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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Working via collaboration with MoSVY (ក្រសួងសង្គមកិច្ច 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).
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”.
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
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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)
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.
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.
One of the things I loved about Cambodia is the fact that they celebrate THREE New Year’s – International New Years, Lunar New Years and Khmer New Years! April is all about Khmer New Year – think of it as a cross between our Christmas and Thanksgiving holiday for a week-long celebration. Everyone heads to their hometown province to eat good food, play games and celebrate. Bullet and I took Sharron, my co-worker from MRO, to Kampot to celebrate. Sharron has only been in Cambodia for a few months so it was fun to watch her child-like excitement for our trip down to Kampot and even she participated in some of the water fights happening around the town.
Things are work has been chugging along. I’ve been working on creating a digital library for our Social Work team and partner organizations to be able to access for great resources MRO has created in the past and working to publish in the future.
I started Level 5 Khmer at G2K. I’m doing this session part-time and will finish right before flying home to the States. This module is completely in Khmer script which I’m finding a little difficult, but I’ve found grace in sitting next to the kind British woman, who reads the assignments out loud in Khmer for me to follow along. On the positive side, I feel like, between language school, work and prayer riders my speaking and comprehension has grown by leaps and bounds!
I went on an additional ride with some expats and young Khmer men to Mount Chissor. It was a beautiful ride, a great time outside the city and hopefully, some girls will join us for the next ride!
The last bit of news is that I’ve finalized my trip back home to the USA! Bullet and I will be leaving Cambodia June 30th and headed to my folk’s house near Boston, Massachusetts to celebrate 4th of July and recover from jetlag. Bullet’s travels end in Boston and he’ll be spending the next 2.5 months enjoying GRASS and CLEAN AIR with my parents. July 7th through 20th, I’ll be in Philadelphia attending a cross-cultural training session. I’m excited to connect with future missionaries and learn more about the North America team I’ll be joining. Then I’ll be back at my parent’s house catching up with East Coast family and friends until August 5th when I fly to Portland! I’ll be in Portland until September 3rd. When I’ll be flying back to the East Coast for a little bit of vacation and family time. Then Bullet and I fly back to Cambodia on September 16th.
During my time home, I would seriously love to catch up with all of you. I’ll be sending out a few more updates about events I’ll be at so you can learn more about the work I’m doing in Cambodia and how to get more involved. I’d also love it if your business, small group or church would be interested in partnering with me and what that would look like. If that is you, please let me know and we can set something up.
Enough about me, how have you been doing? 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.
Hugs from Cambo, ជេនណា / Jenna (and Bullet)
P.S. In April, I kicked off a month-long Bible Study about being a missionary and worldviews. I have a digital copy of the Bible Study if anyone is interested in joining me in the study or chatting about it.
I would really appreciate you joining me in prayer in the following ways:
1. Continued prayer for my uncle and his family while he battles brain cancer. 2. That I can get as much done with work and all the logistics that go into flying back to the States in six weeks. 3. Open hearts and finances while I’m home to reconnect with family, friends and fundraise.
This was another project I’ve spent a lot of time working on during the first couple of months at M’lup Russey (MRO). In 2018, MRO hired a local video producer to create a series of videos highlighting the impact MRO has with orphans and vulnerable children all over Cambodia. When I joined MRO, the videos had just been completed. I spent some time figuring out the history of these videos, what all the acronyms stood for and how to tell a cohesive story with the English captions. We went through an editing process with the video producer. While he was working on the edits, I worked with our IT team at MRO to research our YouTube channel. I found out MRO had two YouTube channels, but only had access to one of them. That was definitely an interesting learning experience talking through technology challenges with the staff. With a little bit of brainstorming, we came up with a solution. Created MRO’s first YouTube playlist and uploaded all these videos and their captions to YouTube during the first few weeks of our daily power cuts! What a feat! Then I drafted an English blog post for the leadership team to review. All that being said, I’m super proud of the work MRO completed in 2018 – and as the blog post says, I can’t wait to see what is accomplished in 2019!
In 2018, M’lup Russey Organization partnered with a local video producer to create a series of impact videos highlighting the work M’lup Russey Organization did in 2018. We were able to get these short films edited and published them on YouTube and Facebook. We are super excited about the work M’lup Russey Organization did in 2018. This video series highlights some of the amazing results M’lup Russey Organization had last year. We can’t wait to see what we can accomplish in 2019.
