It's Planning Time Again....
Note from the Executive Director
Hello Trailblazer Supporters,
As the co-founder and executive director of Trailblazer Foundation, I like it when we get things done. Another well or water filter means another family can stop getting sick because they are drinking bad water. Another training in horticulture or raising chickens means more rural Cambodians will be eating more and better food. When we deliver new bicycles to students, we are keeping those kids from dropping out of school because their commute is too far to walk. And our efforts to provide sewing machines to graduates of a recent training means more women are able to make a living while taking care of their kids still at home.
And while it is impressive how much we can get done in a year (see a review of our
2016 accomplishments here
), the more Trailblazer does to
develop ripples of sustainability through community water projects
, the more planning we need. This is particularly true as we initiate new projects and partnerships, such as our scholarships for women wishing to enroll in the local Women's Development Center five-and-a-half-month sewing training (see Economic Development Program section below).
||Executive Director Chris Coats with Trailblazer Angkor staff
at Trailblazer's worksite, during Chris' visit to Cambodia last fall.
This is the time of year when Trailblazer's staff begins planning for the next calendar year, a process that concludes at our annual Board of Directors retreat in October. As part of our annual planning, I will again travel to Cambodia in September, to meet with both Trailblazer Foundation's in-country program manager, and the staff of our Cambodian affiliate organization Trailblazer Angkor.
What we already know about our workload in 2018 is this:
-- With the recent successful completion of our fundraising campaign to purchase new well-drilling equipment, we will be increasing the number of wells we drill next year by 20%.
-- We plan to double the number of latrines we construct.
-- Based on the success of our agricultural trainings this year, we expect to increase the number we provide by 30%.
-- Contingent on funding, we want to ratchet up our Village Fund micro-loan program by providing longer-term seed money that rural villagers can use to take out greater sized loans.
-- Finally, having heard from more graduates of the above-mentioned sewing training that they would like a machine to start their own business, we will distribute 50% more sewing machines in 2018. Also, we may start offering scholarships to women who cannot afford to participate in the five-and-a-half month training.
Obviously, these plans need to be filtered through the reality of our complementary budgeting process. However, given that we grew our budget by 30-40% each of the last two years (as we pushed to take Trailblazer to its next level of impact), we believe our initial 2018 projection of a 7-10% budget increase is achievable.
For now, at this stage in our planning process, it is time for the staff to dream a little. What would we like to do next year to advance our mission of
improving health, food security, education, and economic development in rural Cambodia? This sort of strategizing is inspiring, and we look forward to sharing the final results with you later this fall.
In the meantime, here in our summer newsletter, you can read about our ongoing efforts to take Trailblazer to its next level. Having been with the organization since Day One, I am so pleased to see how, in the last two years, we have strengthened Trailblazer as an organization, and expanded our programs to better meets the needs of our rural village partners in Cambodia. It gives me, and the rest of the staff and Board, more confidence to dream into the future.
And, as always, it is worth noting the obvious. None of this would be possible without your support. THANK YOU!!! I hope you too are pleased with Trailblazer's recent growth, and will remain part of our team as we plan for and move into 2018.
Improving Trailblazer's Program Monitoring - Local High School Students Interview Members Of Their Own Villages
We often get asked, "How do you know you have succeeded as an organization?" One metric we use is to track whether we have provided our products and services to all of the residents of a village who want them. Through our monitoring system, each year we track
our annual outputs (products and services distributed), as well as the number of people whom we have directly benefitted (see our
2016 Year In Review summary
In terms of on-the-ground changes in the quality of living our village partners have experienced (in monitoring lingo, our "outcomes"), we typically look to the extensive research that exists about the positive, even transformative, impact our rural development strategies provide. Also, we collect testimonials from some of our village partners (for best example, see
While these benchmarks continue to serve Trailblazer well in assessing our impact,
to develop a more strategic way to acquire both quantitative (numbers) and qualitative (stories) data on how our
products and services are
changing the lives of the individuals, families, and entire villages we serve. We are motivated to do this for three reasons.
