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Listen and learn - hearing voices of those impacted by migration in rural Cambodia

An innovative program of participatory theatre and practical support, for a Cambodian community seriously impacted by temporary migration.

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In a Cambodian community seriously impacted by temporary migration, this innovative program of participatory theatre and practical support, directed by the community, will rebuild sustainable connections for the whole human journey

We will rebuild bridges within the whole community, assisting all people impacted by migration - those who leave, those who return and those who are left behind.

Drivers of unsafe migration 

  • In a poor rural area in Cambodia, labour migration is seen by many as the solution to many issues, including lack of employment, indebtedness and long-term poverty and deprivation.
  • Migration, often to neighbouring Thailand, is hazardous, with mostly undocumented workers exposed to risks such as dangerous work conditions, exploitation and trafficking. 
  • Impact on families and communities left behind is serious, especially for women who care for extra dependents and children whose education suffers. 
  • Many migrants experience problems when they return home, including poor health, limited employment opportunities and social problems related to re-integration.
  • With many migrants travelling back and forth, the whole community experiences serious, ongoing impacts.

What is our approach?

  • Use participatory theatre to empower people to share stories of migration
  • Hear and amplify the plurality of migration experiences from across the whole community
  • Raise awareness and empower people to recognise their support needs and manage access to support required 
  • Provide access to well-established community support and services 
  • Facilitate and deliver new support designed by local communities 
  • Ensure sustainability by involving authorities and key influencers 
  • Measure the impact via mixed-method research approaches 

How will we do it?

  • Use Forum Theatre to allow people to identify and articulate their own issues and challenges
  • Perform stories from real life for audiences with shared experience to collectively problem-solve, to recognise the support they need, and identify others in the community who need support
  • Provide support using well-established migration and family interventions provided by CFI
  • Train authorities and key influencers (KI) to identify risks and help those affected by migration to navigate the services and support they need
  • Identify new support required and build programs to meet demand
  • Gather both qualitative and quantitative data directly from participants 

What does success look like?

  • Voices of community members and their experiences of migration are valued and heard 
  • Improved relationships and increased mutual understanding between community members 
  • Increased community awareness of problems arising from migration, particularly undocumented/unsafe migration
  • Broader reach for access to existing services 
  • Those impacted access support across the four layers of human need - basic support, community support, non specialised services and specialised support
  • New support and services designed to meet demand identified via theatre activities
  • Sustainability ensured through the identification and training of community leaders and key influencers so the program continues after completion of the project

This project will enable vulnerable communities in one of Cambodia’s poorest rural areas to share experiences and be heard, and receive the support they desperately need to mitigate the adverse impact of unsafe migration. 

What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

This is an opportunity for vulnerable families in one of Cambodia’s poorest rural areas to share migration experiences, be heard & supported. Labour migration has increased dramatically in recent years. Forcibly displaced by poverty & debt, 25% of Cambodians change location in the country (mostly rural-urban migration) & 12% leave to work abroad.

Economically depressed and close to Thailand, Ek Phnom has a high rate of unsafe labour migration - around 90% undocumented. Most return, but many travel back and forth for many years. Migration impacts the whole community. Migrants face dangerous journeys & working conditions, low wages, trafficking, exploitation, poor health, family separation & problems reintegrating. Returnees are seen as different & are ostracised. The impact on those left behind is significant with high school drop-out rates & women (often elderly) left to care for extra dependants & suffer financially. Women & children face risks of trafficking, physical & sexual abuse & exploitation.

We will implement 4 strands of intervention: 1. Amplify voices through theatre workshops to draw out individual experiences & create Forum Theatre shows that present problems & invite audience participation to suggest solutions. Allow people to define their experiences, increase understanding, build bridges in the fractured community & catalyse further connections. 2. Train local authorities (LA) (village & Commune chiefs, Commune Council for Women & Children, police, village volunteers) & key community influencers (KI) (teachers, health centres, monks, influential villagers) to recognise migration risk factors & respond safely, creating clear referral pathways. 3. Expand access to CFI family-specific interventions - uncover people in need & provide support - safe migration workshops, employment, supporting children to return to school & emergency support for returnees. 4. Design new interventions directly responding to needs raised through theatre

Geography of focus (500 characters)

Ek Phnom is an extremely poor rural district approximately 8km north of Battambang in northeast Cambodia. High poverty levels arise due to dependence on agriculture susceptible to weather and other risks & limited alternative employment opportunities. Geographically close to Thailand there is a high rate of unsafe migration across porous borders. An indicator of high migration rates is a lower than average ratio of men to women in this area.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

We will rebuild bridges between people who leave, return & are left behind when relationships & understanding break down.