In Battambang Province, Role Models are committed to their volunteer position, to help the children in their community. They are striving to mobilize friends to join them. Key community members are volunteering as Role Models. Most of the young adults living in residential centers have become alienated from their own biological families and are unable or do not want to return to the villages they came from. When they leave the centers, they will need to live in the city and town communities, where they have few links with people they can trust. M’lup Russey Organization (MRO) recruits ordinary, community people from around the city to be Role Models and mentors for the young people as they prepare to leave the orphanages. These community Role Models are trained in listening skills, child protection, self-awareness and the effects of institutionalization as they form relationships with young people. As the relationships deepen, they are encouraged to meet together regularly. Role Models are also encouraged to offer work experience placements at their family businesses. They have taken the initiative to map out their own resources, to help their own community, orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) and the poor. By raising support from community people, some of the young people have been supported with cash and some with study materials. As a result of one joint training session, between Role Models and Community Support Group, one local man took action, to be reunited with his own children through reintegration. After communicating to local authorities and Residential Care Institution (RCI) Directors. He was successful! He has now become a Role Model, helping many of his fellow villagers.
The Consultant Team visited Battambang. There a local church shelter has become the gathering place for educational activities. The head of a Community Support Group (CSG), Mr. Roeung Thom, replicated his experience in dealing with the issues of community children. The contributions are leading to many positive outcomes. The school dropout rate of children in Takream Commune has improved. In 2018, the dropout rate has been significantly reduced. There is no more child labor exploitation in the village. No more child violation. Child safety, child rights, and hygiene have all improved. The Community Support Group (CSG) also confirmed that many villagers have committed to re-enroll their children into school, and they possess a better understanding of the value of childcare and child education. More Emergency Foster Care (EFC) families are recruited. Orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) are well documented. Community Role Models are organized to give support to the unmotivated children in school. The Community Support Group (CSG) works with the local authorities to promote civil registration for every child. School-aged children are identified and encouraged to enroll in school. The Community Support Group (CSG) is very active in public dissemination and community awareness sessions. In addition to all this, donations and support are truly reaching the poor. A US charity is also supporting the village because the Community Support Group (CSG) and the local authority understand all the factors that may affect children. The holistic approach of the Community Support Group members is creating real change.
The Consultant Team headed to Kandal, to meet with an Emergency Foster Care Family. Emergency Foster Care (EFC) families have opened their homes and their hearts to receive orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) in crisis situations. This is a huge outcome to see. It is important that Emergency Foster Care (EFC) families have such big hearts to foster children from difficult situations. Although they went through the necessary recruitment process and met the selection criteria, the most important characteristic is the ability to be sympathetic with orphans and vulnerable children (OVC). They know that the children they are going to foster are traumatized children with complex needs who come from difficult situations. Some have histories of abuse or have difficult behaviors or poor health. Although this could affect the foster family’s biological family, they are still able to cope with it very well and want to be good Foster Parents. With the training they have received from M’lup Russey Organization (MRO), they have learned to teach children to recognize their own value, stand strong for their own future, their community and society. Foster Parents have accepted children from any situation, without discrimination. They also share how to take good care of others, including their neighbors and the elderly in the community. With ongoing support provided by M’lup Russey Organization (MRO) Social Work Team, the Foster Parents believe that they can do a great job looking after their Foster Children. The Foster Parents receive a small financial benefit and are regularly supplied with materials to help them care for the children well, and there is a continued emphasis on training and development. They are also regularly visited by the Social Work Team and have close and respectful relationships, and these are all things that they consider as motivation to perform their role as Foster Parents even better!
The Consultant Team met with Careleavers for a focus group discussion. Careleavers are those youth who previously lived in a Residential Care Institution (RCI). The purpose of the Careleaver Support Network is to link the youth into the network after they leave from the orphanages to live in the community. The Careleaver Support Network supports the Careleavers and our hope is to see them have safety, freedom, and knowledge that can improve their independent lives in the community. M’lup Russey Organization (MRO) also supports their mental health and emotional wellbeing. There are also some activities supporting and developing the capacity of the members of the Careleaver Support Network after they reunify with their community. The Team found that in 2017, 119 Careleavers who had left the RCI had a better experience living independently after linking with the network. They improved their living conditions step by step, by staying in contact with the Residential Care Institutions (RCI) and acting as a resource for children still there. They provided feedback to the younger generation and shared their experiences of transition. This wasn’t just to the children in the Residential Care Institutions (RCI). They took their experiences and feedback and shared with orphans and vulnerable children who lived in their new community. Life experience sharing is an important strategy that helps to prepare youth at the Residential Care Institutions (RCI) for reintegration into their families and society, prepares them for independence when they leave. It also helps children in the community understand the difficulties faced by children living in residential care. Even though the Careleavers had had to leave the orphanages for a variety of reasons, including dismissal or aging out, being asked to leave or facing conflict within the Residential Care Institution (RCI), yet they were still willing to share their experiences. This is a great flow of support from those who know clearly about the issues facing young people in transition to life in the community after institutionalization. It was agreed by the youth that M’lup Russey Organization’s (MRO) Youth Support Sector played a catalyst role in this outcome.
