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.

New Year and Life Updates (April 2019 Update)

សួស្តីឆ្នាំថ្មី!  Happy New Year! 

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.

(Bullet resting after a swim in the Kampot River.)
(Bullet resting after a swim in the Kampot River.)

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.

(MRO monthly staff meeting.)
(MRO monthly staff meeting.)

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!

(First day of Level 5 Khmer.)
(First day of Level 5 Khmer.)

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 guys and I at the base of Mount Chissor.)
(The guys and I at the base of Mount Chissor.)

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.

(Hoping to continue this journey in Cambodia - the beautiful and the messy - with you.)
(Hoping to continue this journey in Cambodia – the beautiful and the messy – with you.)

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)

(Top of Mt. Chissor - where high places are Holy places.)
(Top of Mt. Chissor – where high places are Holy places.)

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.

M’lup Russey 2018 Impact Videos

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.

Takream Role Models

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.

Takream Battambang Community Support Group

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.

Kandal Emergency Foster Care Family #3

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!

Battambang Careleavers

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.

Kandal Emergency Foster Care Family #2

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.

Kandal Emergency Foster Care Family #1

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.

Battambang Young Adult Orphans

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.

Community Support Group, Moung Village, Battambang

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.

Community Support Group, Makak Village, Pursath

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 Office Commune Women and Children Committee

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.

Battambang Town Residential Care Institutions

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.

Battambang Town Director of Child Welfare and Commune Women and Children Committee

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!

Interested in learning more about the work M’lup Russey Organization does in Cambodia? Please visit our website: and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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!

Happy Thanksgiving / Advent Season! (November 2018 Update!)

HAPPY (belated) THANKSGIVING!  WELCOME ADVENT SEASON!  While Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated here in Cambodia, it did align nicely with a national holiday called Bon Om Touk (or Cambodian Water Festival), which celebrates the reversal of the flow of the Tonle Sap River.  (Just think about if the Columbia River in Oregon reverse directions).  About an extra million people come to Phnom Penh to watch the festivities.  Since I experienced Bon Om Touk last year, my roommate, Amanda, Bullet and I decided to avoid the crowds and go to Kampot for a long weekend.  We ended up meeting our next door neighbors from Phnom Penh there for Thanksgiving Dinner, which was some of the best hamburgers in Cambodia.  It was a fun night, even for me, since I was just coming back to life after my first ever bout of food poisoning, but I’ll spare you the gory details of that…

Praise God that October’s theme was “seek wisdom,” because November’s was “My Phone aka my map/contacts/translator/photos/communication/calendar/email/money manager/converter/life device Was Stolen” so “chaotic” would be a fair assessment of November.  Not to mention my parents came to visit, I taught my first lecture, started my new job, helped out with another motorcycle race and talked my friend into going to the hospital.

One of the few photos I have from my parents visit.  We got caught in the rain and their hotel brought us down towels to dry off.

November started off with my parents coming to visit for the weekend, we had a great time together.  We ate a ton of great food, they got to meet more of my friends, explored some of Phnom Penh and just hung out at their hotel pool.  Ironically, I told my mother more than once to keep an eye on her phone as she hung out various tuktuks (transportation here) snapping photos.  After saying goodbye to my folks, I headed home to take Bullet for his evening walk…

…scene of the crime…
I was about 10 steps away from my front door, when a moto slowed down next to me, which was definitely weird.  I stopped walking, thinking it was one of my neighbors.  The next thing I know, this punk grabs my phone out of my hand and takes off.  I run back upstairs and my roommate and next door neighbors all help me log into the “Find my phone” app.  We track it to a iPhone shop and go there to ask for the phone back.  No luck.  We go to the police stations and fill out a report.  But since there was no phone, nothing could be done…

I’ve had more than enough time to process this event and I’ve boiled it down to two big takeaways:

1.  I’m thankful Bullet and I were safe.  It could have been way worse.  I could have been physically harmed, he could have stolen my passport or my money, etc.
2.  It was just a phone.  I’m not hugely materialistic, but going a few days without a phone in a foreign country made me realize how much I use it for managing my life.  Besides my calendar, books, podcasts, I lost all my contacts, my maps, Google Translate, etc.  When you can’t look something up or show a photo or take a photo to remember, life gets hard fast.  (This also makes me really appreciate people who left their home countries before mobile phones.  God bless them!)

Enough of the bad news.  Amanda is heading back to the USA for Christmas so she’s bringing me back a new phone.  Let’s keep talking about the awesome stuff that happened in Cambodia.

Teaching Facebook metrics at NOMI Network.

After my parents visit, I had the opportunity to teach a day lecture on Facebook metrics and marketing at NOMI Network to 16 small business leaders who are part of the NOMI Network.  It was so great to share the knowledge I had about Facebook metrics to this community that is making a difference here in Cambodia.  It also really opened my eyes to how complicated Facebook can be when English isn’t your first language.  I got a lot of positive feedback from the class and hope to continue to keep teaching this course on a bi-annual basis with NOMI Network.

My first month working at M’lup Russey was a lot of figuring out who does what, how to pronounce names, learning all the acronyms.  My current favorite is “OVC” (orphans and vulnerable children).  I keep thinking of Rachel Ray saying “EVOO” or “extra virgin olive oil.”  They are basically the same thing right?  I had some small wins at work, was able to help my counterpart translate his web pages into English, published some newsworthy updates on Facebook.  Finally, I was able to edit some English subtitles on 13 videos that we hope to publish soon!

Stef and I, on our bikes, in all our gear, on a ferry, headed to the race.

November also saw the final Enduro motocross race here in Cambodia.  This time in Phnom Penh.  You can watch the amazing Youtube video of the race here.  I got to volunteer again with the timing team and had a blast as always.  I’m so thankful the Welches invited me to the first race in May.  I’ve made so many awesome friends from this group.  Stef and I even got the chance to ride the course after the races were done.  It took the best riders around 7 minutes to complete the loop.  It took me about 32 minutes to complete a loop.  Definitely somethings to work on in 2019.

My Khmer friend’s foot 10 days after a moto accident.