First, more and more villages and villagers
are asking us to support them, and we will be able to better plan and evaluate our work with a robust monitoring, evaluation and reporting (MER) process. Second, as we expand our fundraising efforts to include more grant-making entities, we are being asked for more details about our monitoring and evaluation systems.
a more robust MER process is the last major undertaking of our now two-year effort to
strengthened Trailblazer as an organization (see
A Note From Trailblazer's Executive Director
above for more details).
This past spring, Trailblazer enlisted the pro bono support of a MER expert, local to Fort Collins (Trailblazer's home base in the states), to provide guidance for three MER related
projects:  developing the process and protocols for Trailblazer's enhanced
monitoring, evaluation and reporting system;  hiring a MER manager, a Cambodian who will work with our team in Cambodia; and 
initiating a pilot project to have local Cambodian high school students interview Trailblazer recipients in their own villages to collect data and stories about our work.
The pilot project took place in late July, when four students from the Jay Pritzker Academy in Siem Reap conducted interviews with forty residents of six villages (all photos here from those interviews). Each person interviewed had received a water filter and a well, Trailblazer's ideal combination for clean water. And these people had received these products within the last eighteen months, a timeline that allows Trailblazer
to follow these families from the very beginning, or close to the beginning, of their having the well and filter
While we don't have the hard data fully tabulated yet, here are some of the more pertinent or informative observations the students made.
1. The students are interested in doing this again next year, and believe the answers they receive then will be more in depth, as the recipients will have had more experience with their wells and filters.
2. Generally speaking, the recipients now realize how the combination of a well and water filter gives them both more access to water, and better quality drinking water. The students predict that next year the recipients will say the well has provided them and
their families with a better garden, and thus better food. The year after, the students' surmise, the recipients will have more money, as they would have been able to sell excess crops from their garden.
3. One humorous thing the students pointed out is that, due to the high iron content in the well water (which makes the water a little rust colored), families are filtering that water before using it to wash their clothes and babies. Yes, this is a funny - as in curious - practice. However, it makes perfectly good sense in terms of the recipients solving a problem they have.
4. Another funny answer that stuck with the students was a husband and wife that said they used to argue all the time about who would get the water (since they had to travel further to a water source). That couple was thankful for the well and filter, as they now have one less thing to worry about, and argue about (an unanticipated benefit of Trailblazer's work).
5. Maybe the most helpful feedback we received from the students had to do with the equitable distribution of wells and water filters. Specifically, the students worried about poorer families that may not have attended the village meeting when the opportunity to ask for a water filter or well was announced. This possibility had to do with how close a given family lives to the center of that village, with those families who have more financial resources (everything is relative) probably living closer.
The implications of where one lives has to do with how easily they can attend the village meeting when the opportunity to order a well or water filter was presented. This occurs during an annual needs assessment meeting, facilitated by the village chief. If a person or family lives closer to the village center, they will be more likely to both hear about the meeting, and be able to attend the meeting (due to distance and financial resources needed to get to the meeting).
As a recommendation, the students, who would know because they grew up in these villages, suggested that Trailblazer work with village chiefs to set up a better system for ensuring all villagers know about this annual meeting, and can attend it if they want to. This is the type of data Trailblazer wants to be able to collect and/or collect more of, as it helps us evaluate and refine our programs, products and services.
As such, this pilot project has already proven to be valuable in enhancing Trailblazer's program monitoring. Combine that success with our efforts to develop better MER systems and hire a new MER manager, and Trailblazer will be able to fully launch our improved monitoring and evaluation process in early 2018. While this may not be the most captivating part of Trailblazer's work, it is critical to our continued growth and success. Therefore, it is exciting news we wanted to share with you, our supporters.
Trailblazer's Agricultural Trainings - Striving for Organic, Focusing on Food Security
In executive director Chris Coats' opening update, she mentioned how each year at this time, Trailblazer's staff likes to dream a bit about what we can do in the coming year to better fulfill our mission. Last year at this time, we were planning to increase the number of agricultural trainings we hosted, as well as launch a new Farmers Community Group pilot project (part of our Economic Development program). For each of these efforts, the staff in both Cambodia and the states thought it would be best to encourage these farmers to "go organic."
A year later, as we begin planning for 2018, we are grappling with the reality that many of our rural farmers are hesitant to stop using fertilizers and/or pesticides. Our decision for the upcoming year is to continue striving for the ideal use of organic practices, but remain focused on first ensuring we can help provide the more important objective of food security.
