Sunday, November 1, 2009

On the Road Again

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.

Monday, October 19, 2009

It's a long way around Ton Le Sap

Made it to Battambang after 8 hours of driving including a detour to visit the Kambour village. We called ahead and authorized extra feedings because we heard the kids come and hang out at our barn everyday wanting to be fed. We are unable to feed the children every day because we do not have sponsors for all of the kids. The food shortage is worse due to the floods and the kids are hungry. It is so sad. We had to go by canoe out the the site where we have about 100 hectares of rice fields. The land is completely flooded about 4-5 feet deep from the typhoon. It took about an hour to paddle out through the rice fields to see where we are planning to dig a canal and dike around our land to allow the river water to flow into the land during the dry season. It is such a beautiful and peaceful place until you come back to the village and it’s abject poverty and hunger. The new canal will also allow the neighboring farms to have access to water which will allow this village to be more prosperous. This farm helps us to support our ministry and we also minister to the local village children and their families there.

There is such a difference between the children at Kambour and our children at the David Center Orphanage. Our kids are happy and are constantly talking playing and hanging around, just goofing off like regular kids. These kids just stand around and have no smiles and watch us. You can get them going if you engage with them, but there is just something missing. It is a lack of a loving family and hunger. Many of the kids have been abandoned by their parents who have left the village to find work and are cared for by family members who struggle to feed themselves much less extra mouths. We saw people hunting for field rats that have been forced to leave the fields because of the flooding. If they catch a rat it would be their only source of protein and there isn't much meat on a rat.

Check out Setan's You Tube video about the kids at Kambour.

We have added 4 new kids at the orphanage. Three siblings, 10, 8 and 3 years old whose mother left for another man and their father is in the military. The father was ordered to the front line in the war with Thailand. He left the children alone at their house so one of our pastors brought them to the David Center. The 3 year old cried all the time so Rhonda has had him with her as she is traveling around. He isn't potty trained so they have had some interesting times. Yesterday an old grandmother brought her 8 year old grandson to the orphanage. His stepfather would beat him and make him go out and beg everyday. We hope there is no permanent brain damage. We now have 54 kids. I went with Setan to pick up the older kids from school. He treated them to egg embryos, one of their favorite snacks at a roadside stand. I ate the grossest looking thing that I have ever eaten. If you didn't look it was quite tasty. Basically it is a chicken or duck egg that has matured to the point that the bird has started to form. You can see feathers, feet, head, the whole thing with a yolk. You crack open the top of the egg and scoop out the insides. I will never eat one of those things again! We have a young women that lives permanently at the Woman's Center. She was repeatedly raped and beaten by her drunk stepfather and thrown off the porch of their house. She has permanent brain stem damage that has affected her vision and hearing. She is cross-eyed and essentially deaf. Her jaw has been broken and her face is somewhat deformed as a result. Alison Comfort is her sponsor and she bought her a hearing aid that is about 10 months old now. It has been damaged by sweat and finally totally stopped working. Yesterday we went and bought her a new one for $50. She was so happy to be able to hear again. Rhonda bought her some glasses so she has begun to learn to read. She is self taught through reading the Bible. She looked so cute yesterday with her glasses and new clothes that Rhonda brought her. She is a joyful, happy young lady that has a positive influence on the other girls at the Woman's center
Version:1.0 StartHTML:0000000149 EndHTML:0000004687 StartFragment:0000000199 EndFragment:0000004653 StartSelection:0000000199 EndSelection:0000004653 Malcolm Cash and I had a good flight from SFO. When we were flying into Cambodia it is amazing that most of the land along the flight path was totally flooded as a result of the recent typhoon. Even in Phnom Penh there are some areas of the city that are flooded including the streets and into houses.

We went to Bill and Akemi’s house (they run the day care center) and had dinner with them and their 9 kids. After dinner we had a meeting and Akemi shared her vision for TransformAsia, she is quite a visionary! We focused down to two projects that we have funding promised for. We will remodel the Phnom Penh church and video studio upstairs at our office building so that we can continue to grow our church. We need to knock down the walls to double the sanctuary size and hope to start doing more than one service on Sunday. We will video the preaching and send the DVDs out to the churches in the villages. Our local pastors will do their normal service and then the preaching will be done by Setan and Bill via a DVD player and a $150 TV. We see this as a way to help our pastors be exposed to quality preaching methods and their churches to solid preaching as well. Our vision is to grow a large dynamic church in Phnom Penh that will continue to grow as the young people move in from the country side to find education and jobs in the capital city.

We will remodel the downstairs area of the office where we park the cars now and build a store and coffee shop as well as a training facility for young girls to give them skills to keep them out of prostitution and expose them to Christianity. There is a similar facility in Siem Reap that is very successful.

The preschool daycare is wildly successful with over 60 kids now attending. The present facility will accommodate around 40. We are looking for a new building already. Our initial financial projection was too high and as a result our funding will last almost twice as long as we anticipated. Many of the mothers of the children that live on the dump pile are coming to the center to help and it is apparent that we need to start a church at the daycare for the families who live at the dump and surrounding area. People seem to be open to the gospel as a result of what they see happening at the daycare.

Tomorrow Setan, Malcolm and I hit the road on a 7 or more hour drive to An Long Veng. The new road that was just completed this year was washed out and we will have to go around the washout. Hopefully that will not slow us down too much. We have a missions team that will arrive at the orphanage tomorrow to do some repairs and painting after having spent the last few days painting at the Trade school in Battambang. I wanted to be there to meet them and thank them for their work and wonderful servants attitudes.

Next day we go on to the farm where we will attempt to determine the feasibility of digging a water supply canal that will bring adequate water to the surrounding farms and see what type of equipment will be needed to do the job. A big rice farmer in Singapore wants to help fund this project. We have an evangelism project going in this area feeding the children and hope to establish a church here.

The following day we move on the Kampong Chhnang to the TransformAsia University site where we will make the final site placement for the first building and attempt to solve our water issues. We will return to Phnom Penh by Saturday and hope to begin meeting with the first of three different contractors and get bids on the project. It is a neat story how God has provided Teri Flynn to be our architect and she has come up with an exciting design for the first two phases of this project. We are hoping to begin construction in the next 4 months.

After Malcolm leaves in a week I will return to the countryside and make the loop around Ton Le Sap lake again visiting all of our sites. This time I will take a photographer and a translator. We will attempt to document all of the women and children that we support so that we can begin our sponsorship program in earnest. We already have more sponsors than children because of the difficulties we have experienced getting the information on the kids to our web developer. Please pray for clarity and solving the computer and software issues that have plagued us.