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The Wildlife Conservation Society Cambodia Program, in collaboration with World Education, Inc., have started an innovative project using literacy programs to support conservation efforts. The project began in January 2010 and is being piloted in the villages of Sre Levi and Andoung Kraloeng in the Seima Protection Forest (SPF), Mondulkiri.

Preliminary investigations carried out by World Education in 2009 revealed that illiteracy and innumeracy are a significant barrier to the successful implementation of community-based conservation efforts. Most of the adult population in the SPF cannot read, and it is thought that perhaps 95% of the population cannot carry out simple mathematics. Acquisition of functional literacy is a crucial step in the process of improved livelihoods and alleviation of poverty for the residents of the SPF. Achievement of functional literacy will enable participants to read and write in the Khmer language—Cambodia's lingua franca and the language of commerce—as well as gain competency in basic numeracy. Without these basic, foundational skills, making any sustainable improvements in livelihood skills or attendant knowledge is far more difficult. These skills are essential to the successful implementation of many conservation interventions from the marketing and sale of timber, to the completion of land tenure paperwork, and the equitable distribution of benefits from the sale of carbon credits. More fundamentally World Education's experience with similar financial literacy and livelihoods programs elsewhere in Cambodia, as well as in Nepal, East Timor, India and elsewhere have illustrated the importance of literacy as a building block for further empowerment activities. The ability to read documents, make notes and do simple computation allows learners to more easily grasp and retain other complex, skills-based learning over the long term, helps with critical thinking and enables them to engage in transactions and negotiations on an equal footing with others in the economic sphere outside the confines of their village.

The project works in partnership with the Provincial and District Departments of Education and is supporting their efforts in non-formal education in Mondulkiri. In addition, community-level literacy working groups play an integral role in providing monitoring support to literacy classes and facilitators. Implementation is taking place in several phases. Phase one (January to March 2010) saw the development of a syllabus, identification of learners and recruitment of teachers. Phase two (April to October 2010) involves the preliminary teaching of functional literacy in two villages, and phase three will see the introduction of financial literacy. By June 2010 the successes of the project are becoming clear. Forty-three adults are now regularly attending classes in two villages, and all of them have passed the first stage of standardised literacy tests. Extra classes have been added to cover topics outside the standard syllabus such as land rights, and environmental education. Some challenges remain however. Progress has been slower than hoped, and the syllabus has been adapted to accommodate this, and the onset of the rainy season has reduced attendance as some learners are working in their fields. To address this, the teachers and working group members now also carry out follow up home-visits.

This pilot project will run until October 2011. During that time a local NGO partner will be identified and trained to continue implementation into the future. Lessons learned in the pilot will be incorporated and it is hoped that the program can be expanded to villages throughout the SPF.

Conservation through Literacy is funded with generous support from The MacArthur Foundation and World Education Inc.

Posted in: Seima Forest
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