Last month, I finished this amazing book on medical cross cultural understanding.  It’s called the, “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.”  I highly recommend it to anyone working in cross cultural situations.  I try my best to learn from every situation, but I know there is always room for improvement.  Medical situations I struggle with the most here in Cambodia.  This is a photo that one of my dear friend here sent me.  10 days after an accident, after her family paid for her to see a doctor to get an injection and advice “not to walk until it heals.”  I lost it.  I’m not even a doctor and I knew something was really wrong.  I prayed then texted two of my friends who spoke better Khmer than me and asked for their help.  A few hours later, a married couple from my Prayer Circle Cambodia team had talked my friend and her older sister into their car for a 1.5 hour drive to a hospital to get her foot looked at.  She isn’t out of the woods yet, but she’s staying at home, keeping it clean and filling the hole in her foot from where the doctor “cut away the bad meat” in with honey.  Please keep her in your prayers.

This is also a great example of how missionaries live here in Cambodia.  We are constantly helping one another out and lifting up others in prayer and helping out Khmer friends, showing that we do love them and respect their wishes.  My friend didn’t want to go to the hospital without her sister, for example, and was a little apprehensive to get into a car with two strangers.  But the next morning, I got a really sweet text from her.  Sharing how kind my friends were to her, how they explained why they were so worried about her foot and why it needed to get looked at right away.  “They treated me like I was their daughter.  Thank you.”

Bullet enjoying the spa in Kampot.

The final milestone of November was Bullet’s 7th birthday!  I shared this funny cross cultural moment in celebration of the big day on Facebook:

Most Mondays, Bullet and I join the local running team, Running Bongs, for an evening run. A few weeks ago, one of my Khmer friends says, “Oh, that man said a mean thing about Bullet about wanting to eat him.” (Eating dog is a common practice here.) And I just laughed and made a joke, “Because Bullet is so cute and he wants to eat him like a baby?” My friend looks me straight in the face and says, “Why would you eat a baby?” I respond with, “No, like babies are so cute you want to nibble on their cheeks. You don’t say that in Cambodia?” Apparently not…

Thanks again to my home church, Oaks Parish, for being my sending church and helping support me.  If anyone is interested in making a end of the year donation, I’d gladly accept some additional funds.  I’m hoping to meet some friends in Kampot (I do love it there) for Christmas and New Years.  I’m looking forward to spending some time reflecting on this year, spending more time in prayer this Advent Season and gearing up for 2019.

Christmas is right around the corner.  I’d love to hear from all of you what you are doing this season.  What you have planned and what you are looking forward too.  How I can be praying for you.  This will be my first Christmas without my family so please feel free to write to me.  Or even better let’s find some time to chat via Facebook or WhatsApp or Goggle Hangout or Skype.  I really love hearing from everyone back home. I look forward to hearing from you!  As always prayer requests are below.

Hugs from Cambo,
ជេនណា / Jenna (and Bullet)

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

1.  Continued energy with language learning.
2.  I’m feeling really called to find Khmer woman as friends that aren’t tied to a place I work.  Just some Khmer girlfriends where there isn’t a power play on my end.
3.  Continued financial support.
4.  Just for my heart during the Advent / Christmas season.  I won’t be with my family and most of my friends heading home for this time.  I’m feeling pretty good about it, but who knows how I’ll feel as Christmas day gets closer.  It also means I’ll have more free time to chat / message / email.

New opportunities in Cambodia! (October 2018 Update!)

October’s theme seemed to be: Seek Wisdom. It came to life in two very different ways – in my Khmer language studies and in my job hunting. At the beginning of the month, I sent out a message to a few close friends asking for prayer when it came to seeking wisdom. I had a few job opportunity options and I wanted to make sure I made the right choice. I just needed to focus down on what I wanted to do. At the beginning of the month I was so energized by so many different options, I was seeking wisdom to focus down and see what God “bubbled up” to the top. I knew that no matter what choice I would make would be the right choice and that God can and would use every opportunity to be glorified. Before I even moved to Cambodia, I had four things I wanted from an employer to know it was the right fit:

1. Year long contract – both for renting out my house back home, but also for visa stuff here in Cambodia.
2. I wanted to use my marketing degree. I still feel super blessed to have had to opportunity to go to college, I wanted to use that plus a decade of professional experience to make an impact here in Cambodia.
3. I wanted to work with vulnerable populations – and human trafficking definitely fit that bill.
4. I wanted to be able to bring Bullet with me.

Now that I have a year under my belt, I’ve added a few other “musts”:

a. I wanted to work somewhere that valued language learning.
b. I wanted to work for an organization that had some checks and balances – a board of directors, grants that they had to report on, and other various forms of accountability.
c. I wanted to work with a team, be a mentor, but also receive mentoring.
d. Had a solid job description with clear expectations for my role.
e. I wanted to work for an organization that allowed me some flexibility while I continue to learn and grow here in Cambodia.

Some of the MRO team.

All that being said, I’m really excited to announce that I’m now working as the PR Advisor for an organization called, M’lup Russey (MRO). This is a Christian, non-governmental local organization in Cambodia that works with orphans and vulnerable children to receive care. They believe that communities play an important role in the development of families and children. They partner with all levels of Child Welfare Networks and cooperate with the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation (MoSVY) to promote Cambodia’s alternative care policies, procedures, standard, guidelines and best practices in case management issues by the Cambodian government. There are so many reasons, why I’m so excited to be joining this amazing organization. (Other than the fact that Bullet will be joining me in office on Wednesdays!) I’ll be working with their really smart, IT Manager, to help get their website up to date in both Khmer (for the communities) and English (for the donors) and highlighting all the really amazing work they are doing in the communities. Just this week, MRO presented on “Orphan Care and Trafficking” with some experts on implementing partnerships and supporting partners at an Integral Alliance Anti-Trafficking and Exploitation Collaboration workshop in Bangkok, Thailand. How amazing is that?! I’ve already hit the ground running at MRO in November getting some new content to be published soon on their website and Facebook page. If you have any questions about this organization or my work there, please send me a note and I’ll be happy to answer as best I can.

Khmer final studying.