The Consultant Team headed to meet with an Emergency Foster Care Family. M’lup Russey Organization’s (MRO) Social Work Team worked with other relevant partners to discuss and find solutions to improve the overall service of foster care provision throughout Cambodia. As a result of the meetings, psychological support to foster families has been useful for the families in keeping them emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically calm and free of tension from taking care of the foster children. Emergency Foster Care (EFC) families understand that physical punishment is not a good option, as it is widely perceived to be in Cambodia. Emergency Foster Care (EFC) families also understand the individual differences of the children and accept these differences. This thinking and behavior, along with the collaboration between M’lup Russey Organization (MRO) and relevant partners, is applied within all Emergency Foster Care (EFC) families. The children have been getting the best service from their M’lup Russey Organization’s Emergency Foster Care Families. This successful M’lup Russey Organization’s Emergency Foster Care model and practices have been shared out and is known by other partners and authorities that are choosing to follow this model.
The Evaluation Team met with an Emergency Foster Care Family in Kandal Province. The Emergency Foster Care (EFC) Families do not only give care and a safe environment, they teach the children to be good people – but to do this the parents have to be good parents and good people too! In 2018, Emergency Foster Care (EFC) Families across target areas rated themselves as good citizens. Emergency Foster Care (EFC) Families in Kandal informed our Evaluator that they lived their life in a very careful way. They lived well, behaved well with honorable characteristics. They believe that how they act affects the children, so they have to do everything in good ways. They feel that they gained benefits from M’lup Russey Organization (MRO) and the Social Work Team by gaining new knowledge, respect, and understanding of parenting skills, the rights of children, prevention of child exploitation and child protection, proper childcare, parenting skills, and other necessary and important skills. This unexpected outcome is a real testament to the effectiveness of the M’lup Russey Organization’s Emergency Foster Care program.
The Consultant Team met with Community Youth from Battambang Province. Following community awareness by M’lup Russey Organization (MRO) Community Support Sector Staff, M’lup Russey Organization (MRO) wants to see key community members model practical application of alternative care policy in order to support the proper reintegration of children and youth out of orphanages. Using careful action-reflection processes at the higher levels of participation, the community take the initiative to control their own stability and security. Family and community is the priority environment for providing the best holistic development for children. It is much better for them than living in the orphanage. A number of outcomes were discussed. Community awareness played a key role in building community consciousness and knowledge about child protection and childcare. It is important that community youth understand their own rights, including protection, care and how to protect themselves from risk and vulnerable situations. They now know how to hold consultations on issues of concern. The community youth voluntarily organized themselves into a youth club and a Child Safety Network. Through youth club activities, M’lup Russey seeks to enhance youth’s abilities by training them on how to be good leaders, facilitators, and responsible people. We help them improve their communication skills, work skills, and soft skills. We also empower young people to have a voice in their communities, to find freedom of expression and to prepare for independence. Some of the other benefits when they are involved in the youth clubs are that they have an opportunity to get vocational training, three months working experience in M’lup Russey Organization (MRO); opportunity to join the Role Model Program which helps them to find a person who could listen to them, to share the experience of living in the community and motivation to reach their goal; to understand the purpose of child protection, development; and the promotion of child rights. They also visit and take note of children’s issues in their communities. They are courageous to provide intervention when cases of child abuse occur.
The Consultant Team visited Battambang, for a focus group discussion with Commune Support Group Members. They found that in 2017–2018, community members changed their practice of family care for children. They paid more attention to their children, making sure they were attending school. As a result of this school enrollment of children in that community has risen. A great outcome! The Commune Support Group (CSG) and the Child Safety Network agreed that they now have a better understanding of the value of childcare and education. This knowledge leads to a significant reduction in violence against children and child labor exploitation, which they now monitor very closely.
The Consultant Team headed to Pursat to meet with Community Support Group members for a focus group discussion in Makak Village. They discussed many outcomes, but one unintended outcome was very interesting. Members stated that domestic violence had been reduced from 40% in 2015 to 10% in 2017. This reduction of domestic violence created a comfortable family care environment for children and their families within their community. It gave children a natural and beautiful family lifestyle. Regular awareness sessions were delivered on child rights, domestic violence, health, sanitation, and hygiene. Community members experienced a change, transforming them into non-violent minded individuals. With ongoing support from Community Support Group (CSG) members, continued community training and awareness sessions, we hope that key members of each community will continue to solve their own challenges.
