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Disfigured…Transfigured

posted in: 2010, Cambodia - No Comments

His face was a charred, burnt red. Like roasting meat pulled from the flames, it was a deep, swollen burgundy. His right eyelid had been blown away leaving a milky white ball with only the cloudy remains of iris and retina. There were no protective lashes or thick brows to shield the exposed ivory bulb. His left eye, relatively intact, was a crisp mahogany; it wasn’t a depthless brown, but a rusted wooden floorboard brown. His lips were a faded wormy pink and puffed up in the right corner. There were shiny burns and hard sores that disrupted the surface of his haggard, tender flesh. His hands were charred stubs, thick scar tissue nubs sprouted from where his fingers use to be. He fumbled with a navy blue baseball cap and sloppily mouthed words that spilled out like dried beans on a linoleum floor. Hobbling towards me, he continued to mumble and I, despite a twinge of compassion, pulled away, averting my eyes and briskly stalking toward a secluded indoor café.

He was a landmine victim. Cambodia is the single most landmine-ridden country in all of Asia. Every travel book and website I have read about Cambodia ominously warns against straying from well-worn paths, particularly up in the sparsely populated mountains and along the Thai border. Landmines are an American legacy; President Nixon had landmines planted during the Vietnam War, a measure taken to “quell” any insurgency that could be regrouping inside Cambodia’s borders. But it wasn’t the armed military or Vietnamese guerrillas who became the victims of the mines; women and children wandering across the open, grassy fields were arbitrarily blown to bits. Pol Pot, the ugly and ferocious Marxist revolutionary, planted even more landmines—particularly along the Cambodian border with Thailand—to dissuade the victims of mass murder from fleeing to safety. READ MORE

Model Mothers as Agents of Change

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Her name is Pach. At 30 years old, she has three daughters. The youngest is nestled against her chest, waiting to be fed. The other two are sitting close by, wondering and whispering. I thank her for inviting me into her home, encouraging her to be open about her experience with IRD. Her smile is warm, her shirt bright orange.

She knows IRD well. The acronym, standing for International Relief and Development, flies around this village like the common mosquito. IRD’s Child Survival Project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has been running for close to four years and is ending in September 2010. Striving to educate and equip the most vulnerable in the rural Tuk Phos province of Cambodia, the program’s main aim has been to counter the reality of infant mortality by decreasing malnutrition among children under five. Using the PD/Hearth model, IRD utilizes positive deviance as an effective teaching method for women. Educating mothers on health during pregnancy and proper breastfeeding techniques are just two ways IRD is encouraging behavioral change within the villages of Cambodia. It is the hope of the organization and the aim of the grant that these women who come to model positive health practices will in turn share their practices with family, neighbors, and friends. The passing on and passing down of knowledge are ways that IRD seeks to ensure the sustainability of its project.

The impact of the grant is noticeable. I ask Pach how IRD has been active in her village. “Education on hygiene and child feeding, hand washing, breastfeeding” is her response. As a model mother in the PD/Hearth Program, such a response is not surprising. Recognized by IRD for her commitment to adopting and upholding their health practices, Pach’s answer should be consistent with IRD’s goals for the program. IRD depends on women like Pach. READ MORE

Flickers of Hope

posted in: 2010, Cambodia - No Comments

Children. The Bible tells us they are a “heritage from the Lord” (Psalm 127: 3-5). They are whimsical, carefree, and downright adorable. They are innocent, trusting, and unblemished by the tough lessons that we learn as we grow older. In short, children are precious. During my six weeks here in Cambodia, I have marveled at the children who live joyously despite conditions that make my Western, sanitized heart rattle. The more I see this country, the more I fall in love with the shy smiles and wide eyes of its children.

I have noticed, though, that the children here are more reserved than in the United States and in Guatemala, where I have done previous mission and humanitarian work. In Guatemala, children ran to me with open arms, flocked around me, tugging at my blond hair and giggling at my broken Spanish. But not here; Cambodian children will watch me, their large dark eyes illuminated by curiosity, but they do not come near. There is a consciousness that strangers may be entertaining, but only from afar. READ MORE

Cambodian VERS Village

posted in: 2010, Cambodia - No Comments

Laura Brekke sent us this video to show us around a village in Cambodia.

Living Out In the Open

posted in: 2010, Cambodia - 1 Comment

Cambodian culture is not only distinct, but it is distinct in a visible way. By visible, I mean that as an American it is easy to detect the differences between my way of life and a Cambodian’s way of life – the food, the language, the “dress code,” and of course, the vast economic and political differences. But by visible, I also mean something that is perhaps more obvious, and definitely more indicting of the way my life is organized in America.

Cambodians live in a visible way, meaning that their lives are not hidden from the lives of neighbors, customers, or foreign tourists. Many own little shops lining the roads or sell fruit at the local market, sitting next to their products hour after hour. Most of their homes are comprised of one large room, perhaps one bed. Cambodians do not remain hidden behind tinted windows because bicycles and motorcycles are the most common forms of transportation. Granted, this visibility may not be an active choice for many Cambodians because of their various levels of poverty and utter dependence on others.  But this visibility, whatever the reason, is in fact a radical departure from the way Americans, more often than not, choose to structure their lives. READ MORE

A Christian in a Buddhist Land

posted in: 2010, Cambodia - No Comments

It was a constant sort of hum-chanting that filled the room with a warm, radiant vibration. Four monks, ranging in age from about 20 to about 60, sat on the floor of our large conference room. Shrouded in large pieces of orange or red fabric, they chant-hummed in a harmony that seemed to swell through the room like sweet incense smoke. My knees hurt from kneeling on a reed mat. I was lost; the language was foreign, the moments of bowing strange. I felt terribly out of place.

On Thursday of last week our office had a blessing. Here in Cambodia, inviting a local monk to come to your office or home to bless both your person and your space is a common practice. Monks are everywhere; their bright orange and rich red robes stick out. They ride on the back of mopeds, they wander around markets, and yesterday I even saw a monk using the internet. I don’t know exactly why I find this weird—I mean, I am going to become a minister, yet I use a computer every single day. Perhaps it is because for me, Buddhism is still a mystical religion that has—until Thursday—stayed hidden in the pagoda. READ MORE