The other way I spent October seeking wisdom was in studying for my Khmer language final. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepares in advance for us to do.” – Ephesians 2:10 I don’t shy away from sharing this, but I couldn’t read until 3rd grade. I struggled hard to focus and learn basic reading rules. I was in Special Education and honestly didn’t struggle with the shame of that. My parents constantly encouraged me, my mom spent countless hours reading out loud to my brother and I and putting up with summer school homework. As I learn how to read and write Khmer – the same struggles come up – but so do the same coping strategies that I spent years perfecting. I was emailing my mom in October thanking her for investing in me and how at 32 I see it paying off. God is still good. Language is key to understanding. Hard work pays off. With a lot of hard work and prayers, I passed my level 3 Khmer final and am already in starting Level 4 Khmer with the blessing of my new job (since the entire NGO is conducted in Khmer – it’s important to them.)

Level 3 Cultural Day – Nationalities represented: Brazil, Finland, USA, El Salvador, Cambodia, South Korea.

Like in September, I struggled a little bit with, “I’m a missionary, but I’m not really doing much in terms of missionary things at the moment.” God, in His fatherly goodness, really pressed into me that this was in fact a negative belief. Here are just one of the ways during a month of “no missions” I could see God weaving His story into my story and beyond.

Bumblebee Soap:

Bumblebee Soap X Cerevisia Craft Beer.

It’s no secret I love beer and I also love business as missions (BAM). Erich, my friend from the bar, once asked me if I had any ideas for things he could sell at his bar. My response was, “Well all the hipster bars in Portland, sell things like handmade soap. I know a soap company here. I could see if they would be interested?” He gave me the green light, I asked my friend, who owns Bumblebee Cambodia Soap, a Christian non-profit, teaching women how to make soap, if she would be interested in a beer collaboration. She jumped at the idea! Not only that, but they have already SOLD out of pre-orders for the beer soap – IPA and Stout scents! We were joking it was a good problem to have right before the holiday season. This partnership will allow Bumblebee to continue to employee amazing young woman to learn a fairtrade job and allows Erich, to showcase his beer – just in a different form. It’s been great to connect two awesome people here in Cambodia to make a very fruitful partnership. (Plus, I got lucky enough to get my hands on some samples – it’s an amazing product!)

Joining in the Prayer Bible Study from my home church, Oaks Parish.

Thank you again to my home church, Oaks Parish, for being my sending church and helping support me as a Christian missionary. I still get your weekly updates and it’s been great to talk to the Pastoral team as Oaks Parish continues to grow in these upcoming months. It’s been amazing to continue to pray for wisdom for the church as well. So thank you for sharing with me and continuing to share with me.

A lot of other awesome things happened in October, I went to Vietnam for a motorcycle ride, finished an amazing cross cultural book, continued to teach at the Craft Corner at my English church. I seriously would love to share more with you. Please write to me! As always, below are some prayer requests. I really love hearing from everyone back home. I look forward to hearing from you!

Hugs from Cambo,
Jenna (and Bullet)

Dorsu – Kampot, Cambodia

Dorsu in Kampot, Cambodia.

Another great thing about going to Kampot a few weeks ago, was checking out Dorsu.  A local company that makes some of the most ethical clothing here in Cambodia.  Their name has come up a few times in various conversations so I was glad when the Prayer Circle team was grabbing breakfast next door to Dorsu and they were open!

Founded through a Cambodian-Australian friendship, Dorsu has grown from a two- person concept in 2008 into a thriving company employing over 25 people in 2018.  With a diverse team hailing from Cambodia, Australia, England and Philippines, the skilled and experienced Dorsu crew are proud to offer the unique opportunity of knowing the people who make clothes.

Dorsu believes that fair and safe employment is the responsibility of every company.  They offer all their staff:

  • A 9-hour workday that includes a 1-hour lunch and two 15 minute breaks.
  • Entry-level wages that exceed the Cambodian garment industry’s legal minimum by 30%.
  • Monthly performance-based bonuses.
  • A 5-day work week. (Cambodia typically has a 6-day work week), with an optional 6th day at overtime rates.
  • Accrued annual leave plus paid national holidays.
  • Illness & personal leave, as well as maternity and paternity leave.
  • Annual review of permanent contracts.
  • Required on-the-job safety training and equipment maintenance.
  • All staff are provided with protective shoes and clothing.
  • Each team member is given a bicycle and/or a motorcycle helmet upon employment.  One of the most significant safety issues connected to garment factories in Cambodia is the transportation of worker crowded, open-air trucks on dangerous roads with no enforced traffic laws.
  • Strict fire, equipment & safety policies are upheld in an open plan studio.
  • All management staff are trained and equipped to deal with safety hazards and incidents, staff grievances, gross or serious misconduct.

Dorsu financially supports Chumkriel Language School (CLS), a Cambodian operated organisation that provides education to the local Kampot community. CLS offers English classes, computer workshops, agricultural programs and creative arts activities to students, as well as a public library, additional lessons to support students with Cambodian State School classes and parent inclusion programs to encourage community-wide participation. Dorsu believes in their approach to education and choose to support their efforts in providing inclusive, quality education to the Kampot community.

Cambodia is one of the largest producers of clothing globally, employing over 700,000 workers and accounting for approximately 80% of the country’s total export revenue. Garment workers are subject to harsh and often dangerous working conditions, with long working hours, low pay and unsafe transport to and from factories. Through running a safe, fair and supportive garment production space, Dorsu offers workers an alternative, to learn and grow in an environment that supports them as individuals and as skilled workers.

Dorsu provides skills development and training to all staff members, creating opportunities for growth both within Dorsu and beyond. A significant barrier to skills development in Kampot is the need to be apart from families, forfeiting an income to complete training. Onsite training, support and professional development opportunities help workers to develop their skills while earning an income and being able to support their families. With highly experienced and skilled workers in a community, employment and living standards increase, with education becoming a priority for future generations.

Dorsu’s in house factory.

Through running a local production space Cambodia, Dorsu is contributing significantly to the growing awareness and recognition of the negative impacts the garment industry has on workers, their families and communities. Providing an alternative helps workers to seek better conditions, demanding the protection of their rights and paving the way for large-scale industry change.  With two retail stores and an expanding presence in the Cambodian market, consumers, both local and foreign, can see the positive effects of producing and buying locally made products, that are in full support of workers safety and livelihoods.