We’ll also build bridges between those in need with informal & formal authorities & services to support them.

By developing effective, resilient relationships & community-led support structures, we will ensure these bridges are durable & sustainable long term, enabling this community to share stable, promising futures within an ongoing context of migration.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

We will deliver services & interventions serving 4 layers of need: basic needs, needs for community support, non-specialist & specialist services & new interventions. Forum Theatre is exciting. It treats individual stories with dignity & identifies what matters most, fosters connection & empathy, dismantles mutual suspicion & isolation. Performances are captivating unusual events in deprived rural locations & sharing experiences creates connections. All people want to be heard. A participatory approach enables people to share experiences within their community & tell service providers what they need, empowering them to keep their families safe. Building relationships & offering vulnerable users & communities access to non specialist & specialist support to meet human needs creates conditions where joy, hope & dignity are not only possible but expected outcomes. Framing within existing community structures builds sustainable resilience, ensuring benefits beyond the project end date.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

We make ordinarily silenced community members experts of their own situation. A participatory approach identifies community need & demand for services, creates solutions & evaluates benefits.

Authentic engagement through theatre activities increases mutual understanding, facilitates community connections and improves social conditions for people impacted by migration.

Existing authorities & key influencers willing to lead interventions are trained & empowered to effectively safeguard vulnerable members of their community in ongoing & sustainable ways.

A far wider group of people in need is aware of risks & support available & able to access CFI’s holistic program of social support, currently available only to families already engaged with CFI.

We will ensure positive change by monitoring community awareness, responsibility, ownership, & responsiveness. Key community influencers will independently lead ongoing safeguarding & will effectively evidence change.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

We are inspired by the level of need in a location people leave, a previously untold part of the migration story. We want to raise awareness of unsafe migration, increase the ability of migrants to return & support those left behind. The answer is to allow communities to tell service providers what they need, be heard & empowered to lead services & interventions that build bridges & resilience & keep people safe. LK specialises in working with communities to hear & represent their experience. Proven benefits include increased confidence, critical reflection skills & personal agency. CFI delivers safe, effective interventions that build resilience. Past successful collaboration with LK motivates CFI to diversify approaches to identify & meet user needs. People need a combination of what our organisations offer. We are truly inspired to build bridges between those impacted by migration, combining LK’s skill at reaching people with CFI’s experience with measured effective intervention

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

Battambang is Cambodia’s 3rd largest province with almost 1 million people (half under 20) mostly in rural communities with high rates of domestic & international labour migration. 34% of Battambang households are identified as poor, at ID Poor 1 or 2 (national average 27%). High numbers of people living in vulnerable circumstances are noted in a Kingdom of Cambodia/UNICEF plan to reduce violence against children where Battambang is a priority area.

CFI works with many children left behind by parents migrating domestically or to Thailand & with families forcibly returned by Thai authorities after irregular migration. Well-established programs ensure our ability to create connections with vulnerable groups & the skills to support them.

This project engages the whole community - people considering migration, those returning home & those left behind from migration. Forum Theatre will amplify the voices of this community and CFI will provide effective interventions.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

We leverage existing social structures & the lived experiences of those affected by migration to empower whole community collaboration on problem-solving and harm reduction.

At every stage community members will be project champions. LK & CFI will facilitate, create space & provide necessary technical & financial resources.

Feedback on our test highlighted eagerness for this work among local residents & authorities. Their investment is essential to project success & sustainability. We recognise the importance of building relationships with key community influencers whom we will equip with knowledge & skills to champion & maintain the bridges built, ensuring those impacted can access timely & appropriate interventions.

CFI has provided a holistic service to Ek Phnom children & families for 10 years & has established strong community relationships. Theatre will bring joy, enhance hope & build partnerships to ensure long term success in this community.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

CFI & LK are experienced in effective delivery of social & theatre interventions & will facilitate this program in partnership. Our combined, complementary activities will support the full human journey. Success will rely on formal & informal relationships created via Forum Theatre and KI training, partnerships with users who participate in theatre workshops, & CFI interventions. Partnership work will be vital in relation to key community influencers. A strategic, community-wide safeguarding network will be put in place with well-trained key representatives of pagodas, law enforcement, education, health and local government structures able to cooperate to identify & respond to signs of risk in their communities. Once the effectiveness of the approach is established, we will share findings & methodology within our two National Networks: Family Care First | ReACT ( & 3PC ( International Organization for Migration, potential future partner

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Other

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Platform: Creating a community or market that facilitates interaction between users and resources

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Prototype: We have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.

