The Man Behind the Scenes
By Justine Auton
During my third volunteer experience at Trailblazer earlier this year, I took some time to learn more about the man at the heart of what we do in Cambodia, Mr. Sor Ratanak, Director of Trailblazer Angkor [Trailblazer Foundation’s affiliate organization] and the person in charge of field operations.
Ratanak has been successfully delivering our programs for several years now, and I wanted to find out what was behind his passion for this challenging work – so I asked him.
“I want a better future for the children, and they won’t get that if they don’t know what better looks like - what is possible,” Ratanak told me. Ratanak explained that all of the good things we deliver; the water filters, wells, latrines and agricultural training are important, but helping parents have a vision for their children’s futures was essential.
Selling a different future requires a relentless approach, so how does Ratanak do it? “I talk to people – talking, meeting, building relationships. I talk to people all the time. You need to understand, Cambodians are naturally very shy people. They don’t want to talk about their problems, but we need to understand what is really going on so we can work effectively with families. This is the most important thing.”
I told Ratanak I’d seen some changes in Siem Reap. There is more building work, the area around Trailblazer’s work site was developing. Is this a sign that overall life in Cambodia is getting better for everyone? “No,” Ratanak said, “the Cambodian government is focused on the big picture of the economy and infrastructure projects in other parts of the country. The trickle down to Siem Reap is not happening so our villages still have to rely on themselves with the support of NGO’s.”
So how does Ratanak think we’re doing? “We still have so much to do. Trailblazer works in four districts with 55 villages. We work intensively with a village until 60%-80% of the families are supplied with access to clean water before moving on to another village. Many families share the resources [well and/or filter] so there is never a 100% coverage with every family having their own well and/or filter. Trailblazer is always available to return in the future, if a family decides they want their own well or filter. What is important to me is that we always meet our commitments. What we promise is what we deliver. This gives us credibility and the people trust us because of it.”
“Of course, we have to scale our work to our resources. I’m always thinking about cost, time and energy. I’d like to see more people volunteering so they have the opportunity to come to the villages and see for themselves how people live and the level of need, and that might lead to more support and resources.”
I asked Ratanak one last question – what inspired him every day? “The smiles. I like to see the smiles.”