Earlier this year, I wrote about how Cambodia Knits was using Patreon to raise funds to help stay afloat during COVID. Since being back in Cambodia, I’m happy to learn that Cambodia Knits is still in business and making some (good) changes! They’ve recently gone through a rebranding and are now rolling out BeeBee + Bongo. Beebee+Bongo is a social enterprise that produces really fun, quality, hand-knitted products AND providing fair, flexible employment for women in Cambodia! A double whammy of goodness! They’ve recently launched a brand new Kickstarter to raise $15,637 USD by Christmas 2020. So if you are looking for some great ethically made and eco-friendly toys for the children in your life with the added bonus of securing more employment opportunities for mamas in Cambodia. Please consider supporting BeeBee+Bongo. I did! My godchildren in Oregon are going to get some sweet gifts for Christmas (delivered in April 2021 – but honestly does the days even matter given how crazy this year has been?)

Bullet celebrating the launch of BeeBee+Bongo. I finally got the water buffalo I always wanted.

Cambodia Knits was hit hard during COVID. Cambodia has no local tourists to buy products, since the borders closed in March it’s been MONTHS. That with tough shipping logistics makes it hard for small businesses to get their products to the international market. Kickstarter helps programs like this have the support and financial backing from their local (and ever-growing) community. Supporting BeeBee+Bongo, allows them to continue to provide fair, flexible employment to women in Cambodian communities. Which is huge, because our schools are currently closed too, so mamas can work for BeeBee+Bong AND keep an eye on their children from home. (This is something heavy on my heart since so many mothers here need to make the choice between working to feed their families and being able to keep their children safe). BeeBee+Bongo wants to continue to grow in 2021, employing more mamas to stay at home with their children and continue to be able to put rice on their tables. BeeBee+Bongo was to grow to be more sustainable in the products they are creating – including using 100% certified organic cotton yarn.

Check out the Kickstarter Video

One last thing, since this is a very kid’s toy’s focused posted. Cambodia Knits has also partnered with a dear friend of mine’s Cambodian, ethically made, resort wear brand, Nary. While Nary is focused on very high-end clothing. They do have a line of kid-friendly masks that come with a Cambodia Knits animal who also is wearing a mask. So if you need more masks or helping your kids wear more masks – definitely check them out here. They are currently running a 12 Days of Christmas campaign so if you want to spoil yourself or your loved ones with ethical clothing. Definitely check them out too.

Every Christmas I try to invest in local, ethical, small businesses making an impact in their communities. This year, more than ever, I’m searching for ways to invest in communities to make a positive change – be it due to COVID or racial injustice – there are loads of ways blessed people can bless others. How are you doing this season?

Just another normal adventure in a rental car

Here is a little personal reflection I wrote up about traveling to Battambang and MRO’s need for a new car. We are currently fundraising for one on the GlobalGiving platform and are participating in #GivingTuesday, an opportunity to raise additional funds for this car. If you read this on Tuesday, December 1, 2020, please consider donating. If you are reading this after December 1, 2020. Have no fear, you can still donate.

There is a term for motorcycles and cars that are barely functional here in Cambodia.  We call them “Frankensteins”.  They are held together with shottie welding, duck tape, and prayers.  I remember one time, I took my friend’s motorcycle to get it’s air filter replaced only to find out my friend’s motorcycle didn’t even have an air filter.  The space where an air filter would be instead had a surgical face mask zip-tied in place.  Stuff like this is common in Cambodia and rental cars are no different.

Visiting one of the families affected by the flooding.

Recently, the MRO team was assisting families affected by the terrible flooding in northern Cambodia’s Battambang province.  Since all three MRO cars were already in use, a Social Worker and myself took a rental car for the eight-hour journey on bumpy Cambodian roads and through flooded streets.  (The Government actually shut down the stretch of highway we traveled on the following day due to the overwhelming flooding).

Being in a rental car for eight hours gave me a lot of time to reflect on how risky domestic travel can be in Cambodia.  This minivan was a perfect example of a Cambodian Frankenstein.  The front passenger seat had been removed and replaced with another rear passenger two-seater.  Allowing the driver to add an additional passenger.  My own seat had also been replaced at some point, but the original seat belt was still in place.  This meant instead of being a true safety device, this seat belt was a death trap – the sash part cut across my collar bone, nearly choking me, and instead of across my waist, the lap belt went across the side of my kidneys.  Since it was made for a different seat and sat further back than my seat (which was soldered in place) the safety release wasn’t operating properly.  I was essentially trapped in my death trap and ended up doing what most Khmer people do remove my seat belt for the majority of our eight-hour ride through flooded streets.

Using a back seat as a front seat.

Traffic accidents are a major issue in Cambodia, in a 2010 World Health Organization report states that every day three people in Cambodia die from road accidents and an additional 100 people are injured.  As more cars and trucks have been imported into this country over the past decade these numbers continue to rise.  The annual cost of traffic accidents is $116 million USD, more than 3% of the nation’s GDP.  Traffic accidents account for more than 50% of hospital admissions.  Traffic accidents kill more people than malaria, dengue, or small explosives (UXO land mines).  The two major causes of traffic accidents are speeding and driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.  The saying here is “It’s not if you get in an accident, but when.”

Personally, I’m part of this statistic, in November 2019, I was in a non-work-related, motorcycle accident that resulting in breaking my tibia and fibula.  I spent a night in a Cambodian hospital before being medically evacuated to Thailand for surgery.  One year later, I’m healed, but very aware of how close anyone in Cambodia is to be a statistic of a traffic-related accident.