Group or Organization Name

Children's Future International (CFI) in partnership with Lakhon Komnit Organisation (LK)

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

CFI provides services to some of Cambodia’s most marginalized & vulnerable children & their families. This includes those who are considering unsafe migration to escape continuous poverty, children left behind by parents who migrate & those who have returned. We support families in making their own safe choices & building resilience, safety & hope. One service is regular workshops designed to reduce risks of unsafe migration which we will develop by providing services in partnership with LK.

Lakhon Komnit is a Battambang-based theatre group, formed by local Cambodian artists who grew up in poverty. Migration is a personal issue for us. Many relatives & fellow artists have migrated unsafely. Theatre is a tool for empowerment & we share it with the most marginalized members of Cambodian society. We have seen our work develop self-worth & enable collective problem solving, & provide the catalyst for people to change their own lives.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

United States of America

Organization Headquarters: City / State

Denver, CO

In preparation for expert feedback: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in these categories? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea. (600 characters)

Unsafe migration is normalised in everyday life and decision-making. Migration is perceived as an opportunity not a risk. How do we work with this perception so families are safer and bridges are built in the community? Users who would benefit most from participation are often those who experience the most participation barriers. How can we engage a wide audience without providing financial support and therefore creating service dependency? How can we ensure motivation for the project is durable and extends far beyond the lifespan of the project activity period, without creating dependency?

Did you use the resources offered during the Improve Phase (mentorship, expert feedback, community research)? (2000 characters)

A strength of the Open IDEO process has been the opportunity to gather & be influenced by users’ views. An LK Forum Theatre performance in Ek Phnom was used to test response to this concept among authorities & community members. Test feedback showed the platform is accessible for bridge building and also identified areas for improvement. User feedback: see the video.

User journey mapping helped us visualise user experiences & recognise how journeys vary by demographic & the impact we could make & how.

Mentor support refocused our thinking, from an almost singular focus on consulting & hearing user voices, to interventions: what, how, who for, why? A significantly more targeted application resulted.

Expert feedback reinforced the importance of user feedback & reduction of service dependency, both important considerations for both NGOs.

Invited comment & questions on our idea from contacts & public. Engagement was inspiring in amount & content: links to alternative information, suggested resources, support for the use of theatre.

Participated in video calls & read online guides. The early webinar set a tone of applicants as collaborators rather than isolated competitors. Increasing understanding of user experience & serving user needs were always paramount.

Inspired by reading other entries - rich sources of information, stimulated thinking. We linked to an idea for advice on outcomes in theatre. Many captivating ideas enabled further reflection on our own. The open access approach fuelled further thought, in contrast to conventional, isolated submission of a first idea.

The Improve Phase directly facilitated our 2 organisations deepening our working collaboration: through drilling into the specifics of what we could & couldn’t offer individually, enabling us to reflect on past projects strengths & weaknesses. The result is a partnership which is now ready to begin to implement a greatly improved & strengthened idea.

In what ways would potential BridgeBuilder funds allow you to pursue your idea that other funding opportunities have not? (1000 characters)

Ordinarily, funding requires pre-defined solutions imposed on, rather than demanded by, a specific group. These funds allow us to listen to users & respond in close cooperation with those who benefit & to whom the benefits of intervention must be clear & valued.

Individually, our organisations cannot adequately support the full human journey & meet the challenges presented by migration. BridgeBuilder transforms this into a strength: we combine resources & expertise to better serve users.

Our BridgeBuilder approach is designed to support community ownership & growth. The varied program of activities & diverse team of expert facilitators is necessary & will engage whole communities: from most vulnerable, to those with power & influence. We will establish a group of champions from the community & empower them to lead into the future.

Significantly, improvement via the application process itself means we now present a developed, viable platform, ready for implementation.

What aspects or proportion of the overall idea would potential BridgeBuilder funds primarily support? (1000 characters)

Estimated budget USD$150,000 (2 yrs)

BridgeBuilder funds will support the initial stages of establishing this work, creating community-led & supported, sustainable structures that do not require ongoing funding.