Pursat Town Director of Child Welfare & the Commune Woman and Children Committee (CWCC) had an outcome harvesting focus group discussion. In 2018, CWCC in both Pursat and Battambang gave a high appreciation to the support of M’lup Russey Organization (MRO). “Without MRO, we would not have become who we are today.” “We paid attention to every child in our communes.” The knowledge they gained from M’lup Russey Organization (MRO) made them change behaviors and practices towards children. Vulnerable children have received interventions by Commune Woman and Children Committee (CWCC) with the proper reintegration process. Commune Woman and Children Committee (CWCC) advocated for the basic needs of children: food, school materials, and school uniforms. They no longer look at neglect as a private issue and consider care of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) as an issue of the community. Training provided by M’lup Russey Organization (MRO) has helped Commune Woman and Children Committee (CWCC) to have a better understanding of policies, knowledge on how to fill out the forms of alternative care, how to identify orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) and how to manage the children’s needs. This application of knowledge is changing lives and whole communities.
The Consulting Team met with representatives of Residential Care Institutions (RCI) in the Battambang Province. During 2017-2018 a group network for better interaction and knowledge sharing was formed. This pilot focus was a result of M’lup Russey Organization (MRO) and Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Support (MoSVY) agreeing to work with the Residential Care Institutions (RCI) across Cambodia. With that endorsement, Residential Care Institutions (RCI) were organized in Battambang to be equipped with child protection skills, childcare standards and the application of the accepted best practice process of alternative care, as well as preparation to transform to be community-based care institutions. M’lup Russey Organization (MRO) supported Residential Care Institutions (RCI) in transforming from center-based care to community-based care. They are then linked together as a supported network, with ongoing training and field visits. Residential Care Institutions (RCI) Directors who’ve transitioned to community-based care,show they can work very well together as a network, work to achieve better residential care and know that a collective competence is only achieved through collaboration.
The Consultant Team met with the Municipal Office of Social Affairs, where they held a focus group discussion with the Director of Child Welfare and members of the Woman and Children Consultancy Committee (CWCC). M’lup Russey Organization (MRO) provided Community Budget Plan Training and orphan and vulnerable children (OVC) Data Collection Training. Following this training, authorities at the national level have shared their best practices working with orphans and vulnerable children (OVC), monitoring and evaluation (M&E) and data management for sub-national authorities to implement and to strengthen the collection of data about orphans and vulnerable children (OVC). Data is collected using a tablet device by way of an online application. Authorities at the sub-national level used the guidelines to make budget plans. The budget plans were used for vulnerable children and the authorities are now active in collecting data about orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) and reporting. This is a great step forward!
One more thing to add, Sarah Chhin, M’lup Russey Organization’s Country Director wrote a little recap of (almost) everything MRO accomplished in 2018. I was only at MRO for two months in 2018, but it was so cool to witness the team working together making these goals a reality. Here is the list she created:
Trained 70 Orphanage Directors in two provinces.
Supported 25 orphanages in two provinces to transition towards caring for children in the community.
Trained and supported 89 Careleavers in four provinces.
Trained and supported 501 youth living in 25 orphanages in four provinces.
Provided Social Work services to 95 vulnerable children and their families.
Cared for 34 vulnerable children in 10 Emergency Foster Care families.
Helped local authorities provide support to 127 vulnerable children.
Trained 350 local authority officials in eight provinces.
Provided technical support of case management for 27 local authority officials in nine provinces.
Trained 160 NGO staff members.
Trained 80 community people to be mentors for young people living in orphanages.
Supported 50 young people living in orphanages with mentors.
Trained 39 community people to be mentors to vulnerable youth in their communities.
Supported 19 vulnerable youth in communities with a mentor.
Trained and supported 102 key community members in 10 villages in three provinces.
Trained and supported 38 members of three Youth Peer Action Groups in three villages in three provinces.
Helped 10 churches in one province to support their local communities.
Helped 13 Community Support Groups in three provinces provide training and support to 462 members of their community.
Again, I can’t wait to see what MRO can accomplish in 2019!