My Dorsu tank top.

Produced in-house start to finish, Dorsu versatile designs are carefully crafted in soft, breathable cotton jersey.  They don’t conform to the conventional fast-fashion calendar that’s influenced by temporary trends.  Dorsu uses fabric is remnant cotton jersey sourced from independent suppliers in Phnom Penh.  Remnant fabric (also known as “deadstock” or “surplus”) is unused and unwanted leftover rolls of cloth in its original condition.  As a result of Cambodia’s pervasive garment manufacturing industry and issues that occur along the fashion industry’s incredibly complex supply chain, vast amounts of fabric are deemed unusable by brands on a daily basis. This waste arises due to reasons such as incorrect or oversupply of cloth, last minute changes in production schedules and the ever-increasing need for brands to be immediately responsive and adaptive to fashion trends.  These fabric leftovers are sold on from brands and factories to a local fabric supply industry, who then sell on through the Cambodian supply chain. Dorsu scour the warehouses of preferred suppliers and purchase rolls of fabric per kilogram. When sourcing for collections, they buy up to 100 kilograms of a collection colour (like burgundy) and up to 300 kilograms of a core colour (like black and navy).  Due to the nature of sourcing factory remnants, they can’t guarantee consistency in the fabric blends. Consequently, they burn-test every fabric they buy to ensure it has very little or no synthetic fibres.  Then they pre-wash a sample of every new fabric, testing for color fastness and shrinkage.  They know that using factory remnants has limitations. You can’t trace the true origins of the material. Cambodia doesn’t have cotton mills or weaving facilities so, there are limits by access. As a small brand, Dorsu experiences financial barriers of meeting minimum order quantities of suppliers outside of Cambodia and then importing fabric into the country.

Ever been to Dorsu?  Or Kampot, Cambodia?  What did you think?

Reflections on One Year in Cambodia

October 6, 2018 marks one year of living in Cambodia.  Ironically, when I hit my one year Cambo-versary I wasn’t even in Cambodia.  I was in northern Vietnam with two kick ass girlfriends riding motorcycles on a five day ride.  Cambodia had a huge national holiday that week, Pchum Ben.  When Cambodians pay their respects to their ancestors up to seven generations (think great-great-great-great grandparents).  It’s also a specific Cambodian Buddhist practice where monks chant for 24 hours to open the gates of hell for 15 days.

My friend, Stefanie and I had time off from work and language school so we figured we would make the most out out of the time off and met up with one of my American, backpacking friend, Katie.  It was great to get outside the city, see limestone cliffs, jungles that looked like they came straight out of Jurassic Park, and laugh so much.

Stefanie, myself, Katie in Vietnam.

I also got some much needed “seat time” in prayer with God.  Reflecting over my first year, Cambodia and seeking wisdom for the upcoming year.  I found a great list of questions to reflect on a year and wanted to share some of the best ones with you:

The most important goal that I achieved this year was:

First day of work during my first week in Cambodia.

Moving to Cambodia.  This is a goal / dream / something I have been working on since I got back from my tourist trip to Cambodia back in 2014.  It took a lot of hard work.  Being open to letting God do what He wanted in my life.  Finding a NGO that needed marketing skills and was willing to sponsor my visa to move and work here.  Fundraising to make this dream a reality.  Doing a kitchen remodel and getting my home ready to be rented out in a year.  Then landing here wasn’t at all what I expected, so there was a process of adjusting expectations to meet the current realities of my life and some grieving that came along with that.  Now, I’m at a place, where I know that God has called me to Cambodia.  I understand more of how I can use my skill set to help those in need here in Cambodia.

My biggest relationship accomplishment was:

Friends from Level 1 Language School.

I recently saw a meme that said, “Nobody talks about Jesus’ miracle of having 12 close friends in his 30s.”  Yet, this is something that I feel like I’ve been super blessed to have received while here in Cambodia.  If I’m completely honest, for the most part most of my friends here in Cambodia have come from connections tied to the Everitts who spent 24 years here as missionaries.  But I also managed to make friends through language school, Chab Dai (an anti-human trafficking network), helping out at motorcycle races and through the local beer community.  When I landed here I knew no one and after struggling to find connections during my first few months, I settled back into my naturally extroverted personality and I definitely have some award winning friends who have opened their hearts and homes to me.  (Edit:  I read this blog post outloud to my roommate before posting it and she exclaimed, “are you going to talk about your kick ass roommate?”  Yes, Amanda.  Thank you for being kick ass.  And for our weird sing songs that have words in common while I motodop you around town being two white girls singing Justin Bieber at the top of our lungs.  Thank you.)

These are the skills I acquired this year:

Khmer alphabet practice.

Here is an unending list:  I learned how to speak Khmer.  I’m learning how to read and write Khmer.  I learned how to ride a motorcycle in the city (and avoid cows in the countryside).  I can carry a five gallon jug of water on my motorcycle back to my house without dropping it.  I can also carry another person on the back of my moto during rush hour and am confident we’ll be safe.  I perfected using charades as a basic form of communication.  I can tie a Khmer swimsuit.  I can sleep through funerals, weddings, someone who thinks serenading the neighborhood with his karaoke machine at 2AM is a good idea or thunder/lighting storms.  I learned how to protect Bullet from all the aggressive street dogs.  I learned how to take care of brand new puppies.  How to move via tuk-tuk and what to look for when searching for a new place to live.  How to cook on a gas stove top, like I’m camping every day of my life.  I learned how to make an entirely new friend group at the age of 31 that crosses different nationalities, languages and religions.  Learned how to pray without stopping.  Learned more than I can ever imagine about trusting God and His provision in my life.

An obstacle or a challenge that I overcame this year:

From home 3 of 4 during my first year in Cambodia.

