What is sustainable change and why is it important? The United Nations defines it as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” . This is important because sustainable change refers to long-lasting and impactful transformations that can be maintained over time.

So, how do we go from identifying a problem in communities where we're placed, to then addressing it in an effective way?

ACCI Relief partner Mother’s Heart Organization (MHO) is Cambodia’s first – and only – crisis pregnancy support program offering holistic support services to women, with program offices in Phnom Penh and Battambang. 

In our first ‘One Life at a Time’ podcast, Katrina Gliddon, founder of MHO, shares how she went from identifying her call to recognising the problem, researching and figuring out the scope of the issue, then establishing a sustainable project that continues to bring transformation to women in Cambodia.

Katrina says there are four things you need to consider to make your work/project sustainable.

1. Define the need, or justice issue, you’re called to address

Katrina and her family lived in Cambodia for two years before Mother's Heart was born. During this time, they studied the language, worked with another NGO, and settled into the culture. This gave them the opportunity to see the needs and many justice issues that they could be involved with. They knew there was something in particular God had for them, but didn’t know what it was.

During this time, Katrina and her family had a helper working in their home for a while. Both her parents had passed away, and she had grown up in an orphanage. She became pregnant while working for the Gliddons. She now faced multiple difficulties: she was an orphan, so she had no family support, she was a single woman, and now she was pregnant. Her partner had abandoned her because he had another family.

This woman truly had nobody, so Katrina and her family became her family. They supported her through her pregnancy and delivery, and witnessed the barriers, discrimination and shame that she faced being a single mum in Cambodia.

This experience raised many questions for Katrina. Like, ‘How did this woman not know how she got pregnant?’ ‘How many other women in Cambodia were in the same situation?’ ‘What services were available to them?’ “She was the catalyst for us to see that there were huge barriers and discrimination and lack of services to support her,” Katrina says. This experience led Katrina to undertake extensive research and identify a huge gap that the government wasn’t addressing. In fact, she learnt that no one was addressing it, which led her and her family to believe that God had opened their eyes to this issue so they could be the ones to address it.


2. Identify barriers

Katrina soon learnt there were many barriers that women in Cambodia face every day. For example, there are stereotypes to contend with, including this one: ‘Men are like gold, women are like white silk. The gold can drop in the mud and you can wipe it and it’s clean again, but if white silk goes in the mud, it’s never really white again’. In Cambodia when a woman is pregnant – even as a result of rape or gender-based violence – she still holds the whole responsibility of that pregnancy.

Other barriers include lack of information about contraception and conception. Katrina recalls one 39-year-old mother expressing that she thought she could only get pregnant if she loved someone, and she didn’t love the man. This highlighted that there was no understanding of her own reproductive system, or the man’s reproductive system, nor the process of how pregnancy comes to pass. This was a huge barrier that was identified: ‘If you can’t understand how a pregnancy occurs then how do you stop it from occurring?’

Katrina also identified that women in Cambodia lack the social supports, and safety nets, we have in Australia. If a single mum can’t work, then she can’t eat and she can’t provide shelter for her family. She may also be unable to access healthcare.


3. Engage with the community

Katrina explains that she started very simply; the goal was to empower women and girls, equip them and educate them, and meet the basic needs of a woman who is in crisis. But the approach needed to be culturally acceptable, with community involved.

Before launching a pilot program in 2010, Katrina undertook extensive research, meeting with multiple stakeholders in the community – ensuring those she was setting out to reach were involved in this process. “If you get the community saying what they need and involved in the decision-making process, you have them for life,” Katrina says. “You have them on board taking ownership. Groundwork is never wasted.”

During the consultation process, Katrina learned that the only forms of ‘birth control’ were for women to have an abortion, sell their babies, abandon them, or put them in an orphanage. “We had women saying they wished they had somewhere they could go where there were other choices they could make when they were pregnant,” Katrina says.

Katrina realised one of the most important things was to work with local communities and government, making it possible for women to be able to access local services such as healthcare in the future. Working closely with community chiefs was also important if women were to be successfully reconciled back into their families and into the community that had rejected them. Women needed to be in a community, with the support of their family.


4. Plan for the future

Mother’s Heart is all about empowering women. The first step is counselling: clearly explaining the choices that women have, and presenting them – for the first time in their lives – with the opportunity to decide. Support then extends to helping them walk boldly into their future.

For example, Katrina’s plan to educate and equip women also extends to vocational training. In many cases, the organisation trains them to run a small business, which sets them up for life and gives them skills that are transferable across their lifespan. This helps to address the sustainability of a woman’s economic future.

Planning for the future also means the organisation’s future. The goal from the outset was for Mother’s Heart to be an organisation run by locals. Over the years, Katrina has worked to build a strong team of local people, while helping them to engage long-term partners who can finance the vision of the project. While Katrina is based in Australia now, Mother’s Heart continues its work just as effectively, always seeking to find new ways to move forward and become more sustainable.  

One final thought from Katrina: “The call of God is extremely important, [as well as seeking] Godly and professional wisdom. [We always need to consider], how can we do what we do and walk alongside the locals? How can we do our missions and development work alongside locals, empowering and encouraging them to be better for themselves and their community?”


If you’d. like to learn more about how you, or your church, can support Katrina Gliddon and Mother’s Heart, or if you’d like to know more about our intern program, please contact us.


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