Trailblazer has infused organic gardening into our Horticulture and Soil Management and Composting trainings, in hopes of having our partner farmers spend less money on agricultural chemicals (these are, after all, people living on less than $2 a week income). As well, we have encouraged the thirty farmers in our pilot Farmers Community Group to use organic practices, as those products will fetch a higher value when sold to markets and restaurants in Siem Reap City.
These Cambodian farmers have three good reasons to want to continue using fertilizers and/or pesticides. First, they have been taught, and likely have experienced, how these chemicals help the crops grow faster. And the faster a vegetable or herb grows, the sooner the farmer can eat or sell it.
Second, farmers who have larger garden plots often cannot afford the amount of organic compost they need to grow their crops organically. Finally, as is the case with many long-standing customs throughout the world, this is simply how they have done it all their lives. As any of us can attest to, breaking a long-standing pattern is difficult work, and one of the reasons why Trailblazer's rural community development work is a long, steady process.
For Trailblazer, the upshot of all this is that the objective of our Food Security program should be just that - food security. To that end, we have developed four agricultural trainings for our village partners: Horticulture and Soil management, Composting, Raising Poultry, and Fish Farming. If our Composting training leads Cambodian villagers to begin using organic practices, that is icing on the cake. The cake itself is Trailblazer Foundation helping these villagers improve their quality of living by - as our mission states - "improving health, food security, education, and economic development in rural Cambodia in ways that are self-sustaining by the individuals and communities we serve."
You can learn more about our Food Security program and work on our website.
Building a New School - Trailblazer's Biggest Single Expense
In the fall of 2015, during our annual Board of Directors retreat, the Board voted to establish education as one of our four major programs, and set a goal of constructing a new school each year. Trailblazer's first project ever was building a school, back in 2004 (see Trailblazer's origin story here). Since then, we have constructed six more school buildings, and two libraries.
These schools have been, or will be, either a primary or secondary school, a decision contingent on the requests Trailblazer receives from the annual village needs assessment process, called the Integrated Workshop. This process occurs each fall, when chiefs from a District's many communes come together to pitch the needs of the villagers in their commune. Trailblazer is honored to be one of only a handful of non-government organizations invited to this annual meeting.
At these meetings, Trailblazer chooses which requests to fulfill in which villages, and signs agreements to complete these projects in the coming year. The commitments we make become our annual work plan, each contingent on funding. Building a school is Trailblazer's biggest single expense, as the actual construction costs $65,000, and all other associated costs can add an additional $10,000-$15,000 to the price. Adding to this challenge, two of our major funding sources - philanthropic foundations and Rotary clubs - typically do not fund this type of construction - or infrastructure - project.
For these reasons, it is a challenge to meet our new organizational goal of one school per year. This year is no exception, and we recently made a decision to postpone breaking ground on our next school building until early 2018 (as we are confident we will have raised the initial $65,000 by then).
Another strategic decision Trailblazer has made, dating back to our first school project in 2004, is to not get involved in managing and maintaining the school. We made this decision for two reasons. First, running the day-to-day operations of a school is a full time project, something many other NGOs focus on. Trailblazer's raison d'etre is the broader mission of rural community development as a whole, through our health, food security, education and economic development programs.
||One of the classrooms in the school we built in 2016
Second, if we deed the school building over to the Cambodian government, it becomes a public school. The government is then responsible for providing the teaching staff and Cambodian curriculum. Additionally, because our school buildngs become public schools, they qualify for food support through the United Nations World Food Program (thereby addressing, at least in part, another one of Trailblazer's programmatic areas - food security).
So, as part of the inauguration ceremony for the new school building, Trailblazer signs the deed over to the Cambodian government. We then know that our construction project will be fully utilized for its intended purpose, and Trailblazer can move on to supporting another village (or two, or three, as some schools are shared between villages) with the construction of another school building.
|A classroom in the school Trailblazer has been asked to replace with a new building.
Through all of this, the biggest challenge Trailblazer faces within our Education program is securing the funding for this type of infrastructure project. As such, we are always looking for new prospective donors and/or new fundraising ideas to meet this need: annually, Trailblazer's biggest single expense.