Re-adjusting my expectations once I arrived in Cambodia.  I landed HARD in Cambodia.  It became very apparent once I landed here that things that were promised to me weren’t going to happen and expectations of what I was here to do had changed without being communicated at all to me.  That was a really tough realization for me.  I felt like I had the rug pulled out from under me.  I questioned God’s calling, everything that had lead me to arriving in Cambodia, you name it – I doubted it.  No wonder so many missionaries quit after their first year!  I totally understand why now.  On top of that, I have such a high expectation of myself and thus of others around me, I felt really hurt by those I believed were put in my story to help, support and guide me in how to do life here in Cambodia and those people let me down.  I was crushed and unsure of what to do to untangle myself from this messy web.  Luckily, God brought some amazing friends and mentors into my story to help pick up the slack that had been left by those around me and these friends helped me process and untangle myself (and it I’m being 100% honest, put me back together – both in terms of my spirit and my self worth).

This year, I learned the following about myself:

Mermaiding in the Mekong.

A wise friend once told me, “You don’t come to Cambodia to find yourself, a lot of people end up lost here.”  I think that is true, I’ve seen a lot of expats from all over the world that just end up “stuck” in Cambodia.  I think Cambodia is a place, people come to escape – something.  It’s tailored to that individual.  But you put that in the context of how innately spiritual this place is, it gets really complicated fast.  I believe the majority of people don’t even realize it – foreign or expat.  I think some of the spiritual warfare I experienced in landing here was just Satan messing with me.  “Just what exactly are you made of, Forstrom?”  I found myself asking God a lot this summer, “Why did I have to go through all this to get here.  Here feels exactly like who I was back in Portland, just in a different location.”  And I’m choosing to believe that God allowed this to happen so I would really know my own strength, His strength in me and the power of community, in being humble in asking for help and admitting when I’m losing it.  Only to reflect back on the hard months this year and remind myself, I did the best I could, I took the high road, maintained my character and learned a lot from this experience.  God is just as sovereign here as He is in America, North Korea, or Switzerland.  He is just as sovereign in my heart as He was back when I lived in Oregon.  I’m still the mermaid-loving, laugh so hard I have to pee, motorcycle riding, Jesus follower, who believes in loving big, a good craft beer, and that the Holy Spirit is full of whimsy and adventure.  That God has called me to this place, to make an impact and always point towards His goodness.  Cambodia is where I’m supposed to be.

The most fun I had all year was:

First motocross race in Kirirom.

This had to be camping in Kirirom, with the Welch Family, for several different reasons.  First of all, camping is something I love to do and so it gave me a sense of “normalcy” I had been missing in my life. Plus, Kirirom is the only place in Cambodia I’ve been cold and seen pine trees.  I also got to bring Bullet so he got some much needed “off-leash” time.  This was the first time, where I got to do something that was a major mix of nationalities.  Typically, I do some stuff with my expat friends and other stuff with my Khmer friends.  Motocross opened my eyes to a whole new world of doing things together with both groups of friends.  I also had the opportunity to practice a ton of Khmer with my friend, Ven, who drove Bullet and I up to Kirirom as he spoke about as much English and I do Khmer.  It also strengthened my commitment to the Prayer Circle Team, as I got to know even more of their members who were there either participating in the race or helping out with the race.  Finally, it gave me the opportunity to witness God working in a community of people who know about the sex industry here in Cambodia, but have radically different views about it.  I was able to witness how God is using so many different lives in a way to encourage people to be thoughtful and respectful while discussing hard to talk about topics.  Also, did I mention, I got to camp and be in pine trees!

My best memory of the year was:

Kirk and Kelsey getting hitched!

Watching my brother get married.  Being able to fly home and be a bridesmaid and stand with all our family and friends to watch him and Kelsey get married was amazing.  It was such a blast and definitely one of the best days of my life ever – not just this year.  While I was home for two weeks, most of which was a jetlagged blur, it was great to be 100% focused on an awesome wedding weekend.  Kirk and Kelsey made their wedding super special, with loving touches – way too many jokes (is there such a thing?), hugs and close family and friends.

Jenna’s First Cambodian Apartment (1 of 4).

The books I read this year were:

I wrote a whole blog post about this.  You can see the list here.

The scariest thing I went through this year was:

When I first landed in Cambodia, my housing situation wasn’t the best.  While it looked great from the outside, it was an open style house, which meant dust from the dirt road, mosquitos and my neighbor who burned his trash all came into my bedroom.  There was nothing I could do to stop it.  I literally blew through eight weeks of inhaler medicine (for my asthma) in three weeks.  I was miserable at work, tried to get ahold of my sending agency for support and failed.  There were nights it would pour down rain so hard and could have clean the apartment air, but I was so weak I couldn’t unlock the front door to get the fresh air inside.  (I also panicked that if there was a house fire, I would be caught in it).  There is no 911 here in Cambodia and even if there was, I didn’t know how to use my new calling company well enough to make a phone call from my phone, I didn’t know how to get ahold of anyone, I didn’t have internet and I knew it wasn’t safe to walk at night to the team house – even if I could find it or have the energy to make it there.  I was so afraid.  It got so bad that I thought about running to the neighbors and asking them to call a hospital and thought about being medevaced to Bangkok.  The only thing that kept me sane during these few weeks of panic attack / asthma attacks was the mantra, “God didn’t call you all the way across the world only for you to die before you do anything.”  I think this is a good example of what a spiritual attack looks like.  It’s both physical and psychological.  And plays to one’s specific fears – for me being choked and dying alone.  It took all the energy I had to find a new apartment to get myself into a physically healthier spot to avoid any more health scares.

The nicest thing someone did for me this year was:

Snap from Beckie about Bullet while we were apart.

I struggled with finding the ONE nicest thing someone did for me, it’s a tie, in my book.  The first one, was Beckie agreeing to watch Bullet for a month while I was in training in Thailand, that actually turned into three months due to some visa issues on my end.  She never signed up for that and she single handedly took care of her dog, Danner and Bullet.  As stressed out as I was landing in Cambodia and adjusting my expectations, knowing that Bullet was being so well cared for was definitely helping put my mind at ease.  Beckie even sent me daily messages of encouragement from Bullet.  They always brought a smile to my face and made me feel connected to him even when we were literally on other sides of the planet.

