AEC was established in 1998 and began activities that year in Boribor district, Kampong Chhnang province. Over the next two years, AEC expanded its work to neighboring TeukPhos district (Kampong Chhnang) and Krakor district (Pursat). Initially AEC’s activities focused on community organizing, protecting natural resources, and helping women in particularly difficult situations.
When AEC and local communities learned that a huge economic land concession had been granted that included all of these communities, AEC began to help the communities learn about their rights and relevant laws and link with other groups interested in supporting advocacy related to the concession. AEC helped communities in six communes in these three districts join together in a network. When the company stopped its operations and pulled out its equipment and workers in mid-2004 to early 2005, AEC focused on helping communities protect the forest resources themselves, in cooperation with local authorities, and continued to facilitate the local community network in a spirit of partnership.
In 2005 AEC began to help communities through the steps required for formal recognition of community forests (an official mechanism through which communities can get some rights over areas of forest) while continuing to help communities become more united, and continuing to facilitate the community network.
In 2008, when buyers from outside began buying up land in the communities at an alarming rate, leading to the fracturing of communities, AEC turned its focus to helping communities resist the temptation to sell their land and helping them become more united. Since 2009 AEC has focused on helping communities develop strategies to address the imminent loss of their land and access to natural resources. AEC has also increasingly undertaken activities aimed at organizing youth, both to address issues specific to youth and to contribute to achieving the communities’ overall goals.
Though land and access to natural resources has been a key focus of AEC’s work over the years, two other key focuses have been empowerment of women and economic development. AEC has addressed empowerment of women through casework (individual work with the poorest women), training of women, organizing of women’s groups, and mentoring of women. A number of women community members with whom AEC has worked over the years have grown into excellent examples of women’s leadership, and women play an active role in all of AEC’s activities. AEC has addressed economic development through casework as well, and also through the organization of savings groups and handicrafts production groups (processing non-timber forest products).
In 2009 AEC undertook an external evaluation as well as a strategic planning process. Based on these, AEC has restructured its programs to promote improved relations with local authorities and provincial departments, while continuing to support processes that empower local communities, help them to protect their land and livelihoods rights, and enable them to decide on the direction of their own development. Currently AEC has five programs:1.Women’s empowerment
4.Environment and climate change
In the last year, AEC has also taken a number of other measures to improve its organizational management and governance. AEC has submitted an application to the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC) Good Practice Project (GPP) and is working to achieve certification as a well-governed NGO.