Earlier this year, I wrote about how Cambodia Knits was using Patreon to raise funds to help stay afloat during COVID. Since being back in Cambodia, I’m happy to learn that Cambodia Knits is still in business and making some (good) changes! They’ve recently gone through a rebranding and are now rolling out BeeBee + Bongo. Beebee+Bongo is a social enterprise that produces really fun, quality, hand-knitted products AND providing fair, flexible employment for women in Cambodia! A double whammy of goodness! They’ve recently launched a brand new Kickstarter to raise $15,637 USD by Christmas 2020. So if you are looking for some great ethically made and eco-friendly toys for the children in your life with the added bonus of securing more employment opportunities for mamas in Cambodia. Please consider supporting BeeBee+Bongo. I did! My godchildren in Oregon are going to get some sweet gifts for Christmas (delivered in April 2021 – but honestly does the days even matter given how crazy this year has been?)
Cambodia Knits was hit hard during COVID. Cambodia has no local tourists to buy products, since the borders closed in March it’s been MONTHS. That with tough shipping logistics makes it hard for small businesses to get their products to the international market. Kickstarter helps programs like this have the support and financial backing from their local (and ever-growing) community. Supporting BeeBee+Bongo, allows them to continue to provide fair, flexible employment to women in Cambodian communities. Which is huge, because our schools are currently closed too, so mamas can work for BeeBee+Bong AND keep an eye on their children from home. (This is something heavy on my heart since so many mothers here need to make the choice between working to feed their families and being able to keep their children safe). BeeBee+Bongo wants to continue to grow in 2021, employing more mamas to stay at home with their children and continue to be able to put rice on their tables. BeeBee+Bongo was to grow to be more sustainable in the products they are creating – including using 100% certified organic cotton yarn.
Check out the Kickstarter Video
One last thing, since this is a very kid’s toy’s focused posted. Cambodia Knits has also partnered with a dear friend of mine’s Cambodian, ethically made, resort wear brand, Nary. While Nary is focused on very high-end clothing. They do have a line of kid-friendly masks that come with a Cambodia Knits animal who also is wearing a mask. So if you need more masks or helping your kids wear more masks – definitely check them out here. They are currently running a 12 Days of Christmas campaign so if you want to spoil yourself or your loved ones with ethical clothing. Definitely check them out too.
Every Christmas I try to invest in local, ethical, small businesses making an impact in their communities. This year, more than ever, I’m searching for ways to invest in communities to make a positive change – be it due to COVID or racial injustice – there are loads of ways blessed people can bless others. How are you doing this season?
Here is a little personal reflection I wrote up about traveling to Battambang and MRO’s need for a new car. We are currently fundraising for one on the GlobalGiving platform and are participating in #GivingTuesday, an opportunity to raise additional funds for this car. If you read this on Tuesday, December 1, 2020, please consider donating. If you are reading this after December 1, 2020. Have no fear, you can still donate.
There is a term for motorcycles and cars that are barely functional here in Cambodia. We call them “Frankensteins”. They are held together with shottie welding, duck tape, and prayers. I remember one time, I took my friend’s motorcycle to get it’s air filter replaced only to find out my friend’s motorcycle didn’t even have an air filter. The space where an air filter would be instead had a surgical face mask zip-tied in place. Stuff like this is common in Cambodia and rental cars are no different.
Recently, the MRO team was assisting families affected by the terrible flooding in northern Cambodia’s Battambang province. Since all three MRO cars were already in use, a Social Worker and myself took a rental car for the eight-hour journey on bumpy Cambodian roads and through flooded streets. (The Government actually shut down the stretch of highway we traveled on the following day due to the overwhelming flooding).
Being in a rental car for eight hours gave me a lot of time to reflect on how risky domestic travel can be in Cambodia. This minivan was a perfect example of a Cambodian Frankenstein. The front passenger seat had been removed and replaced with another rear passenger two-seater. Allowing the driver to add an additional passenger. My own seat had also been replaced at some point, but the original seat belt was still in place. This meant instead of being a true safety device, this seat belt was a death trap – the sash part cut across my collar bone, nearly choking me, and instead of across my waist, the lap belt went across the side of my kidneys. Since it was made for a different seat and sat further back than my seat (which was soldered in place) the safety release wasn’t operating properly. I was essentially trapped in my death trap and ended up doing what most Khmer people do remove my seat belt for the majority of our eight-hour ride through flooded streets.