Lisa and I modeling in front of the bathroom 😉

The second thing, was having Lisa Everitt respond to an email chain that was started by my pastor at Oaks Parish, went to Josh Butler at Imago Dei which was then passed along as a connection to Lisa, who lived in Cambodia.  Little did I know, Lisa would become a huge part of my life here in Cambodia and if it wasn’t for her friendship – AND – mentorship, I would have moved back to Oregon months ago.  I’m so thankful she responded to the email, was opened to meeting with me and more importantly open to sharing all her friends, connections, insights to Cambodia with me.  I’ll be forever grateful to her.  Even though Lisa (and her hubby, Dave) recently moved back to the States, but the cool thing is – they moved to Portland, Oregon so they are basically stuck having me as a friend forever!

A new food/dish I tried this year was:

Favorite breakfast meal: baj sac cruk.

Oh man!  I tried so many new dishes this year.  My favorite being my go to breakfast option: baj sac cruk, which is rice, pork and either a fried duck egg or scrambled egg with spring onion.  Then you mix the whole thing up with pickled vegetables.  It’s amazing!  Other food items, I tried included: frog, balut (hard boiled fermented duck egg), chicken feet, Vietnamese egg crepes, custard apples, a ton of vegetables I can’t pronounce.  Various combinations of proteins and noodles together in a bowl as well as various shaved ice desserts with sugared fruits and vegetables mixed in.  The list goes on and on.  I even managed to figure out how to make Bullet his meals here in Cambodia to save money!

Here’s one adventure I had this year:

Bullet trapped in the Singapore airport and handling it quite well.

My mom says, “It’s never an adventure unless at one point you wished you were home.”  I’m realizing “home” is a pretty opened ended definition for myself.  It gets hard to answer the question, “Where are you from?”  Let’s see, I was born outside of Boston, raised in Oregon, I live in Phnom Penh, near the Russian Market.  My parents moved back to the East Coast so my mail goes there now, but I still own a house in Oregon…

All that being said, the only time I REALLY, REALLY wished I was “home” and I’ll be honest, I would have taken either home – Phnom Penh or Portland, was when Beckie, Bullet and I got stuck in the Singapore Airport after our flight to Cambodia refused to let Bullet on the plane.  Even though we had all our documents AND Bullet had just got 17 hour from San Francisco to Singapore without eating or going the bathroom.  I know traveling is hard, but this pushed me to almost being near tears.  I was so worried that we’d have to fly back to the United States or that Beckie would never get to see Cambodia or that Bullet was going to have a dog melt down and then we’d never get on a plane again.  But, Bullet kept his cool and Beckie helped me stay sane and we ended up on a later flight and made it to Cambodia all in one piece.

This year I practiced self-care by:

Jenna’s first Cambodian motorcycle.

Aside from $8-$10/hour for non-sketchy massages.  The biggest contributor to myself care was buying my (small) moto, which gave me a basic sense of freedom, both it terms of financial freedom from paying for tuk-tuks everywhere on my poorly designed budget, but also a sense of independence that I was missing.  I’ve told a few friends that riding a motorcycle is a lot like skiing.  You pick a line, drop in and only pay attention to what is happening in front of you.  What is behind you (for the most part) is not your responsibility.  For those of you who have known me the longest know that, I feel the closests to God when I’m skiing.  So it was great to find something similar to that flow state here in Cambodia.  I stepped up my self care in a major way when I purchased my bigger motorcycle and committed to the Prayer Circle Cambodia team.  This has given me more ways to help out in various capacities as well as the ability to gear up and ride for a few hours while I process things happening both in my life but also in the lives of those around me.

My biggest time waster this year was:

Emotional Support Pup, Bullet, just doing his job. Keeping Mama sane.

Stressing out about things I could not control.  I look back at how much time I spent crying – both out loud and in prayer to God – about things I had no control over or things I couldn’t understand and it’s amazing how much of an emotional time suck that was.  I’m so thankful that chapter of my life is over.  Matthew 6:34 says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  I think I literally told God a few times, “Yes, but have you been to Cambodia and dealt with this exact problem before?”  Which just shows you how spent I was emotional stressing out.  Definitely looking forward to having less worry about things that were out of my control in year two and recognizing the signs that come along with that and putting into practice what I’ve learned in the middle of this to be healthier going forward.

What I am most grateful for this year is:

Oaks Parish friends while I was on home leave in July.

YOU!  I don’t even want this to come off as corny.  I knew I had amazing family and friends before I started this crazy adventure, but this year has made me truly see how extraordinary you are.  When I first was called to Cambodia, I thought I was going to do this all by myself.  You know, because I’m a strong-willed female, but God specifically spoke over me, that I needed a community to walk through this with.  This was confirmed by so many meetings I had while I was still in the States, friends thanking me for inviting them to journey with me and share my life and what God is doing here in Cambodia even if they had never been before.  This first year had some major highs and some major lows.  Even though I was a half a world away, I knew people were praying for me, rooting for me and checking in on me.  In that same vein, friends have reached out to me and shared some amazing highlights (babies!) and some major downers and asked me to walk along them in prayer and support.  It’s been a real humbling experience.  You guys have shown up in amazing ways, coming to visit in Cambodia, sending me notes of encouragement, finances, emails, Facebook messages and phone calls, seriously these things make my heart burst.  Thank you so much.

Here are three words that would sum up this year:

Gratitude, adventure, and protection.

Staff of Daughters heading to worship via motorbike. Nationalities: Cambodia, Germany, Denmark, Philippines and USA!

What I’m looking forward the most to for Year Two in Cambodia is:

Stefanie, myself, Srey Pov practicing for Prayer Circle Cambodia. #girlgang

There are so many things that I’m looking forward to in Year Two.  I better grasp of the language.  Right now, I’m at the point where I can sound out the letters and finally read signs around me.  I feel like I’ve recovered from a strange sense of amnesia and am starting to finally understand the world around me.  For example, there is this Khmer money place called “Wings”, which is like where you go to pay your utilities bills or send money to your family in the provinces.  Just this week, I realized the name is the character for “w” and the character for “ng” a literal translation of the English word and not the Khmer word for “wing” like on a bird.  I found the whole translation process fascinating.  I’m also really looking forward to more motorcycle rides and encouraging more female riders both in racing motocross and in joining the Prayer Circle Cambodia team.  Continuing to foster great relationships with my Khmer friends as well as my expat friends.  Finally, I’m most excited to get back to work serving those who need help the most here in Cambodia and helping the extraordinary team of amazing Khmer people who are interested in making their country even better.