What does a nation do when its power needs are higher than the amount of power it can create? Issue mandatory power cuts on a daily basis for 5-6 hours a day! Just when you think you get into a routine here in Cambodia, Cambodia throws you a curve ball. March was the month of adjusting to new schedules. What does work look like when there is no power? How do I take a shower or flush my toilet when there is no running water? Who do I know who has access to a generator? What is my new coffee budget? (Buying something at a restaurant gives you sweet AC relief.) If anything, these power outages have taught me so much about the resiliency of the Khmer people. How to practice compassion towards others and being kinder to one’s self. We are all in this together and with friends, we can all get through it. (Especially if Jenna wakes up before the power cuts happen so she can use her electrical kettle to boil water for coffee instead of on her gas top because it turns our kitchen into an inferno when there is no electricity to run the fan.)
March was book-ended by American visitors. At the beginning of the month, my mom, Nancy, came to visit me for a few days. I was able to take her to Kampot and show her my favorite town. One night, we rode an hour to the coast to Kep and sat on the exact same beach she took me to 4.5 years ago when I felt called to move to Cambodia. It was such a relaxing, special time. At the end of the month, while on Spring Break (they are teachers), my friends Stephanie and Ben, came to visit me. Three years ago, we hiked Manchu Pichu together. It was fun to get the dream team back together.
Work in March was a little crazy with everyone struggling to figure out what their building’s power cut schedules were. I taught an Online Sales Platform class for NOMI Network. It was awesome to meet with so many freedom business leaders (those who employ disadvantaged people as an alternative to human trafficking) who want to sell their products online to an international market. But eye-opening to the struggles they face. Infrastructure issues (like power outages and shipping) to financial problems (like PayPal isn’t available in Cambodia).
I also started working eight hours a week for business as missions company called Web Essentials. It was started my foreigners grown it to a very reputable web development company. I’m helping out in their marketing team, but in reality, I’m getting an inside look at what it’s like to run an ethical business here in Cambodia. Something I hope to be doing in the future here in Cambodia.
There are a lot of moving parts happening at M’lup Russey Organization (MRO). Most of March was spent collecting resources, translating content and asking questions about how things have been done in the past and what hopes the organization has for running things in the future. In April, we rolled out some exciting documentation and hope to release a few more projects in the near future.
I completed my Community Healthcare Course at G2K. It was a really fun class and I’m already putting my new language skills to work here in Cambodia. Typically joking about how my “សាច់ដុំ” (muscles) hurt from riding. Or asking how people are feeling at work. I can also understand more prayer requests, which is encouraging and ask follow up questions about various family members. I’ve found it easier to tell my friends about my uncle’s cancer diagnosis in Khmer since I’m so focused on the words, I don’t get overwhelmed with emotions, which is a very interesting blessing.
Speaking of riding, I got in one charity ride in during March! It felt good to get back on my bike and NOT have heat rash. The ride was a fundraiser for Teen Challenge, which operates here in Cambodia, as a drug rehabilitation program. I made some new Khmer friends at the ride and have enjoyed continuing to ride with them on the weekends. They have been showing me some other places to explore near Phnom Penh.
The other big piece of news is that I’ve officially booked my plane ticket to Portland, Oregon! (I still haven’t booked my international plane tickets yet – so East Coast friends, sit tight. I’ll send you details soon.) I’ll be in Portland, Oregon August 5 through September 3, 2019! I want to hang out with you! Let me know what you are up to and we can plan a hang out session. I’m also looking for a place to stay during that time AND for opportunities to speak with people who are interested in learning more about what is happening in Cambodia and the work I’m doing here. If you have a place for me to stay or know anyone interested in learning about Cambodia. Please let me know by sending me a quick email.
Speaking of emails. You can always send me an email sharing how have you are doing? I love hearing 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.
Lastly, In March, I started reading two new books (haven’t finished them yet). One is called “Bad Blood”, which is all about the rise and fall of Silicon Valley’s Theranos, a blood testing company. The second is called “The Water Cure” which is a “The Handmaiden’s Tale” – eques book.
I would really appreciate you joining me in prayer in the following ways:
1. Continued prayer for my Uncle Clay and his family while he battles brain cancer. He just completed his first week of treatment and is doing great. Please pray that his strength continues to remain strong and for his family as they adjust to their new life routines. 2. For great tenants for my house in Portland. The small amount of profit I make on renting out my house is my emergency fund here in Cambodia. It’s a little stressful to be pulling from your emergency fund to be paying for your mortgage instead of adding to it. I’m trusting God will be faithful in providing great tenants and that soon I’ll be back to adding to my emergency fund. 3. For wisdom and logistics as I start gearing up for my trip home this summer. I can’t wait to see you all this summer, but I don’t want to get too caught up in thinking about the future and miss out on things here in Cambodia. Sometimes I feel like I have one foot in the future – catching up, meeting babies, celebrating weddings, speaking events, craft beer and ice cream – and one foot here in Cambodia – work, friends, motorcycle prayer rides.