Traffic accidents are a major issue in Cambodia, in a 2010 World Health Organization report states that every day three people in Cambodia die from road accidents and an additional 100 people are injured. As more cars and trucks have been imported into this country over the past decade these numbers continue to rise. The annual cost of traffic accidents is $116 million USD, more than 3% of the nation’s GDP. Traffic accidents account for more than 50% of hospital admissions. Traffic accidents kill more people than malaria, dengue, or small explosives (UXO land mines). The two major causes of traffic accidents are speeding and driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. The saying here is “It’s not if you get in an accident, but when.”
Personally, I’m part of this statistic, in November 2019, I was in a non-work-related, motorcycle accident that resulting in breaking my tibia and fibula. I spent a night in a Cambodian hospital before being medically evacuated to Thailand for surgery. One year later, I’m healed, but very aware of how close anyone in Cambodia is to be a statistic of a traffic-related accident.
It’s hard for one to truly articulate how bumpy Cambodia roads can be. Imagine using a country gravel road as a two-way highway, add some massive potholes, the size that could easily be as big as a small car, add motorcycles, cars, and bikes, joining traffic the right way (or wrong way) with no warning, and fasters cars and trucks overtaking one another. That is a pretty good idea of the chaos that is Cambodian travel. With 50% of the roads hard-surfaced, all-weather, and in good conduction. Most roads are crushed stone, secondary roads are just unimproved dirt, and little more than motorcycle or cow tracks. If you are in a rental car of unknown maintenance, it can be a very uncomfortable ride, and depending on the shocks and the tread of the tires an unsafe one during flooding.
On top of the physical safety aspect of local travel. Due to COVID-19, MRO needs to also be aware of exposure and spreading of the disease. Taking a rental car or riding a bus increases the risk of exposure. With Cambodia’s borders being closed to tourists (accounting for roughly 28% of national GPD) and factories being closed or working at a limited capacity (about 31% of GDP), many people are eager for work and the opportunity to provide an income for themselves and their families. Renting a car and driver opens MRO up to more chances of exposure to the COVID-19 virus. As we don’t know the health of the driver, nor who they have transported within in the last two weeks. At MRO, we keep logs of everyone who uses our cars for contact tracing. Who was in the car, where did they travel to, etc. On top of that, the need to provide financially for families during pandemic times will force those who are sick to continue to work when they should be at home resting. Our driver to Battambang was sniffling and coughing for the entire eight-hour drive. I ended up putting on my personal masks for the entire ride as the only way to protect myself from the driver’s illness while trapped in a small box for eight-hours. Thankfully, neither myself nor the MRO Social Worker became ill, but the “what ifs” weighed heavy on my heart.
What if we had gotten ill?
What if we had had an at-risk child with us?
What if we had exposed at-risk communities to this illness?
Another thing to consider is the overall sanitation of the rental cars. When you own a work car, you can take it to be fumigated with a surface disinfectant that kills the COVID-19 virus, or we can manually clean the cars and wipe down all the touched surfaces of the car. In a rental, none of these options are available to us. Mystery stains are a part of life in Cambodia but can be increasingly alarming during a pandemic outbreak.
Furthermore, we need to consider the financial costs of taking rental cars. This trip cost us $70 (one way). If MRO completes 178 annual missions at the cost of this trip, our rental costs are $24,920. At this rate, MRO could have saved for a new $50,000 car in just two years. About half the cost of the new car we are trying to buy. (It should be noted that not all missions cost this much, some can be completed within a day and thus would only cost $70). In the last two and a half years, MRO has spent over $30,000 in rental car costs.
Here is just how one trip to a province in Cambodia to provide care for 64 at-risk families highlight’s MRO’s massive need for a brand new car. I hope these observations, help you to reflect on the possibility of supporting MRO in its goal of purchasing a new car for the safety of orphans and vulnerable children, but also for the safety of our staff and their families as well. If you are interested in joining us in making this goal a reality soon, please donate here: https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/help-khmer-social-workers-care-for-foster-children/ and tell your friends.
Using the GlobalGiving platform, MRO is participating in #GivingTuesday, which was created in 2012 as a “global generosity movement unleashing the power of people and organizations to transform their communities and the world.” GlobalGiving is celebrating #GivingTuesday with a $1 Million Incentive Fund, that will distribute proportionally based on final fundraising totals. Every project that activates donors will earn something, and the projects that bring in the most dollars will win the largest portion of the Incentive Fund.
Reading this update AFTER #GivingTuesday? That is okay. GlobalGiving is offering a 200% match on all new monthly donations set up between December 14 – December 18, 2020. New monthly donations that start during this Monthly Donor Drive will be matched at 200% up to $200 per donor, per project. They must remain active for three months after the initial donation to qualify for the match.
