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.

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