We welcome any contacts or ideas you might have.
Scholarships for Seamstresses - Meeting An Expanding Need
A little more than one third (38%) of Cambodia's approximately 15 million citizens continue to live below The World Bank designated "international poverty line" of USD $1.90/day. In Cambodia's Siem Reap province, where Trailblazer focuses its efforts, and one of the three poorest provinces in Cambodia, 45% of the people live in poverty. The average wage of rural villagers in Siem Reap province is less than USD 25¢ a day.
However, it is important to remember that, when discussing the average income, we need to differentiate between those people living in the town of Siem Reap, and Trailblazer's constituents who live in the villages outside of Siem Reap town. Generally speaking, people living in Siem Reap town are far better off economically, due to the tourism industry related to the Angkor Archeological Park.
To address this lack of income opportunities in the villages, Trailblazer provides our rural constituents with the technical and financial support they need to start or expand a small-scale business,
or turn a craft into an income.
One of the ways we support our village partners is through work skills development, supporting women who want to start a sewing business, and supporting a new Farmers Community Group (which is in its pilot project phase).
As you may recall from recent newsletters, our work skills development has focused on a five-and-a-half-month training sewing program at the local Women's Development Center. In collaboration with the Center, Trailblazer has been providing sewing machines to the women graduates of this training. The women can take these machines home to start a business with their newly developed skills. For 2017, Trailblazer has committed to purchasing and donating 20 sewing machines to recent graduates.
In planning discussions with the Center, we have learned that the Center is expecting the number of women who take the sewing training to decrease in 2018 and beyond. This is because most all of the women who live within an easy commute of the Center and want to take the lengthy sewing training have already done so. Now, the Center needs to start recruiting women from further away, which will increase the trainees' costs in two ways. First, the longer travel distance will be more expensive, prohibitively so for most rural Cambodians. Second, the women's food costs will increase with their being away from home for five days at a time.
Additionally, the Women's Development Center has told us that the students need more materials, mainly fabric, with which to practice their new skills during the training. All in all, moving forward, women are going to need some support to attend these trainings, and we at Trailblazer are strategizing on how to provide that support.
Our idea is to offer scholarships to women who want to attend the five-and-a-half-month training. Our hope is to launch this new service in 2018, so women can continue learning new skills to enhance their income opportunities. Also, some trainees have told us they could use some technical support in starting a home sewing business, mostly with respect to business management and marketing. This too is a new service we hope to begin offering in 2018.
Both of these new services will complement Trailblazer's existing commitment to provide 20+ graduates a year with sewing machines, which they can use to make clothing and other products to sell. And all of this fits in well with our commitment, as written in our mission statement, to support our partner villagers "in
ways that are self-sustaining by the individuals and communities we serve."
You can learn more about our partnership with the Women's Development Center, part of our overall Economic Development program, by
Meet Don Kushner, Our Board Vice-President
Don joined the Trailblazer Board in 2011, when he still called Jackson, Wyoming home. Don was recruited because of his more than thirty years of experience in non-profit operations across the U.S. and Canada. Don's professional background is in the arts, with extensive experience in theatre, music, dance, television, and arts production management. He and his wife, Lizzie, currently live in Canada, where Don works in British Columbia's thriving film Industry.
Don's travels have taken him off the beaten path world-wide, where he finds the best of humanity living far from the politics and pavement of larger cities. One such place is Cambodia, whose people have found a warm place in Don's heart. It was his visit to the Siem Reap area that inspired him to support Trailblazer Foundation. Don was inspired to accept a Board position because of the integrity of the co-founders, and the important work Trailblazer Foundation does.
Trailblazer's Community of Supporters
Meet Elise Prayzich, A Supporter Since Trailblazer's Early Days
NOTE: This is a new section in our quarterly newsletter, where we highlight some of the people who are making all of Trailblazer's work possible. Typically, our supporters play an important role in Trailblazer's success through their financial contributions to our work. However, people support Trailblazer in a myriad of other ways too: offering skills sets we need, making connections to other people or organizations, donating particular things we need (a computer, for example), hosting events for us, and more. You all are our community of support, and we want to start highlighting one of you in each of our quarterly newsletters.