It’s hard for one to truly articulate how bumpy Cambodia roads can be.  Imagine using a country gravel road as a two-way highway, add some massive potholes, the size that could easily be as big as a small car, add motorcycles, cars, and bikes, joining traffic the right way (or wrong way) with no warning, and fasters cars and trucks overtaking one another.  That is a pretty good idea of the chaos that is Cambodian travel.  With 50% of the roads hard-surfaced, all-weather, and in good conduction.  Most roads are crushed stone, secondary roads are just unimproved dirt, and little more than motorcycle or cow tracks.  If you are in a rental car of unknown maintenance, it can be a very uncomfortable ride, and depending on the shocks and the tread of the tires an unsafe one during flooding.

Driving via flooded highways.

On top of the physical safety aspect of local travel.  Due to COVID-19, MRO needs to also be aware of exposure and spreading of the disease.  Taking a rental car or riding a bus increases the risk of exposure.  With Cambodia’s borders being closed to tourists (accounting for roughly 28% of national GPD) and factories being closed or working at a limited capacity (about 31% of GDP), many people are eager for work and the opportunity to provide an income for themselves and their families.  Renting a car and driver opens MRO up to more chances of exposure to the COVID-19 virus.  As we don’t know the health of the driver, nor who they have transported within in the last two weeks.  At MRO, we keep logs of everyone who uses our cars for contact tracing.  Who was in the car, where did they travel to, etc.  On top of that, the need to provide financially for families during pandemic times will force those who are sick to continue to work when they should be at home resting.  Our driver to Battambang was sniffling and coughing for the entire eight-hour drive.  I ended up putting on my personal masks for the entire ride as the only way to protect myself from the driver’s illness while trapped in a small box for eight-hours.  Thankfully, neither myself nor the MRO Social Worker became ill, but the “what ifs” weighed heavy on my heart.

What if we had gotten ill?

What if we had had an at-risk child with us?

What if we had exposed at-risk communities to this illness?

Another thing to consider is the overall sanitation of the rental cars.  When you own a work car, you can take it to be fumigated with a surface disinfectant that kills the COVID-19 virus, or we can manually clean the cars and wipe down all the touched surfaces of the car.  In a rental, none of these options are available to us.  Mystery stains are a part of life in Cambodia but can be increasingly alarming during a pandemic outbreak.

Furthermore, we need to consider the financial costs of taking rental cars.  This trip cost us $70 (one way).  If MRO completes 178 annual missions at the cost of this trip, our rental costs are $24,920.  At this rate, MRO could have saved for a new $50,000 car in just two years.  About half the cost of the new car we are trying to buy.  (It should be noted that not all missions cost this much, some can be completed within a day and thus would only cost $70).  In the last two and a half years, MRO has spent over $30,000 in rental car costs.

The team that came together to support these 64 families affected by flooding.

Here is just how one trip to a province in Cambodia to provide care for 64 at-risk families highlight’s MRO’s massive need for a brand new car.  I hope these observations, help you to reflect on the possibility of supporting MRO in its goal of purchasing a new car for the safety of orphans and vulnerable children, but also for the safety of our staff and their families as well.  If you are interested in joining us in making this goal a reality soon, please donate here: and tell your friends.

Using the GlobalGiving platform, MRO is participating in #GivingTuesday, which was created in 2012 as a “global generosity movement unleashing the power of people and organizations to transform their communities and the world.” GlobalGiving is celebrating #GivingTuesday with a $1 Million Incentive Fund, that will distribute proportionally based on final fundraising totals. Every project that activates donors will earn something, and the projects that bring in the most dollars will win the largest portion of the Incentive Fund.

Reading this update AFTER #GivingTuesday? That is okay. GlobalGiving is offering a 200% match on all new monthly donations set up between December 14 – December 18, 2020. New monthly donations that start during this Monthly Donor Drive will be matched at 200% up to $200 per donor, per project. They must remain active for three months after the initial donation to qualify for the match.

Have questions? Want to get more involved? Please let me know. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for reading this article and considering donating.

Much love from MRO.

Newsletter for Community Sector 2020

I get a lot of questions about how COVID-19 is affecting live in Cambodia. As of July 15, there were 165 cases of which 133 have recovered. Many factories are closed due to COVID-19 and international tourism, which makes up over 25% of the national economy is currently not happening. However, there is some good news, I’d love to share.

MRO’s Community Sector works with key community members to model practical applications of alternative care in order to support the reintegration of children and youth out of orphanages. They achieve this by using careful action-oriented processes at high levels to take control of a family’s own stability and security. Family and community are a key priority in creating an environment for providing the best holistic development for children. And provides better opportunities than living in an orphanage.

Community Sector operates for two programs.  One program focuses on preventing the separation of children from their families.  While the second program focuses on restoring the lives of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) within a community in order for them to gain access to a better life.

In order to achieve these outcomes, the Community Sector manages two different programs.  Here are some highlights from the first half of 2020.

Role Model Program:

In Phnom Penh: MRO staff visited with volunteering Role Models (RMs) in order to continue to keep a strong connection and continue to empower them with their work with orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) living in Residential Care Institutions (RCIs).

Due to COVID-19, large groups have not been allowed to meet in public.  In order to protect orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs), Role Models (RMs) were not allowed to visit orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) in the shelters.  Instead, Role Models (RMs) were encouraged to call and check on them.

