Hello Dear Friends,
We’ve been in Cambodia for six weeks now with six weeks to go. Brian, Andrea and Liam arrived from Shekou, China and will be with us through Christmas. Liam is, of course, sweet, precious, beautiful and wonderful. We went to a small family-run resort with a swimming pool and lots of lush trees and flowers for a couple days. It’s only 5 kilometers outside Phnom Penh but feels like a different world. Tomorrow, we’ll spend Christmas afternoon and evening with the Maryknoll community.
It is so good to be here and reconnect with people we love. John has been busy. He works at the Ministry of Education Monday through Friday noon on the school leadership program and he and his co-worker, Iv Sarik, are beginning to see changes throughout Cambodia. John also teaches an all-day class every Saturday at the Royal University of Phnom Penh in the Masters in Educational Leadership Program. I’ve led a couple retreats, wrote a new Christmas play for Don Bosco School and am making lots of connections with people here. We continue to be amazed and grateful for our experiences and the glimmers of hope that we see shining in the most unlikely places. Following are a few examples.
Chantorn is the only female moto-taxi driver in Phnom Penh. A moto is a small motorbike and many Cambodians make their living driving people around the city on motos. Ten years ago Chantorn’s husband left her when she was pregnant with their youngest child. She decided to join the ranks of the moto-taxi drivers and now supports her two sons and her mother on what she earns. When we arrived in Cambodia we learned that Chantorn had complications from a recent surgery and couldn’t work for at least a month. I went to her small one-room house in a warren of old wood houses across the Tonle Sap River. She was weak and in pain. Thanks to donors at home, we were able to give her money to help with medical bills and lost wages. It was several weeks before she was strong enough to work but now she is well and thriving. She sends her thanks to all of you.
I met Neary in October of 2003 at Don Bosco Secretarial School where I taught English for a year. Neary came from an impoverished rural area and was homesick and terrified. She fainted her first day of class and spent much of the first week in bed in the dormitory. At a teachers’ meeting later that year, one of the teachers said that Neary was “lazy and not clever.” I asked about her strengths and they told me that she was a good artist. John and I asked Neary to illustrate a small book we wrote, Stone Soup in Cambodia. She did a wonderful job and we published 2000 copies and gave them away to schools throughout Cambodia.
Neary continued to struggle in school mostly due to fear and lack of confidence. After graduation, she worked at Sovanna Phum, a Cambodian non-governmental organization that runs a program called Child-to-Child. Neary is now a field worker in that program and works in several villages teaching children about hygiene, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, safety, disease and prevention, and parenting. She is passionate about her work and the children she works with. She often draws for them when they don’t understand particular concepts.
Neary is one of the young Cambodians we support thanks to so many of you. We pay for Neary’s English classes and provide a university scholarship for her sister Savoin. Neary lives near the university in a one-room house with her sister and two brothers. A friend in Cambodia pays Neary’s tuition at another university. She is in her second year and majors in accounting. She told us recently that she failed the high school exam after completing high school. She plans to take it again in July and is confident she will pass it. Neary (26 years old) attends a review class all day every Sunday and is enjoying it immensely. She takes notes when she studies and goes to class armed with questions for the teacher. She is thriving – confident, beautiful, “clever”, hardworking and full of energy. We can hardly believe she’s the same person we met six years ago. Neary and her sister Savoin are both grateful to people in the United States for the opportunity to study and get jobs that enable them to help the people of Cambodia.
We met Neang in January of 2002 when we accompanied the Salesian Sisters and several students to Neang’s village in Kampong Speu where they taught literacy to 5 year-olds every Sunday. Neang is now the head teacher at Maryknoll’s preschool for children who are HIV positive. She also helps with professional development for preschool teachers in the area.
For several years it was Neang’s dream to build a preschool in Pang Na, her home village. The elementary school principal finally agreed that this was important and said that he would hire a government teacher and open a preschool if he only had a building for it. Srey Neang began to look for a way to build the preschool. Last year we shared her story with friends and a couple from Seattle volunteered to fund the building. Others helped with furnishings and ongoing teacher training and support. The preschool is finished and the new teacher, Karaney, spent a month with Srey Neang in Phnom Penh observing the preschool, learning about early childhood philosophy and methods, and creating lesson plans and materials. The preschool opened December 1st. These are photos of the school and of the teacher, Karaney (left) and Srey Neang (right).
Thanks to many of you, we have the resources to respond to both crises and dreams in Cambodia. We are grateful to the Cambodian people who, despite their own poverty and problems, help transform the lives of others through hard work and a belief that seemingly impossible things are possible.
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year and decade. Thanks for your support and love.
Kathy and John