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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Cambodia: Personal reflections on choices

We are pleased to share some reflections on the work we are doing in Cambodia, as expressed by Jennie Hofeling, a friend of HOPE International Development Agency, who recently visited our friends in that country.

Here's what our friend Jennie has to say about her experience...

My life is a constant stream of choices. Will I take a bath or a shower? Will I eat in or go out? Will I look through my fridge or freezer and find something to cook, or will I go to the market? Choices, so many choices.

I recently returned from my third trip to Cambodia, and was reminded how lucky I have been to be born in North America.

In Pursat province, where the poorest of the poor live, there are not many choices.

When we arrived, at the tail end of the dry season in over 100 degree temperatures, a typical day was simply a matter of survival. Get up at first light when it is still cool enough to work hard, and start walking long distances to try to find water. Hope that it isn’t too dirty, or too late, and that the small amount that has pooled in the night has already been collected. Have your first of two meals, a serving of rice porridge – hopefully enough to keep your belly from aching until you eat again. Go out to collect and forage for food - small gardens are almost nonexistent. Things don’t grow without water, so small critters, forest plants, and fruits are collected in ever growing distances from your home. How many ants does it take to feed a family of five? Hope that you find enough to keep your children quiet throughout the night, sleep, start again.

Somehow, Cambodians still have hope, and they ask for help. They ask and ask until someone listens. In Pursat province, Hope International Development Agency has listened and is helping.

Three years ago, we met families that had just received access to a well, or clean water provided by simple water filters. This trip, we met more families whose lives have changed dramatically. After having access to water for only 4 - 5 months, life is no longer the same. The house and yard have been tidied after training and education is provided by the Hope International Development Agency staff. A composting latrine dug. The father of the house takes us to his back yard and proudly hand cranks a simple pump, and cool water gushes. A large garden is flourishing. Additional land is being cleared. Time has been made available to plan. A son who was ill, who needed to help collect food and water, comes home from his day at school and hangs on to his mother’s leg, staring at us with clear brown eyes. She talks excitedly about what life was like and how it is going to be now.

Three years ago, we went to the opening of a brand new 3-room schoolhouse that was stuffed with beautiful, healthy, shy, curious, playful children. This trip, the same schoolhouse is now flanked by two additional school buildings, brimming with small hopeful faces who have learned to plan and dream, to be a teacher, a builder, a seamstress.

Once confined to a life of poor health, poor nutrition, endless work, children can now be children. The memories of fear, hunger, and pain are replaced by a teacher’s praise, learning to read, and a swing set.

We got to see real and simple solutions, and how they continue to work. A growing “dry season rice” program that creates up to two additional crops a year. Small businesses start or expand with a 100% success rate. Micro loan programs, and women’s self help groups. Farm animal banks, and health care programs.

Needs are addressed and solutions found by a passionate and tireless local staff that understand the restrictions of local customs, government, and tradition. Slowly, but consistently, life in this district is starting to improve. What seemed like overwhelming problems, endless poverty, and immeasurable need has become manageable projects with real enduring solutions.

My life is still full of choices and now after being inspired, changed, educated, humbled, and challenged by Cambodia, I am faced with another choice: what I will do about all that I have seen?