Visiting and encouraging Role Models (RMs) with their work at a cafeteria in Phnom Penh.

In Siem Reap Provinces: MRO actively participated in the instruction of protecting orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) in the communities against COVID-19.

“Teaching children how to wash their hand and protecting from Covid-19”

Visiting known orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) families in order to share knowledge about COVID-19, rubbing alcohol, and mask.

This is one of our Community Role Models (CRMs). 

In Battambang Province: MRO’s Community Role Models (CRMs) and Community Support Group (CSG) worked together to share information about COVID-19 and how the community can protect one another especially orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs).

Community Role Models (CRMs) teach children how to wash their hands.  The children practicing what they have learned from the Community Role Model (CRM) and how to share the knowledge they learned with other children.

Additional Community Role Model (CRM) activities in Battambang.

Children working with MRO’s Youth Peer Network (YPN) learning about how to protect themselves from COVID-19.

Community Support Group Programme: 

This network includes Provincial of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation (PoSVY), Commune Committee for Women and Children (CCWC), and local authorities in order to find the best ways to support orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) within the community.

In Pursat.

In Battambang.

Orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) assessment for providing income generation support.  In addition to COVID-19 knowledge and prevention.

Key Community People (KCP) and Provincial of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation (PoSVY) providing basic support to orphans and vulnerable children (OVC)  family. 

Community Support Group (CSG) collaborated with local authorities to provide basic need to orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) families.  

Key Community People (KCP) facilitated with Community Role Model (CRM) and Village Chief to support three orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) to secure birth certificates.  This activity is linked with Child Welfare Network (CWN) in intervening to help the process of securing a birth certificate for orphans and vulnerable children (OVC). 

Community Support Group (CSG) and Commune Chief visited orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) during COVID-19 and provided basic needs.  

A visit with Key Community People (KCP) and local authorities to provide a refresher orientation about child protection to Key Community People (KCP).

I hope you enjoyed reading about the amazing work the Community Sector team is doing and seeing a little more of what life looks like in Cambodia through the photos. I’d love to answer any questions you might have about alternative care or how you can get more involved in the lives of orphans and vulnerable children. Just let me know.

Praying you and your family are staying safe.

Post-COVID Activities from Family-Based Alternative Care (FBAC) Team

I’ve been getting a few questions about what MRO has been up to amid COVID-19. I shared an update a few months ago, you can read it here. Our Family-Based Alternative Care (FBAC) Sector put together a great summary of their recent work and I thought I would share it with you for a few reasons: To give you a glimpse of what care looks like in Cambodia. A sense of how to pray for the team. And to get you thinking about how you can be praying for foster care programs in your home countries that have most likely been impacted by COVID-19 as well. I hope you enjoy learning about the various activities MRO is involved in, within the country of Cambodia. Here is what the team has to share:

Due to COVID-19, important face-to-face Family-Based Alternative Care (FBAC) Sector work had been postponed in the last few months for the safety of both Staff and Clients. This has meant there is essential work that has been delayed waiting to be addressed. With fewer COVID-19 cases present in Cambodia, this month, the FBAC team went out to tackle these activities.

Case Assessment

The needs of two families were assessed for possible Kinship Care supports.
One family was very low-income, based on referral by local authorities. The family is currently headed by a grandmother due to the mother migrating for work. So staff plan to provide supports through Kinship Care so that the grandmother can continue to care for her grandchildren within the family.

Family Tracing

Staff met with community members as part of a Family Tracing process to determine if there were appropriate relatives to reintegrate a child.

Emergency Foster Care (EFC) and Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) Visit 

Staff met with one EFC Family to issue Financial Retaining Supports and check in on how the Foster Parents and Children temporarily placed this EFC Family are doing. Then, Staff visited another family with four children supported as OVC under Kinship Care Supports.

Meeting with Residential Care Institution (RCI) Directors

Additionally, Staff met with the Directors of an RCI to understand their services and investigate the potential for partnership or placement.

Case Reunification

Case Reunification also occurred in another family with the partnership of DoSVY and local authorities.  Two siblings were able to safely return back to their biological family, along with a Reintegration Package of food and bicycles to get to school. Staff also supported a second case of reintegration back to their biological family.

It has been a very full month for the FBAC Sector staff tackling these cases, navigating complex processes to ensure the safety and well-being of children in families.

If you have any questions about anything you read in this blog post or want to get more involved. Please let me know. I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.

Cambodia Knits & COVID19

Welcome to week three of creative ways organizations are staying afloat in Cambodia in the midst of COVID. For previous weeks, check out Love Soap and Phnom Climb. This week I’d like to share how Cambodia Knits is using Patreon to keep their staff employed and busy.

Cambodia Knits’ Knitters

I’ll be honest, knitting isn’t something I gravitate towards, but I respect it. Who am I to judge my friend who knits in church, when I show up with my coloring book! I first fell in love with Cambodia Knits, when they launched Bong (Khmer for “older brother” or “older sister”) the Water Buffalo, a few friends who knew my love of water buffalos sent me messages about it. (It was a repeat of when everyone started sending me those mermaid tail blankets via Facebook a few years ago). From there I started learning more about Cambodia Knits, how they train and employ women, who can work from home to make beautifully crafted knitted products. When I started this little blog series, one of my friends reached out and told me I should write about Cambodia Knits and connected me with Monika, the Founder and Chief Knitter. Below is a quick video from Monika on how to support Cambodia Knits during COVID19.