We start with
Elise Prayzich, who now lives in Newburg, Oregon (just south of Portland), but first heard about Trailblazer when she lived in Jackson, Wyoming - Trailblazer's original U.S. headquarters. Elise is one of Trailblazer's longest supporters, having first contributed soon after we officially became a non-profit organization in 2004. She first heard about Trailblazer through a friend at church, Karin Ralph, who was one of Trailblazer's founding Board members. Elise thought that if Karin was involved, it must be a good cause.
Although Elise has never been to Cambodia, or anywhere in southeast Asia, she likes supporting Trailblazer because we "teach people in Cambodia to fish" on their own (as opposed to just giving them a fish). Elise is a retired teacher and librarian, so education is important to her. She likes how Trailblazer provides technical guidance to rural Cambodians, who learn how to do for themselves. However, it's not just Trailblazer's training services that inspires her to support our work. Elise's favorite part of our work is our distribution of water filters, because these products are so important for the rural villagers' health and progress.
Even though both she and Trailblazer have left Jackson, Wyoming, Elise continues to financially support our work because, as she said, "I can see that Trailblazer is doing a great job with all kinds of things, and they have local staff to lead their efforts." Elise is one of Trailblazer's monthly contributors, which she uses because monthly giving makes it easy for her to donate a little bit more each year.
Elise also said she looks forward to our newsletters, where she can read about what Trailblazer is continuing to do, and what is new. We are pleased to highlight Elise's long-standing support for Trailblazer in this new section of our quarterly updates. Thank you, Elise, for all your financial and emotional support. We are grateful for you being part of Trailblazer's community for all these years.
Trailblazer Receives Contributions For New Well Drilling Equipment
For those who receive our mailings or follow us on social media, you know that in late June Trailblazer launched an effort to raise $20,000 for the purchase of new well drilling equipment (see original
fundraising appeal here
). We are pleased to announce that we have received a little more than $20,000 in contributions, and will be ordering our new equipment soon.
Securing funding for equipment and infrastructure is often more difficult than raising money for an organization's actual fieldwork, as donors typically want to have their support earmarked to directly help those people or places in need. In this case, our well drilling equipment is part of both Trailblazer's infrastructure and our fieldwork, as the drilling equipment allows us to provide new wells to 100+ rural Cambodian families each year. This dual purpose may be why we had such tremendous support from a wide variety of donors for this campaign.
In addition to the more than three-dozen individuals from the United States, Canada and Europe who supported the campaign, we also received generous support from Abercrombie and Kent Travel, Friendly Planet Travel, Exo Foundation, and the Rotary Club of Zurich Airport. We are very grateful to one and all, and specifically want to acknowledge the business and Rotary support we received.
With this generous support, we can now order the new drilling equipment.
Our new equipment will have five major improvements from our existing equipment. First, the entire drilling equipment will be permanently mounted on our truck. This will both save time our staff presently spend offloading the machine at each new drilling site, and makes the equipment more stable for safe and effective drilling.
As well, our new set-up will include:  a pulling machine;  a one-ton pressure force drill;  a more powerful air compressor; and  a pull cart trailer. These features are highlighted in the photos, which are of a similar design to what we will purchase.
The pulling machine is a cable unit at the bottom of the drill frame that slides the drill rig across the back of the truck to get the actual drill in place (see yellow circle on image to the right).
Second, the one-ton pressure force is the machine that pushes the drill into the ground (see red circle on the image to the left). This works the same as a person using a screwdriver, with the person as the "pressure force."
Next, the air compressor is a machine that controls the drill mechanism as it goes down the new hole. It causes a vibration that breaks up the rocks (similar to a pneumatic drill breaking through concrete).
Finally, a pull cart trailer will be attached to the back of the truck to carry other supplies, such as cement, tools, pipes, bricks, and the like.
Twenty thousand dollars is a lot of money. However, as you can see, we are getting a lot for our investment. Our existing drilling equipment has served us well for seven years. We look forward to the new equipment providing plentiful and healthier water to 100+ rural Cambodian families per year, for the next seven or more years.
A Final Word....
Here are some photos of Trailblazer Foundation's worksite in Cambodia, where co-founder and executive director Chris Coats will be visiting later this month.
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