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Reaching out: Cash transfer programming in indigenous communities in Ratanakiri

The roads were flooded, and people were crowded into evacuation points only a few metres above rising flood waters. This was a common situation CARE observed in October 2013 when staff joined an emergency needs assessment in Ratanakiri to assess the impact of flooding on communities in high impact areas. Visits to affected communities revealed that over 6500 families had urgent needs for food, clean water, health care and assistance to restart cultivation of their crops destroyed by flood waters.

CARE has a long relationship with communities and government partners in Ratanakiri, supporting the government and coordinating relief responses, but also for its programming focused on education for ethnic minorities, livelihoods, savings and loans associations and maternal health. The challenges of reaching indigenous communities, both in terms of the many languages spoken by communities and the remote locations of villages, were well known to CARE. And the challenges of reaching indigenous communities during flood season is currently a daily experience as CARE implements the ECHO-funded ‘Recovery and Resilience’ project in Ratanakiri and other badly affected communities in Prey Veng Province.

CARE staff recount how community members walk for hours between their ‘farm land’ and the villages supported for livelihood recovery through cash transfers. CARE staff, even equipped with motorbikes, have significant challenges reaching these remote villages, recounting that sometimes the motorbikes have to be physically carried across sections of road too badly flooded to drive through. Many communities become only accessible by boat. Community members warmly welcome CARE’s staff when they visit as CARE has been working closely with local leaders and affected households to conduct small business training to accompany the cash transfer. In addition, CARE has been piloting the rehabilitation of a safety area and improving access to safe drinking water in two schools.

Of the 31 villages targeted by CARE in Ratanakiri for flood recovery support, CARE staff explained that three village leaders had required significant engagement to explain the objectives of the project and the benefit to the community of having assistance targeted to the most vulnerable families. Blanket cash distributions are more popular than targeted distributions, and careful management of the beneficiary selection process requires many steps.

CARE has two indigenous facilitators to ensure that both leaders and communities have a strong understanding of why only some people are targeted for support when many have been affected in the community. These staff often stay overnight with communities to gain access to people who return late from their farm land, and to ensure people feel comfortable approaching CARE if they have follow-up questions or want to challenge the draft list identified with government ID Poor data. Indigenous communities in particular have a well-founded suspicion of ID Poor lists as data collection in remote communities is challenging. Lists are often posted in written Khmer which is not their primary language and, with many villagers having poor access to education, unable to be understood by those with low literacy.

CARE has found that acceptance of the beneficiary targeting has hinged on the community understanding of the beneficiary selection criteria and the selection process, including the complaints mechanism. CARE first used a draft list provided by government partners based on ID Poor 1 and 2 categories, and then implemented a community-validation process. The initial draft was communicated verbally in village meetings, and community members were encouraged to endorse or challenge the proposed beneficiaries. Both CARE staff and village officials could be approached with complaints or concerns. Two of the biggest initial misunderstanding of communities in Ratanakiri was that the cash distributions would be based on poverty alone rather than relating to damage from the floods, and secondly, would be provided to those who had the greatest loss irrespective of ability to recover without external support (ie. not poor by community standards). Any household challenged for inclusion was visited by CARE staff, accompanied by the local leader. In addition, a 10% random sample of proposed beneficiaries were also visited at home to verify the accuracy of the information related to the selection criteria, for example whether it was a female headed household, the number of children, whether the household was land poor, and suffered losses from the flood. Although imperfect, with some villagers having difficulty attending village meetings due to difficulties transmitting information to isolated members in addition to the time and cost of travelling to the village, the transparency of CARE’s process has been widely appreciated by indigenous communities.

In post-transfer monitoring visits, beneficiaries have noted the responsiveness of CARE staff in accommodating their needs. For example, as some beneficiaries were unable to collect their cash transfer, the contract terms of CARE’s Micro Finance Institution partner were re-negotiated and a second transfer has been scheduled. Reasons for beneficiaries unable to present full ID documentation - such as flood damage and loss, house fires, termite/pest damage, and in particular in indigenous communities in Ratanakiri, loss of documentation - have been accommodated without transferring the burden to beneficiaries. CARE indigenous staff noted that this has been a particularly common challenge in Ratanakiri as compared to Prey Veng as there is less migration and hence perceived lack of need for maintaining documentation such as Family Cards. Indigenous households therefore may not value these documents and, as a result, fail to safeguard them. CARE addressed this issue by instituting a mechanism whereby the village leader could sign their validation of the individual's identity, and the verbal endorsement by other participants of the cash transfer was requested.

CARE staff have recounted that their activities with indigenous communities have attracted active participation despite the distances involved – in part due to CARE’s respect for the culture of indigenous communities and engagement of village elders, but also because CARE’s activities have in the past had a demonstrable impact. It is CARE’s great hope that this project will equally be remembered as a positive example of participatory, transparent programming that has a lasting impact on the resilience of indigenous families.

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