Cambodia Knits (CK) is a social enterprise working with marginalized communities in and near Phnom Penh. Their goal is to produce beautiful, high quality, and unique hand-made products while providing fair and flexible employment opportunities. 

They believe women have the power to break the intergenerational cycles of poverty, contribute to their communities and change the world. Given economic opportunities, women invest their incomes into the health, education, and futures of their families. However, many women in Cambodia face constraints in finding and keeping paid employment. Cambodia Knits work within the constraints women face to provide fair, flexible employment and to support them to challenge those constraints. They focus on two things: producing fun, quirky handmade products, and providing fairly paid employment in Cambodia.

To date, Cambodia Knits has trained more than 200 individuals in basic and advanced knitting or crochet skills!

Once trained, all participants have the opportunity to produce Cambodia Knit products at piece rates. Knitters and crocheters are provided with all materials and receive a fair piece rate for what they produce. They regularly visit the communities to collect the products, pay producers, and provide support and additional training when necessary. Cambodia Knits believe that high-quality products can be made at home. This cuts out the need to travel the long distance into the city to find work and allows parents to stay home with their young children. It also means that people can work at their own pace and still earn a livable income.

Free the Bears partnership.

Another thing I absolutely love about Cambodia Knits is how involved they are in the Phnom Penh Community and regularly partner with other organizations / individuals on projects. Recently they partnered with Free the Bears, a local NGO that works with wildlife rescue and did a book about a scared little mole, Mole was Afraid.

When COVID hit, Cambodia Knits, sprung into action. Schools in Cambodia have been closed since early March since most Knitters work at home, they are able to keep an eye on their children, which is a huge blessing in a country full of factory workers. They launched a knitting kit (see video below) to teach more people how to knit. They also launched a Patreon page. Patreon is like GoFundMe, but to help artists. Patreons are basically investing in art and art creators, which these women definitely are. Right now the goal is to get 99 Patreons to support the Cambodia Knits and keep everyone working. Since shipping isn’t currently happening in Cambodia at the moment, they are gearing up for Christmas orders and working to grow partnerships with for wholesale orders. They are also reaching out to schools and businesses, to sell Cambodia Knits products as a fundraiser, where those making the sales keep a percentage of the funds raised. I’m definitely going to place an order for Bong and some buddies for him. I hope you’ll consider being generous as well, in prayer, encouragement, and Patreon-age.

Want to learn how to crochet in Khmer?

Interested in becoming a Patreon of Cambodia Knits? Check out their Patreon Page! Interested in learning more about how your school / organization can make money by selling Cambodia Knits products? Or interested in placing a whole sale order? Let me know and I can connect you to Monika, Cambodia Knits’ Founder and Chief Knitter.

Phnom Climb Community Gym and COVID19

It’s hard to believe that three weeks ago, Bullet and I were sitting on the floor in the empty Narita International Airport. We were in the first part of our journey back to the USA, Bullet was required to be in his crate for our entire 11 hour layover and I was grieving leaving my home, life, and friends and wondering for the hundredth time if I was making the right decision. When my phone started blowing up, Cambodia’s Prime Minister announced that Khmer New Year was going to be postponed. (This would be like if our President announced that Christmas would be canceled). It was a gut punch. I found myself writing in my journal, “How can I continue to serve Cambodia during this time?”

I’ve been pondering this question for the last couple of weeks and I keep finding myself being drawn back to generosity. When times get tough, people clutch to stability. I know I do. Yet if anything COVID19 is showing us how the human spirit is one of generosity. The more I think about it the more I think that God wove it into our being for moments in history like this one. We are a reflection of who God is and Jesus always seemed like a very generous guy to me. Investing His time, talent, and treasures into anyone who needed it. So I’m hoping to post stories of what my friends are doing in Cambodia in the midst of COVID19 and invite you to be generous – in prayer, provision, and encouragement. Last week, I shared what my NGO, M’lup Russey is doing and the opportunity to get involved with LOVE SOAP. And this week, I want to share about Phnom Climb Community Gym.

Running Bongs at Phnom Climb Community Gym.

I first fell in love with Phnom Climb Community Gym, when Bullet and I started doing Running Bongs, a local running club. We met weekly at Phnom Climb Community Gym. After a few weeks, the young, Khmer staff got used to having a big dog show up weekly for runs. I slowly got to know the owners, Mary and Christoph, and found out that we had a lot of things in common – we go to the same church, enjoy discussing website data, have a passion for making a difference in the community, and love sports. When I broke my leg, Mary and Christoph were a huge part of my support team. They made meals, checked in, walked Bullet, prayed for my constantly. Their son, Theo, was always asking about my “owie” and if he could come over and color and play with Bullet. They are the embodiment of Christ’s commitment to community and generosity.

Theo walking Bullet around Phnom Community Climbing Gym.

Mary and Christoph have lived in Cambodia for a decade. A few years ago, they saw an opportunity to launch Cambodia’s first climbing gym. Instead of launching a business to make money, they started the gym as a social business with two main objectives: (1) create and maintain an inclusive community of Cambodian and expat climbers in Phnom Penh; and (2) support organizations that work with disadvantaged children and young adults by offering them access to the gym to develop their self-esteem, trust, physical endurance, and mental fortitude through climbing. In a country where trust is lacking, Phnom Climb Community Gym is a place where trust is flourishing.

