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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Cambodia: ‘Alone in the World’

Our mandate is to help the poorest of the poor. So who is in this rarefied category, and what does life look like for these ones?

In a stable context, where war or natural disaster hasn’t suddenly and dramatically changed life for absolutely everyone in a given area, the poorest of the poor tends to be a certain kind of person.

She tends to be a woman left to fend for herself. She tends to be a fearful and exhausted mother trying to keep her children alive with an absolute minimum of resources and support.

Preab Souen, a widow with five children, used to epitomize this kind of poverty - this poverty that distinguishes itself from most other kinds of poverty. She lived on the edge of a jungle, in danger of attack from wild animals, because it was the only place where she could live, without title, and a little food to keep her children alive. Our staff member Leng used to go and visit her, often waiting all day for Souen to return home after working other peoples’ fields.

Why was Leng so persistent? What she said evoked nothing other than our mandate, expressed as a simple cry from the heart: ‘I felt so sorry for this young mother, working so hard for less than a dollar a day, and seemed so alone in the world.’

Soeun and her children did eventually climb out of the hole they were in. We helped her to install a clean water well, trained her in enhanced gardening techniques, and connected her with a group of local women who helped her with skills training, money saving, and entrepreneurial ventures. With the support of this group, she began a successful chicken-raising business.

Leng’s words ring true. There are people who truly are alone in this world, and they need not be. Furthermore, they simply aren’t alone if we know about them and do something to help them.