It does not need to cover the appointment & training of staff, as both CFI and LK have experienced people in place. CFI will continue to provide ongoing support to users post-project, particularly in the areas of basic need & specialised services.

This approach not only addresses the risks of migration but may uncover participants with a love of arts who go on to join other LK programs.

BridgeBuilder funds will support the entire delivery of 5 rounds of theatre workshops, creation of 4 Forum Theatre performances, & 6 public performances of each in local communities (45% of total). It will also partially fund CFI’s social work team & targeted interventions that address the 4 layers of need described earlier, along with project oversight (remaining 55%).

What are the key steps or activities for your idea for implementation in the next 1-3 years? (1000 characters)

*Consult stakeholders *Apply for ethics approval *Theatre workshops: 3 adult groups from 18 villages in 2 communes; 1 CFI youth group to share experiences, hear voices, create Forum shows *CFI collect info+baseline data to inform next steps *24 Forum Theatre performances in communities: 6/group, 150 audience/show= 3600 audience members *Post-show followup, recruit workshop participants + KI, measure impact *Consultation+review with LA + KI *Continued community engagement: prototype + trial community developed solutions *Consult on interventions *Train LA+KI, raising awareness of the risks of migration, how to spot signs & effectively respond *CFI provide support+intervention to families referred via this project *Alternative interventions, identified by communities, delivered *Use endline data+info to produce research on outcomes, ensuring learning from community-led process reaches other services + organisations *Followup theatre sessions *Post Project sustainability: community-led

What will community-level impact look like over the timeframe of your idea? How will you determine whether or not you have achieved that impact? And what outstanding questions do you still have? (1000 characters)

IMPACT: By 2022 this project will have directly reached 60 as workshop participants & performers, 3600 as audience members for shows & approximately 15000 in the wider community through storytelling, experience sharing & bridge building. 80 families will be safer via targeted CFI interventions. MEASUREMENT: This is an action-oriented piece of participatory consultation supported by formal research. We will use Results Based Accountability to evaluate programs & mixed-method research to measure outcomes & impact. CFI is experienced at data collection and will use qualitative interviews to measure: community perception of migration; changes achieved by intervention; which interventions built bridges &, resilience & created safety. Data will be gathered to improve & develop this process & ensure interventions address risk. Findings will be published to disseminate information. QUESTION: How do we adjust our model to replicate elsewhere; and measure impact on the level of community change?

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of roles and responsibilities for each entity). (1000 characters)

LK: Theatre program, participatory consultation, addressing needs for community support and non-specialist services. Will prepare & deliver workshops, facilitate show creation, organise community performances, facilitate Forum Theatre, refer & connect support when needed, attend & provide theatrical animation of CFI-led training sessions for LA & KI.

CFI: Project oversight, community migration interventions including, provision of basic support - food, shelter, healthcare, education, emergency support, and non-specialised support - supplementary education, public schools partnerships, family employment help, & specialised services (trauma-informed care), child protection, support from trained social workers & referrals to other agencies. Lead training of KIs.

During regular partnership reviews, CFI & LK will share lessons learnt and information received & evaluate if responses align with community hopes, dreams & desires.

Lastly, how did you apply new learnings to your idea? (1000 characters)

Expert feedback consolidated the need for community consultation to hear & respond to demand & ensure sustainable long-term outcomes.

Our mentor highlighted our focus on consultation & failure to describe interventions. Four discrete strands of activity now address the four layers of user needs: Forum Theatre workshops & performances; referrals & access to existing social work services & support; training for existing LAs & KI; a strand of intervention kept open to respond to community needs & wants.

CFI consulted its consumer participation group & learnt how to engage & work with the community to foster relationships. Users reminded us to place CFI as partners and we have moved into this role. We’d had only a social work-based focus on risk and a theatre perspective prioritising relationships. We are now aware of the 4 layers - basic need, community support, non-specialised & specialist services - and how to serve them via integrated programs.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Arsene Mongane Baci

Je trouve très intéressante cette idée et je pense qu'en l'associant avec la mise en place des cliniques juridique viendrait aider ces communautés surtout pour ce qui concerne la question d'accès à la justice.
Je serai heureux de voir se réaliser ce projet.

Photo of Zoey Henley

Thank you for your support!
Merci pour votre soutien
best wishes

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