It’s been three weeks since the Cambodian Government shut down all gyms. Right now Phnom Climb Community Gym currently employs 10 staff members whose salaries go to support their families and their education. Mary and Christoph are committed to continuing to employ their amazing staff (also known as Bullet’s fan club). They are the core of what and who Phnom Climb Community Gym is. We don’t know what the future holds, but I’m confident Phnom Climb Community Gym will weather this storm. They still need help covering the costs of staff salaries, rent, and utilities while the gym is closed. Please consider being generous – in prayer, provision, and encouragement and check out Phnom Climb Community Gym’s GoFundMe page.

Mary and Christoph have created such a special place. Where you can show up as a tourist, backpacker, expat, or just a kid, and just have fun in a clean, safe environment. The space is open for running clubs, birthday parties, and other special events. There are always big smiles, high fives, and hugs. They want every visitor to have an exceptional, memorable experience. They believe that climbing is a sport that fosters teamwork, trust, community,  perseverance, and physical health, helping individuals to grow in their confidence and teams to collaborate better together. They even helped launch the first Cambodian National Climbing Team!

Need more proof Phnom Climb Community Gym is changing the fabric of Phnom Penh? Phnom Climb Community Gym partners with local NGOs to get more young Khmer kids climbing. One funny cultural “challenge” is talking about climbing considering that climbing is such a new sport in Cambodia that it doesn’t really have a proper name. (“Phnom” in Khmer actually means “mountain” – but there is no word for “hill” so a large boulder I ride on my motorcycle and Mt. Everest have the same name). It is normally translated as “going up a mountain” and climbing in a gym is simply “going up a wall”. This cultural gap made the children imagine that climbing was a foreign thing, like running for fun, eating bread, and wearing shoes indoors. In order to explain it, they had to see it by themselves. But as soon as they come to the gym their confusion turns into amazement. When they first arrive and see the shining holds and colorful walls their amazement turns to admiration when they see that the place was run entirely by Cambodian young adults from that grew up climbing mango and cashew trees just like them. This isn’t a foreign activity, this was for everyone.

Climbing isn’t just about kids’ physical development. Yes, they are getting stronger and are in good condition. But they also learn things about working together, helping each other, and looking out for each other. They have to work together, be considerate, and pay attention to each other, especially when they are safeguarding/belaying each other. During climbing they also learn about how they can solve problems, first to think and then to do something and to be flexible if something does not work out as they thought before. They also learn not to give up when it doesn’t work immediately but rather try again and again until it works out. So they are learning a lot about themselves and are getting more life skills, which will be useful in their future.

Help keep Phnom Climb Community Gym around for future climbers by checking out Phnom Climb Community Gym’s GoFundMe page.

What has MRO been doing during the outbreak of COVID-19?

I just wanted to take a moment to share what MRO has been doing in the midst of COVID-19. Our team put together this great recap for some of our donors and I thought I would share it with my support network. I’ve added little explanations throughout, but if something doesn’t make sense. Reach out, I’m happy to explain in more detail. Enjoy!

Management Team and Staff took COVID-19 very seriously and began to discuss and analyze the situation.  From those affected by COVID-19 to alternative ways to make sure MRO services were kept alive and continued to benefit Boundary Partners (organizations/groups that we view as stakeholders to our mission), especially Orphan and Vulnerable Children (OVC). Since MRO is a partnership organization, we are continuing to work with our Boundary Partners believing this will produce long term positive impact, ownership, and sustainability. By doing so, the relationship and connection that already existed with these Partners is an effective way of growing relationships during the outbreak of COVID-19 amid social distancing and not gathering as crowds of people.

MRO Leadership Meeting on COVID-19.

Working via collaboration with MoSVY (ក្រសួង​សង្គមកិច្ច អតីតយុទ្ធជន និងយុវនីតិសម្បទា Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation) , Subnational Level, and Local Authorities:

Even though Cambodia is still instructed by the government to not holding any meetings or gathering of people to avoid the spread of  COVID-19, MRO’s services are still alive via collaboration with Local Authority providing emergency needs and protection materials (rubbing alcohol, soap, awareness posters, and face masks).

MRO has been working with the Chief of Child Welfare Department of Pusat, Kompong Chang, Takeo, Battambang, Kratie, and Kandal province to distribute protection materials for OVC living in
orphanage and in community.

Receiving MRO contributions, Chief of Child Welfare Department with PoSVY (Provincial of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation) Staff have delivered these protection materials for children and raised their awareness on how to use these materials properly.  Including hand washing with soap and rubbing alcohol, and ways of self-protection and for others.

Emergency Foster Care and Case Management:

Family-Based Alternative Care (FBAC) Team visited Emergency Foster Care (EFC) children and families to follow up and provide monthly training. The team provided emergency food and hygiene packs to OVC children and families in Takeo, Kandal and Takream, Battambang. The team also informed children and families about COVID-19 and taught them to wash their hands properly to prevent the virus.

Supporting Careleaver in Need:

The life skill training to Careleavers (young adults that have left residential care) about the awareness of COVID-19 and gave out some posters to Careleavers and people in the community to aware of the virus and shared with them about handwashing properly.

A Careleaver who has serious eye problem has been supported and accompanied even during the outbreak of COVID-19, to see the doctor and he has got proper treatment.

Careleaver received emergency foods and medical support for their basic needs. Also, arrangements were made with the Village Chief and neighbors to make sure Careleavers are cared for, staying safe and healthy.

