The last week I have spent traveling with my photographer, my interpreter and Randa the wife of the Setan, the President of TransformAsia. We traveled to the Women’s Center in Kampong Chhanang, the Battambang Trade School, our children’s feeding center at Kambour Mountain and The David Center Orphanage at An Long Veng.
The purpose of our trip was to gather information on all of our women, students and children. We are hoping to find sponsors to provide support for each of our kids via our web site. The recent economic downturn has resulted in a significant loss of general support for our ministry. Our Women’s Center can accommodate 95 girls but, after a recent graduation we can only support 26 girls at the present time.
At the Women’s Center, Chomreuon, my interpreter interviewed each of the women that are now living with us and documented their personal history. A number of girls have very sad and difficult circumstances in their lives that have brought them to the Women’s Center. I watched their faces as they told their stories it was heart wrenching to see their facial expressions as the spoke in Khmer. Later Rhonda interviewed five of them on video. At one point four of them were sitting on a nearby swing holding on to each other and crying their eyes out. They all have suffered significant sexual, emotional and physical trauma.
After two days we drove on to Battambang where our trade school is. Here we take girls that are at risk to being sold into the sex trade or are too poor to continue school and train them to be tailors or seamstresses. We also teach computers and English. While these girls have not experienced the sexual and physical trauma some also come from abusive family situations.
After a day spent dealing with a mild case of stomach distress due to some food that looked real good and tasted fine but, it made me sick for 24 hours.
We continued on to the remote village at Kambour Mountain where we have a feeding program for the local children. This area is completely flooded as a result of the recent typhoon. All of the local farm animals and many of the families are living on the single land dirt road because it is the only land that is mostly elevated above the flood waters.
We only can afford to feed the kids once a week now. I had paid $100 for an extra feeding so we could film the feeding and interview several new kids. When we arrived there were about 90 kids sitting in circles on the floor of our barn waiting for us to arrive. As soon as we got unloaded they started serving rice, pork and a vegetable dish to the kids. They gobbled it down quickly and as we were passing out packages of cookies, 17 more kids who are not registered with our program, but heard about the food, showed up. The staff graciously shared their food with the new kids.
I saw a young man drive up on a motorbike with a 14-month-old boy wearing just a dirty T-shirt, a common sight here. I just assumed that he was there to pick up one of his other kids. In a minute I saw the dad sitting on the floor feeding his little boy. Rhonda asked him where his wife was. He said she ran off and left him with the little boy. I couldn’t believe how much food that little kid packed away! I am sure the dad was hungry too, but there wasn’t any more food. The needs here are so great and it seems impossible to meet them all. You just do what you can.
We then packed up and drove another 5 hours to our orphanage in An Long Veng up near the border with Thailand. We arrive just as the kids were finishing dinner so we had a great time hanging out and talking with the kids and staff.
Later, I was standing outside talking to a staff member. It was dark, about 7:00 pm and it was hot, the hot and humid sticky with no breeze kind of hot. We were swatting bugs as we listened to the kids sing their favorite worship songs during their evening worship. Sweat was running down my face, my back and my pants were soaked with sweat. I was thinking what in the heck am I doing in a place like this? This is miserable! The answer is easy, I am privileged to be able to be here and make a difference in the lives of these people. Sure I miss my wife, my family and the familiar things at home. But, God is moving in Cambodia and what we are doing now will change this broken country for Christ as these young people grow up as solid followers of Christ. And He is letting me play a part in this. I am fortunate indeed!
As we were about to leave the orphanage to go back to Phnom Penh a little old lady approached Rhonda and asked her if we could give her a ride to Siem Reap. She had come to the orphanage to tell one of the kids that his only living relative, his grandfather, had died. Rhonda agreed and as we went down the road Grandma told her story.
Her husband and all of her children had been killed during the Killing Fields time. She had never left her small remote village that can only be reached by a footpath through the mountains. Traveling to An Long Veng takes 8 hours or more from the time she arrived at the road. She has no money and basically depended on the kindness of strangers to take her to her destination. By the time we reached the turnoff for Siem Reap Rhonda had decided that Grandma was going to the big city of Phnom Penh with us. She would stay with us for a week and then Rhonda would take her back to Battambang where she could get a ride to her village trail. It was fun to watch this dear little lady experience modern society for the first time. She had never been in a city, eaten in a restaurant, shopped in a mall, ridden an escalator, eaten spaghetti (she loved it), or lived in an air-conditioned room. She is going to have some stories to tell her friends back at her village.
Never Drive At Night In Cambodia!
The trip from the orphanage at An Long Veng to Phnom Penh usually takes about 7 hours. The first two hours is on a beautiful new road that winds through the countryside. Once you hit the main highway to Phnom Penh the traffic increases significantly with lots of big trucks and busses on what is basically a two-lane country road. The last two hours as you approach Phnom Penh the traffic is very heavy with every type of vehicle imaginable. Trucks, busses, cars, motorbikes, horse drawn carts, carts pulled by water buffalo, tractors and farm equipment, these weird carts pulled by what looks like a big rototiller, crowds of school kids on bicycles and pedestrians. We knew that it would be evening when we arrived, but I had no idea how crazy the highway gets at night. The traffic gets even heavier the closer you get to Phnom Penh. Half the vehicles have no lights or tail lights. The road is on an elevated dike and the trees planted along the road create a tunnel like effect where it is smoky and pitch black. Most of the oncoming traffic has their bright headlights on. It is really hard to see where you are going especially when a crazy driver is trying to pass you with his horn blaring and bright lights on. The poorly build road is deteriorating rapidly due to the overloaded trucks and potholes are unexpectedly frequent and large. I hit one so hard that my turn signal and windshield wiper levers both flopped down and turned on the wipers and turn signal. I tried to find a vehicle to just follow through the mess of traffic, but people either drive way to slow or the drive crazy fast passing anyone in front of them.
Then we had a blow out on the left rear tire. I found a place where we could get off the busy road in front of an empty shack. The jack was not correct, we had no jack handle and we could not get the jack under the axle to lift it up. A kid appeared out of nowhere on a bicycle and asked if we needed any help. We told him about the jack situation and he came back with a beat up hydraulic truck jack. It worked and in thirty minutes using both jacks we were able to get the axle lifted enough to change the tire. The spare was half flat! No problem, the kid knew where we could get it filled for 25 cents just down the road. He even offered us a place to stay behind his house if we couldn’t get the tire changed. I gave the kid and his crew $5 for the help.
I will never drive that road at night again!
I am leaving for the airport in an hour so I will see you all soon.