural area of Kratie province. Hin Savouen, a 60-year-old grandmother, was frying fresh slices of banana and rolling them in palm sugar for the Samaritan’s Purse project team. By the way they greeted one another and laughed together, it was clear that the staff members were her friends. Each day, she sells these banana chips in front of her home now that she has an abundance of bananas growing in her new vegetable garden.
Her husband, Mom Chum, is a 65-year-old farmer who was selected by both Samaritan’s Purse staff members and the local village leader to participate in the Food for Life project. Because this family was originally one of the poorest in the village, they qualified for the provision of both agricultural livelihood start-up resources and training from the project staff members.
In June of 2014, when Mr. Chum first met Samaritan’s Purse, his family had virtually no income. He has three children, and, at the time, his youngest daughter had recently stopped school, at grade 11, because he could not afford her school fees. As I listened to him speak about his former life and snacked on Mrs. Savouen’s crunchy chips, my heart felt heavy with the reality of poverty. They had no money for daily food, medical needs, or clean water.
When approached by Samaritan’s Purse about the agricultural assistance project, Mr. Chum said he “… was intimidated because of [his] lack of agricultural skills.” However, out of financial desperation, he agreed to participate in the project as a model farmer. This meant he would attend training sessions on agricultural techniques and livestock rearing skills and eventually have his own farm; he would serve as an agricultural model for his entire village.
“I paid attention and attended every single training session SP offered,” Mr. Chum said. “Then, my farm just took off.”
Now, more than a year after attending all the training sessions, his favorite thing to farm is vegetables because they always reap a consistent level of income, about 2.50 USD per day, and are easy to grow. No matter how his other livelihoods do in the market each day, he knows he can earn enough money to eat by selling vegetables. His wife enjoys cultivating the vegetable garden as well.
Mr. Chum also likes raising chickens because they require less technical skills than the pigs do; his new water pump has also given him an abundance of clean water that even his neighbors often use.
In his free time, he educates other farmers in the village on his integrated farming system. Regularly, he holds training sessions for his neighbors in both agricultural cultivation and livestock rearing, and many of them want to copy his work after they see his success.
“I teach them how to grow vegetables first because that is an easy starting point,” he said.
Along with providing agricultural training, Samaritan’s Purse mobilized resources for latrine construction in Mr. Chum’s home, which he was proud to show off as well.
“Before, we did not have money for food,” Mr. Chum’s wife said. “We were hungry and had no income! Right now, I feel like we have enough.”
In the future, Mr. Chum plans to expand his farm to grow cassava, and he is investigating the local market value of star bean with the project staff members. He is excited to keep up with his farm and also to continue being a confident, successful farming role model for his village.
“This project has touched my heart,” he said. “I am so happy with all the resources. There is a God who is a good, living God.”
As I left Mr. Chum’s house with a handful of banana chips, I had a profound sense of hope for his family’s future.