Have any questions about my first year here in Cambodia?  Leave a comment and let me know.  I’ll make sure to answer.  I know it’s not the New Year yet, but as you are getting back into the new rhythm of fall, what are some ways you have been reflecting on life this year?

One Year of Books – 2018

One of my favorite quotes from Love Live Here by Maria Goff.

I’m working on a series of posts on reflecting on my first year here in Cambodia.  One of the things I wanted to share was all the amazing books I’ve read this year.  I try to keep an update list of the books I’m currently reading here on my blog.  It’s hard to get copies of books here, unless what you are looking for happens to be at a free book swap.  I do have an Audible account that I use to get my hands on books to listen to when I wake up in the morning or before I head to bed.  This helps me feel more connected to my American life.  I’m even part of a Travelers Book Club, where a bunch of girls living in various parts of the world share what they are reading and their thoughts on various books.  Also, having books to read during my first few months here when I was without internet at my home helped me fight my initial feelings of loneliness.

Here are the books I completed reading (or listening to) this year:

Thirst: A Story of Redemption, Compassion, and a Mission to Bring Clean Water to the World, by Scott Harrison.

This book is Scott Harrison’s memoir about his life before he started charity:water and the first 10 years of running a nonprofit focused on using technology to engage with donors, improve sustainability of wells all while trying to give clean water to every single individual on the planet.  I’ve been bleed to hear Scott speak years ago at a Portland Conference called World Domination, he continues to inspire me and I loved learning more about his faith journey.

State of Giving: Stories of Oregon Nonprofits, Donors, and Volunteers by Greg Chaille and Kristin Anderson.

My brother got me a copy of this book for Christmas before I moved to Cambodia.  I finally had time to sit down and dig into the rich history of nonprofits that Oregon has.  It was really eye opening.  For example, the first Executive Director of IRCO (Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization) was a Khmer Rouge refugee.  I love learning more about Cambodian stories in Oregon.

Everybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People, by Bob Goff.

Bob Goff is a huge inspiration of mine.  He inspired me to raise over $133,00 for the homeless community in Portland, for my 27th birthday and when I found out he had another book coming out.  I had to get a copy.  His ziest for Jesus and living a life completely driven by love is something I constantly remind myself of.  Also, if you haven’t read his first book, Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World.  Stop what you are doing and get your hands on a copy.

Love Lives Here: Finding What You Need in a World Telling You What You Want, by Maria Goff.

On top of reading Bob’s latest book this year, I was also able to get my hands on his wife, Sweet Maria Goff’s book.  I read this over Christmas break while I was in Thailand with my family and was able to hand it off to my mom for her to read as well.  We both enjoyed it immensely.  I think it’s geared towards homemakers and partners of extremely extroverted people – like her husband, but I was able to get a lot of value out of the book even though I’m pretty extroverted myself.

Jurassic Park: A Novel, by Michael Crichton.

This was more of a “fun” read.  My friend’s mom recommended I check it out and I have to admit.  I love the movie, but the book is even better.  It also was great since I read it during rainy season so at points it sometimes felt like I was in the middle of my own Jurassic Park during the intense Cambodian thunderstorms.

The Lost World, by Michael Crichton.

Well, I obviously loved the first book so much, I had to get the second book.  I’m a little bummed that you can’t watch The Lost World on Netflix’s so I’ve never seen the movie to compare it to the book.

Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living, by Shauna Niequist.

I love Shauna Niequest’s book, Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes.  So I was really excited to hear she had a new book coming out.  I was able to read this book during my holiday in Kompot for Khmer New Year.  It was a great week of reflecting on what the first six months of my life in Cambodia looked like and what I was going to do to survive the next six months.

This book was recommended to me by a friend, also during Khmer New Year as I was coming out of my funk with landing in Cambodia.  While adjusting to new expectations isn’t equivalent to losing a life partner.  She did bring up some solid points.
Since I enjoyed Option B and the conversation that came along with discussing the book with said friend that made the recommendation.  I decided to give Lean In, a chance.  To be honest, I was a little hesitant given how overly popular the book was at launch.  While I think the tips mentioned in this book would have served me well in my previous life in corporate America, it was a good read and something I would recommend to young women entering the workforce.
This book was written by an old pastor of mine.  A friend let me borrow her copy and somehow it managed to get into my luggage and all the way to Cambodia (sorry about that Cristiana).  I busted it open in the middle of my “month of sorrow” and felt really encouraged by the fact that at that moment I was very aware that I wasn’t the only person struggling in that moment.  It offered some practical tips on how to fight depression as well as remind me that no matter what God is still with me.  Even when I felt so far from His presence.
This was a business book, written by the Founder of Sam Adams Brewery in Boston, Massachusetts.  I heard him do an interview on a podcast I love, How I Built This, and figured I would take a look at his book.  It was super insightful – his personal history, American beer culture from before I was born, plus practical business and marketing tips.

Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girlfriend, by Kevin Kwan and 

Rich People Problems: A Novel, by Kevin Kwan.



I believe this was another hot series in America.  I downloaded the first book for the 30+ hours of travel time I had fly to America and ended up downloading the whole series.  Which helped a ton with the travel, jet lag, travel back to Cambodia and another round of jet lag.  I have to admit, while the first book caught my attention, the second book held my attention, the final book was the best in my opinion.  Definitely got me more interested in learning about the history of Singapore.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.

This book seemed to be pretty popular back home in the States and I found it absolutely fascinating.  Between the personal history of Henrietta Lacks to the history of the “rights” of the body and genetic make up.  It was definitely an interesting book and made me think more about the ethics of technology.  It also kick started my fascination with genetic testing.  After reading the book and talking with my aunt about it.  She got me one of those 23&me kits while I was home this summer.  Has anyone else done one of those?  It’s super interesting.

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline.