MRO staff visited Youth Club members to assess their feelings during the outbreak of COVID-19 and planning for self-protection and re-connection with their family once they are instructed not to go out of Residential Care Institutions (RCI).

Supporting OVC via RCIs Partners:

According to government instruction, RCIs are not allowing children living in RCI to visit their family and homeland for their protection and safety, MRO has been working closely with RCI Partners in taking care of Boundary Partner, Youth Club members and OVC living in RCI for their protection and safety during the Outbreak of COVID-19. We contribute awareness posters and protection materials (face mask, rubbing alcohol, and soap) to RCIs directors for protecting the safety of OVC living in their place.

Active involvement from Key Community People and Youth Peer Network in dealing with COVID-19:

The life skill training to Careleavers about the awareness of COVID-19 and gave out some posters to Careleavers and people in the community to increase awareness of the virus and shared with them about handwashing properly.

Key Community People cooperated with the local authorities to distribute soaps and emergency package of food for vulnerable children and their families.

Opportunity to get involved!

Now that you have seen the amazing work MRO is doing in the midst of COVID-19. I’d love to tell you about an awesome partnership we are doing with Bumble Bee Soap. (You know them as my favorite soap company in Cambodia and their amazing beer soap!)

Bumble Bee Soap is launching LOVE SOAP, a project as part of their humanitarian response to the COVID-19 crisis, and inviting YOU to participate. LOVE SOAP is a budget-friendly soap that we will be giving away through our partner organizations.

They are inviting agencies and individuals to consider sponsoring a batch of soap roughly 70 bars. One batch of LOVE SOAP costs $70 to produce. You pay for the ingredients, they’ll donate their time and logistics to make and package the soap, and then their partner organizations such as Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) or M’lup Russey Organization (that is where I work!) will make sure it’s given to those who are most in need.

I’m working directly with Bumble Bee Soap’s Co-Founder, Tracie, to make sure MRO’s Foster Families and Careleavers get access to soap during COVID-19. If you are interested in getting involved – please let me know, via e-mail, comments, text, etc. And I’ll send you information on how to donate. Then you’ll get information on the soaps production and distribution.

P.S. Some of you might have received a duplicate email yesterday morning. That was a repeat email from my March Update that got re-sent while I was working in MailChimp in the morning. I’m so sorry for the extra “spam”.

Season of weeping and walking (Feb. 2020 Update)

On Ash Wednesday, some girlfriends and I attended a local English church service.  Part of the service included reading Psalm 51.  I found myself underlining this verse:

“Make me hear of joy and gladness, that the body you have broken may rejoice.” – Psalm 51:9

(Resting with my new physio tape that was keeping my kneecap in the right location.)

If I’m honest, February has been one of the toughest months I’ve had in a very long time.  I think the joy, thankfulness, loving compassion carried me through January and the reality of my situation trapped me in a thick mud of depression for most of February.  I was both physically and mentally exhausted.  Stuck in a broken body, in a country not set up for disabled people.  Overwhelmed by the burden Bullet and I was placing on my friends (who constantly reminded me they were happy to come over with food and to let Bullet out).  I found myself torn between being completely rational in my thoughts, “Obviously, this is going to suck, you have a broken leg.  Give yourself a break.”  And finding myself weeping from pure exhaustion, which of course turned to angry tears once I couldn’t get them to stop when a loving friend popped over to take Bullet for a walk.  Followed immediately by another wave of tears from the embarrassment of being caught in a moment of weakness.

(MRO’s Staff Celebration of our Executive Director.)

Regardless of a rough month, in the spirit of Psalm 51, I want to share some moments where my broken body rejoiced:

  • Physical Therapy – I took my first steps without crutches in February!  I also had my three-month post-operation check-up and while my fibula is still broken, everything is looking good.
  • Iroha – Two girlfriends kidnapped me for a weekend at a local hotel for a staycation.  Sunlight, walking in a pool, and some greenery did my soul so much good.  Even Bullet got to have a sleepover with my pastor.
  • MRO – I started going back into the office.  To help with interviewing new staff, honoring our founding Executive Director and working on some much-needed updates to donor reporting in 2020.
  • Le Serey – Two friends have been coming over on Tuesday / Thursday afternoons to work remotely from my house to keep my company.  One of them is launching an ethical business working with women and freedom opportunities.  We are just gearing up to launch, so if you are interested in learning more.  Sign up here.  Serey / សេរី / Freedom.
  • Motorcycles – I was able to serve at the Social Media person for the latest Prayer Ride.  Attend the post-ride debrief, and attend the 2019 Cambodia Enduro Championship Party.
  • Strove Tuesday – Bullet and I were invited to our first Strove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday, but with pancakes).  We had a blast learning about a new faith practice and even Bullet got his own pancake.
  • G2K Dedication – My language school has moved to a new building.  Attending the dedication ceremony, where worship and calls of education and transformation were made in both Khmer and English was an extremely powerful day.
(Prayer Circle Post-Ride Meeting.)

Just a note about the Corona Virus.  While it is just coming to the United States, Cambodia has been dealing with the fear of an outbreak since January. I’m prepared for the possibility of being quarantined in my apartment.  My friends who live in the same complex as me have offered to run the stairs with Bullet so he can get exercise if dog walks are no longer an option.  (I’ve been joking that a quarantine would feel like a Portland snow day.  Only it’s always over 90 degrees here so I don’t need a firepit.)

(Girl Gang at the Enduro Championship Party.)

