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By Julie D.

As I told you before, the main reason we went on the clinic for so long was to put our VHV program back on track but we also did a social mapping.
A what??
A social mapping.
If you want to work properly and efficiently, working together, hands in hands, is the first step, but it’s not enough. You have a lot to think about and to achieve before even thinking of really going out on the lake or on the river. We are dealing with so many challenges that it is never easy (by the way you never use this word “easy” here unless if you’re kidding!) Nothing is easy... Even though after years, you always have to be prepare to changes. 
You have to be flexible, any time any how, no matter what… If you’re not - well, I don’t work with TLC since a very long time but this is something I know for sure – go away, do something else. Here, nothing is known “for sure and forever”, you can’t say, “ok, we’ve been through this last time, let’s do the same old tricks now”. You can not because it’s always different. Weather, water level, engines issues, people… You can’t predict what will be next BUT you know that “something will come” and punched you right in your face! And you can not fail, you can not take a break, so you keep doing what you do, find a solution and move on.

But… this is not my subject… you will understand the link behind this “aside”:

If you can’t control everything when you’re working on the Tonle Sap Lake or on the Stung Sen River, one of the thing you can do (and you have to do!) is to know the places you’re visiting as your own town or your own neighborhood. As soon as we’ve started to work in a village, we are a part of it, we belong to it, the vilager count on you, expect you, in this case, we have to behave correctly.
You need to know how to reach any family, you need to know where lives this family or that one. You need to know how many people live there, how many children, where they live in the village, do they live in a home with a tin roofing or with a thatch one? Do they live there permanently or just for the season? What do they do every day? How is the fishing for them?
Where do the VHV live? The TBA?
You have to know them.

All of those “little details” will help you in your work, in your relationship with the villager. Actually, my though is that “all of those little details” are not details….

When you’re really sick and you can’t go to your doctor’s cabinet, don’t you expect him to come to you? What if he doesn’t know where you live? What if he doesn’t know what you do in your life? What if he doesn’t seems to be interested in you? What if you feel like he's not involved? if his only wish is to be back home in front of the evening news? Will you trust him? Will you keep visiting him?
I’m not sure I will.

It is about getting to know the village and the villager. The word that we really have remember is “social”.
We come visit them 3 days a week and after that we don’t show up for few weeks, what is going on when we’re far away working in other places?
As you know, TLC is the only organization who works on the Lake and on the River. People on the Tonle Sap and on the Stung Sen are not like people on land. They don’t live the same way, they don’t think the same way, they don’t have the same concerns, the same issues, the same expectations. We need to establish a real relationship between them and us. Not only a “work-relationship”, a human one. We need to understand them and we need them to understand us, our work, our mission. It has to be a mutual relationship and for that, we must start by basic things. Social map is one of them. Everything else we’ll do by talking, spending time with each other, sharing through all kind of communication like every one will do in any kind of human relationship.

The other reason we need those information is, much more administrative: document our database. Knowing the places we work in, being able to talk about them, to present them, to represent them to the donors (for instance), being able to understand and really know their live hood, is the only way to do the best job you can.

Who else can testify, who else is the witness of their life? Who else?
As we keep saying and writing, those people are underserved, they are the most isolated people in Cambodia. It is our duty to draw the “map of the problematic”. If you have few minutes, try to find any valuable information about the villages, the people living in Balat, Preah Kanlong or Okalev? I’ve tried and trust me it’s very difficult…
The Tonle Sap is a protected area, protected by the UNESCO since 1997, but most of the people and NGOs talk about birds, fishes, streams etc.
Last week I was in Kompong Chnang and someone asked me about my job here, I answered that I work with The Lake Clinic, NGO based in Siem Reap with its second office near KC, that goes on the Lake and on the River to... He didn’t let me finish my sentence, he was sure to know the end of it.  “Ah ok, I get it, you work with birds”…
Mmmmm, no…. with people…

Are birds and fishes more important than human? I’m not saying that we should forget them but we should, at least be able to take care about human as we do for birds or fishes.
Try to find, on Internet, on an official website, how many families live in Okalev? If you find it, please tell me, I’ve spent hours trying to find the right information and I totally failed…
Now, I can answer. After our visit and the social map we did with Sakhem, Pherthra and Chantrea I can assure you that 15 families live in Okalev …

With this kind of work, social mapping, we know for sure on what we should focus.
It was just an example.

Back on the river…

The first social map we did was the one of Preah Kanlong.

In the beginning of the afternoon, Sakhem went to meet some of the villager with the chief. Sakhem explained them what he needed and why he needed it.


The chief agreed - I was about to say "of course" but no, it’s not that obvious; the villager need to understand the reason why you might need this kind of thing – but we had to wait until the evening do it, they had their work to do first of all. They would come around 6-7 pm.

6 / 6:30 / 7 / 7:45 / 8 / 8:10 pm, no one.
I knew Om Sakhem was disappointed. I knew it and I saw it in Om's eyes.The chief gave him his word and seemed to be really interested and involved, and now it was just too late, they won’t show up anymore.
We’ve decided to go to sleep.

8:15, the chief and two men entered the clinic.
Relief and happiness. Yes, happiness, I mean it. Everybody was tired but this night the social map of Preah kanlong will be done.




It took 2 hours.

48 families in low season, 48 x 5 in high season (240). Preah Kanlong is the second biggest (with Toul Neang Sav ) village on the river.

After this work done, they all talk a little bit, the only thing I can say is that the chief couldn’t stop smiling.


Even if here, smiling doesn’t mean, for sure, that you’re happy (a Khmer could smile because he is embarrassed) I can tell, he was happy. Eyes don’t lie. Sometimes you have to fallow your instinct, what you feel, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eyes.”...

I don’t want to loose you between the different part of my adventure on the Stung Sen so, as a reminder: the next morning, we had our second VHV meeting. It was tuesday. The day we had the storm, the day the villager tried, in vain, to recite 10 different fish’s names..

You’re still following me?!?
Right, we can keep going.
Few hours before, not even hours… the sun was shining, some clouds here and there, that was it.
We went up to Okalev village, around 1h30/2 hours by boat.


We’ve started the VHV meeting and half an hour later, we were under the rain. Most of the people just vanished in seconds. Phertra, Sakhem, Chantrea, some villager and myself we took shelter in the house next to us. Improvised office to draw the social map.


It didn’t take a long time, 15 families, 30 minutes maybe.

Outside, lightnings and thunders. Inside, the rain infiltrates the roof, just a little bit, some cartons to clogged the leaks, plastics to close the window.


We were fine.

That is the end of the social mapping – for this trip at least.

That is the end of the first part of the week.

That the beginning of something else…as always