A friend of mine from the Travelers Book Club, mentioned this book.  Then I saw it was coming out in the movie theater and I figured I should attempt to read the book before seeing the movie.  (Side note, I’ve never been a huge movie theater person in the States, but for $3 you can go to the movies, sit in FREEZING COLD A/C – seriously, I own one sweater for this sole purpose and watch a brand new movie BEFORE it comes out in the USA.)  I’ll be totally honest this book is 1000% better than the movie and Will Wheaton narrates the book on Audible.  Seriously, it’s so cool.

Wonder, by R.J. Palacio.

This was another “better read it before you see the movie” books.  It was definitely a quick read.  Cute, but for a younger crowd.  So if anyone is looking for some young adult books – this is definitely something to check out.

A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeleine L’Engle.

I couldn’t remember if I had read this book as a child or not.  So again, it falls under the category of “read before movie.”  I have to admit, I liked reading the book and just recently learned L’Engle has more in this series.  However, I wasn’t impressed at all with the movie that came out this summer.

What have you been reading this year?  Leave me a note and let me know.

Hitting the reset button! (September 2018 Update!)

Hi!  How are you?  I miss you so.  What has wrapping up summertime looked like for you?  It’s fun watching everyone’s Facebook and Instagram posts turn from summertime camping adventures to fall activities.  Here it is always summer, the high today is 33C (91F).  September was a month of “resetting” for me.  My last day at Daughters was August 31.  My amazing new roommate, Amanda, moved in on September 1.  And I found myself feeling really “run down” the first week of September, I thought it was a cold.

(Attempting to flush out all the grossness.)

My roommate thought it was my body reacting to the stress.  My mentors and teachers thought I should go to the hospital.  I’ll be totally honest with you, hospitals terrify me.  It took a few delusional days (including one moment where I introduced myself to my friend’s dog as “Aunt Nancy” – my mom’s name) and one of the Prayer Circle rider’s telling me she was taking me to the hospital for me to agree to go.  A few hours later, I found myself in a Cambodian Clinic, with a sweet Khmer doctor, telling me I had a sinus infection.  Shout out to my amazing roommate for keeping the house stocked in orange juice.  I think I single handedly keep the pho place in business with the amount of soup I ate.  Plus the penicillin and benadryl combo the doctor prescribed me.

(My back to school photo.)

Just in the nick of time, I got a clean bill of health right before I started Level 3 Khmer at my language school.  I’m doing this level full time, which means for five weeks, I go to school Monday through Friday from 8AM to noon.  Then I have homework to complete before the next day.  It’s a fun class, for the first two hours, where we learn new vocabulary and additional grammar rules, there are eight students, hailing from Korea, El Salvador, Brazil and Finland.  One other student and I are the only native English speakers.  For the last hour, there is only three of us learning the alphabet and sight words.  There are 74 letters in the Khmer alphabet.  That is three times the amount in the English alphabet!  When I was younger, I really struggled with learning how to read.  I was always mixing up my “L” and “J” and “p” “d” and “b”.  So I’m constantly reminding myself of that as I learn my ក គ and ច ឆ ត.  Sometimes I find myself saying, “the ka sound with the Bart Simpson hair, not the co sound with the Trump hair ជ.”  You need a little laugh to make it through the day.  Another great way to laugh about language learning is to check out this funny video about the English language.  (Warning: Some swearing.)

(World’s oldest teenager, Stu, Tina, and I in Vietnam.)

On top of school, I had the chance to fly to Vietnam to see my dad, Stu, on his “Retirement Tour – SE Asia.”  It was great to hang out with him and some of his co-workers who I’ve known for well over a decade.  Hear how retirement has been treating him and what his dreams of this new chapter in his life will look like.

(Peck, On, Stefanie and I at the Enduro Race.)

The following weekend, I got to ride my Honda Degree to Kampot (my favorite town) three hours away from Phnom Penh to help with a motorcycle race.  The highlight of the ride was right outside of Phnom Penh, when we were on this dirt dyke road.  There were hundreds of dragonflies, we slowed down to make way for a duck farmer and his hundreds of ducks crossing the road, a shepard and his cows, and watched little naked Khmer boys run and do coconuts (cannonballs) into the the river.  I was almost moved to tears thinking, “How lucky am I, that you called me here, Jesus.  Thank you.”  I could hear Him whisper back, “I love this place too.”  I recently learned of the Christian term, thin space, where the space between you and God is so thin you can truly feel the Holy Spirit.  That is how I think that road was, a thin place, where you catch a glimpse of Heaven.

(Towing Stefanie around Kampot.)

The rest of the motorcycle weekend was a complete blast.  On top of seeing all my old friends from the last race in Kirirom.  My friend, Stefanie, joined me to help out at the race.  There was even ONE girls team.  A Khmer national and a French woman competed.  Although they didn’t complete the race they were definitely an inspiration.  Stefanie and I agreed that we want to enter the final race for this year with the goal of inspiring more girls to race AND to just complete the course.  Let me know if you want to come visit and cheer us on!

(Bullet and I on our weekly run with the Running Bongs – an expat and Khmer running club in Phnom Penh.)

Finally, my prayer journal has become more of a pro/con list as I meet with people and explore different employment opportunities to start (hopefully) next month.  I’ve been looking into doing freelancing helping NGOs update their websites, thinking about brand strategy and email marketing.  Applying for jobs at social businesses and nonprofits alike.  I even seriously considered investing in a community bar with a few friends from the homebrewing community here in Cambodia.  While I don’t have anything truly definite for next month.  I can see how God is leading me in terms of connections, meetings and through journaling.

(I also committed to leading the Craft Corner at church once a month – this month we did a coloring sheet on Psalm 139.)

As always, below are some prayer requests. I really love hearing from everyone back home. You can reply to this email and share what is happening in your life, and how I can be praying for you. I’m also available to chat via Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, feel free to message me that way. You can do this by sending me a friend request on Facebook (if we aren’t friends already) or adding my USA phone number to WhatsApp. I look forward to hearing from you!

Hugs from Cambo,
Jenna (and Bullet)

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

  1. Future employment opportunities.
  2. My continued Khmer language studies.
  3. Health and safety as always.