Enough about me, how have you been doing?  Giving anything up for Lent?  Got any plans for Easter?  Anxious about Corona?  Let me know!  You can send me an email and share what is happening in your life and how I can be praying for you. I look forward to hearing from you!  As always prayer requests are below.

(Bullet in his new bowtie ready for Strove Tuesday.)

Hugs from Cambo,
ជេនណា / Jenna (and Bullet)

I downloaded Oz: The Complete Collection this month and am slowly making my way through the series.  I had no idea there were more stories about Oz other than “The Wizard of Oz” but there are actually 14 books!  As an added bonus, it was only one Audible credit for the entire collection.  Are you reading a good series at the moment?

Interested in financially supporting me?  Just click the button below and make sure you include my full name where it says “Person or Project Name.”  Thanks!  (I’m still waiting for my medical claims to be processed, but if breaking my leg has taught me anything, it’s that I could use more opportunities to practice patience and trust.)

Financially Support Jenna Forstrom

I would really appreciate you joining me in prayer in the following ways:

1.  Continue to pray for my energy levels and my leg to continue to heal.
2.  Please keep MRO in your prayers, our new leadership is doing a great job with the transition, but I’d love to start seeming some systemic changes be implemented for the future growth of the organization.
3.  Cambodia has been dealing with the health and economic drama of Corona for months now.  Continue to pray for protection for Cambodia in the midst of this epidemic and for peace for those living on the financial edges of society.

Worldwind Wrap Up (June 2019 Update)


(Gearing up for the annual 4th of July firepit on the beach.)

I hope you had a blast with family and friends.  It was great to celebrate the holiday with my parents, aunt, cousins, and families from my parent’s neighborhood.  My personal highlight was having my little cousin fall asleep on my lap while watching the fireworks for two reasons: 1) She and her two stuff animals helped keep me warm in this not-so-tropical weather and 2) I sometimes beat myself up for missing out on special family moments and it felt great to be loved by her, especially since that last time I saw her she was two years old and now she is four!

(Bullet napping during our 12-hour flight from Japan to Washington, D.C.)

Thank you so much for your prayers.  Bullet and I arrived safe and sound in Boston, MA on Sunday.  We were jetlagged and in much need of a good stretch.

(On my work trip to Battambang.)

June was a jam-packed month!  I had a work trip to Battambang province, where MRO’s second office is.  It was great to meet even more of the team, check out our new office space and spend some time encouraging the staff.  While I was there, the Social Work Team was dealing with a particularly difficult case.  As terrible as the case is, my biggest takeaway was seeing how passionate and hungry for justice the staff were for these two girls.  Our office table was covered with case notes, phone numbers and the room was filled with problem-solving conversations.  I have no doubt that these girls have been placed in our organization’s hands for a reason and I’m waiting in prayerful expectation that justice will be served.

Before I flew back to the USA, I wanted to make sure all the documentation was loaded on to our website and Youtube channels so all the social workers and partners will have access to the information while I’m gone.  I’m happy to report, I was successful in that task and am hoping to do a few more documentation write-ups to make it easier for the staff to share with the children, donors and other social work teams.

(Saron’s handmade dinosaurs.) 

On top of that, one of the women I mention through NOMI Network’s NIFT program found out she won a $1,000 scholarship to work with women in her home village to produce traditional Khmer weaving.  This will help provide steady income, a new skill set and help her to continue to grow her ethical fashion brand.  Last month, we spent most of our meeting time going over the scholarship application and filling out the necessary information in English together.  I’m bummed I’m going to miss her final scholarship presentation since I’m stateside, but I can’t wait to see her new product launch in early 2020!

I finished Level 5 Khmer before flying back to the USA.  My plan is to work with a language tutor when I get back to Cambodia and take Level 6 Khmer before the school has their Christmas break.  Then I’ll just have Level 7 and 8 to complete in early 2020!  It feels so good to be so close to being done with language school.  (I also told my Khmer friends to leave me voice messages via Facebook Messanger so I don’t forget everything I’ve worked so hard to learn while Stateside.)

(“Uncle” Sean, Peaches (Bullet’s girlfriend) and Bullet.)

Finally, I said goodbye to my dear neighbors, Sean and Maria, who repatriated back to the USA after serving two years with NOMI Network.  They are such awesome people, who love Bullet and me so well.  I’m so thankful God brought them into my life and I got to share life with them in our apartment block.

(Moving, Cambodian style.)

Not 100% because Sean and Maria were moving out, but maybe a little bit, I decided to let my apartment lease go before heading back to the States.  This saved me a bunch of money, not paying rent for a few months and I was lucky enough to store my belongings at my co-worker’s apartment while I’m in the USA.  I’ll be moving into a new apartment building that is a little bit cheaper and be in the same apartment block as some people from my church’s small group.

I’ve got a few speaking events coming up.  If you are near any of these locations, I would really love to see you.  Let me know if you can attend and I’ll save you a seat.

June 28 – I’ll be speaking at Congregational Church of Brookfield, in Connecticut at 8:30 AM and 10:30 AM.

August 9 – I’ll be hosting a dessert potluck for my westside friends at Hillsboro First Baptist Church, in Oregon at 7 PM.

August 24 / 25 – To answer all your questions and meet my home church, Oaks Parish.

I’ll be in Portland, August 5 – September 2, if you’d like to meet up, please let me know. 

Enough about me, how have you been doing? I look forward to hearing from you!  As always prayer requests are below.

Hugs from Cambo,
ជេនណា / Jenna (and Bullet)

P.S. My favorite podcast, Armchair Expert, started talking about the book, Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. so I got it on Audible (35 hours – such good use of a single credit).  My home church, Oaks Parish, also started a summer book club series on hospitality and Christian faith, so I also started, The Gospel Comes with a House Key.

I would really appreciate you joining me in prayer in the following ways:

1.  That my time and training in the USA goes well.  I’ll be in Pennsylvania for two weeks, meeting the team, other future international workers and learning a ton.  (Also, my parents will be watching Bullet so keep those three in your prayers as well.)
2.  That my upcoming speaking event goes well.  My financial budget is in need of a boost.  I’m confident God will provide, but I want to make the best of my opportunity.
3.  Continue to hold the team at MRO in your prayers.  They are doing amazing work in hard conditions and could always use pray and encouragement.

Good works and rest (May 2019 Update)

The annual thunderclouds have rolled into Phnom Penh.  While I haven’t seen much rain in the last few weeks, the nightly lighting shows are something of wonder.  It seems like the welcoming parade for rainy season here and power has become more stable during the month of May.

(Bullet using a generator as a leash stand while I run into the store.)

Stable power has been such a blessing this month.  I’ve been able to convert and upload all the assets M’lup Russey has asked me to load to the internet.  Our digital library continues to grow.  I’ll be working on more writeups to communicate with partners, supporters, and donors.  Additionally, I have started building a dev website for the team to review.  It’s been fun showing various leaders the upcoming new website and getting their insights and more information on various needs the website can serve.

(MRO’s Social Work team working with local officials to get foster children registered.)

One of the highlights of my work is that I get updates from the Social Work teams out in the provinces about all the projects they are working on to build relationships.  One time, I was grabbing lunch with a Khmer friend of mine and I got a notification that the MRO team was working with some foster care young adults who were aging out of the system to get registered in a “Family Book.” I shared this good news with my friend and she started crying.  She said, “You don’t know how important this is, these young people can now get jobs, go to university, get married – all legally.”  I just smiled and said, “I didn’t understand how important it was until I saw your face, but now I think I do.”  

May was a month of weird sicknesses for myself and those around me.  At the beginning of the month, I spiked a fever over 103, which isn’t alarming until you feverishly convert Celsius to Fahrenheit.  39.6C doesn’t sound so bad.  Also, learning how to use a mercury thermometer for the first time since I was a kid was neat.  Thankfully, I was in good hands with a bunch of friends bringing me soup, orange juice, drugs, and giving Bullet lots of love and walks, while I rested.  It’s moments like these when I reflect on how much living in Cambodia must be like living in the community the way Jesus followers must have lived during the formation of the church.  It’s all about being in community and being there for one another.

(Bullet reclaiming his spot after our roommate had to move back to the USA.)

On top of my own sickness, I welcomed another short-term visitor into my home for an expected one month visit while she explored thoughts of moving to Cambodia full-time.  Unfortunately, she experienced some medical issues and flew back to the USA after 10 days.  It was a little bit of a whirlwind at towards the end, but she is doing great now.  I also crossed paths with a woman from Portland, Oregon, who picked up an infection while backpacking through SE Asia and ended up in the hospital.  Friends from PDX contacted me and we spent a week praying and processing her time in Cambodia.  I think it was a real eye-opening experience for her.  She is also back in Portland now and doing well.

(Our “fifth” roommate on the island.)

May offers a long weekend in celebration of the King’s Birthday.  I was invited to join seven other women to visit my first Cambodian island.  It was an awesome experience, everyone works in anti-human trafficking, love Jesus and wanted a much-needed girls trip.  After an eight-hour bus ride and a two-hour boat ride, we arrived at a secluded island, with no cell phone service.  We spent three days, swimming, reading and encouraging one another.  It was nice to be in a space where my biggest problem was what book do I want to read or do I want to nap or go for a swim.  I also got the opportunity to drive with local transportation!

(Enjoying the CLEAN ocean.)

While I’m working hard to wrap things up here in Cambodia for my visit to the USA.  I’m also starting to coordinate my meetings, speaking events, parties, and get my budget in order for the next year.  I’ll be sending out an additional email shortly with my financial needs and opportunities.  Please let me know if you are interested in learning more, hosting an event, or grabbing a meal or going on an adventure while I’m back.

As always prayer requests are below.

Hugs from Cambo,
ជេនណា / Jenna (and Bullet)

(One of my friends from Khmer church, sent me this photo of her and Bullet while hanging out in my apartment.)

P.S. In May, I started reading Through Painted Deserts by Donald Miller.  One of my supporters has shared on multiple occasions that it is one of his favorite books.  I finally got my hands on a copy and have been enjoying it so far.  Donald Miller references Oregon a lot in the book, which has made me a little homesick, but in a good way.

Prayer Requests:

1.  That I can buckle down and focus.  I’ve got 25 days to wrap up Level 5 language at G2K, work, pack up and move my apartment, plus say goodbye to friends for 2.5 months and those who are leaving permanently while I’m gone.

2.  That support raising goes well while I’m home.  I need to raise additional support while I’m home to cover some additional needs here.  If you want more information on that, please let me know.

3.  That I leave Cambodia well.  That my team at work knows I’m still a resource and available to help them.  That my friends know I love and support them and will be back shortly.  June is a tricky month in Cambodia since many people either permanently leave the country or temporarily leave.  It can be hard for those who are staying.