Have questions? Want to get more involved? Please let me know. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for reading this article and considering donating.
I get a lot of questions about how COVID-19 is affecting live in Cambodia. As of July 15, there were 165 cases of which 133 have recovered. Many factories are closed due to COVID-19 and international tourism, which makes up over 25% of the national economy is currently not happening. However, there is some good news, I’d love to share.
MRO’s Community Sector works with key community members to model practical applications of alternative care in order to support the reintegration of children and youth out of orphanages. They achieve this by using careful action-oriented processes at high levels to take control of a family’s own stability and security. Family and community are a key priority in creating an environment for providing the best holistic development for children. And provides better opportunities than living in an orphanage.
Community Sector operates for two programs. One program focuses on preventing the separation of children from their families. While the second program focuses on restoring the lives of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) within a community in order for them to gain access to a better life.
In order to achieve these outcomes, the Community Sector manages two different programs. Here are some highlights from the first half of 2020.
Role Model Program:
In Phnom Penh: MRO staff visited with volunteering Role Models (RMs) in order to continue to keep a strong connection and continue to empower them with their work with orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) living in Residential Care Institutions (RCIs).
Due to COVID-19, large groups have not been allowed to meet in public. In order to protect orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs), Role Models (RMs) were not allowed to visit orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) in the shelters. Instead, Role Models (RMs) were encouraged to call and check on them.
Visiting and encouraging Role Models (RMs) with their work at a cafeteria in Phnom Penh.
In Siem Reap Provinces: MRO actively participated in the instruction of protecting orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) in the communities against COVID-19.
“Teaching children how to wash their hand and protecting from Covid-19”
Visiting known orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) families in order to share knowledge about COVID-19, rubbing alcohol, and mask.
This is one of our Community Role Models (CRMs).
In Battambang Province: MRO’s Community Role Models (CRMs) and Community Support Group (CSG) worked together to share information about COVID-19 and how the community can protect one another especially orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs).
Community Role Models (CRMs) teach children how to wash their hands. The children practicing what they have learned from the Community Role Model (CRM) and how to share the knowledge they learned with other children.
Additional Community Role Model (CRM) activities in Battambang.
Children working with MRO’s Youth Peer Network (YPN) learning about how to protect themselves from COVID-19.
Community Support Group Programme:
This network includes Provincial of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation (PoSVY), Commune Committee for Women and Children (CCWC), and local authorities in order to find the best ways to support orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) within the community.
Orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) assessment for providing income generation support. In addition to COVID-19 knowledge and prevention.
Key Community People (KCP) and Provincial of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation (PoSVY) providing basic support to orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) family.
Community Support Group (CSG) collaborated with local authorities to provide basic need to orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) families.
Key Community People (KCP) facilitated with Community Role Model (CRM) and Village Chief to support three orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) to secure birth certificates. This activity is linked with Child Welfare Network (CWN) in intervening to help the process of securing a birth certificate for orphans and vulnerable children (OVC).
Community Support Group (CSG) and Commune Chief visited orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) during COVID-19 and provided basic needs.
A visit with Key Community People (KCP) and local authorities to provide a refresher orientation about child protection to Key Community People (KCP).
I hope you enjoyed reading about the amazing work the Community Sector team is doing and seeing a little more of what life looks like in Cambodia through the photos. I’d love to answer any questions you might have about alternative care or how you can get more involved in the lives of orphans and vulnerable children. Just let me know.
On Ash Wednesday, some girlfriends and I attended a local English church service. Part of the service included reading Psalm 51. I found myself underlining this verse:
“Make me hear of joy and gladness, that the body you have broken may rejoice.” – Psalm 51:9
If I’m honest, February has been one of the toughest months I’ve had in a very long time. I think the joy, thankfulness, loving compassion carried me through January and the reality of my situation trapped me in a thick mud of depression for most of February. I was both physically and mentally exhausted. Stuck in a broken body, in a country not set up for disabled people. Overwhelmed by the burden Bullet and I was placing on my friends (who constantly reminded me they were happy to come over with food and to let Bullet out). I found myself torn between being completely rational in my thoughts, “Obviously, this is going to suck, you have a broken leg. Give yourself a break.” And finding myself weeping from pure exhaustion, which of course turned to angry tears once I couldn’t get them to stop when a loving friend popped over to take Bullet for a walk. Followed immediately by another wave of tears from the embarrassment of being caught in a moment of weakness.
Regardless of a rough month, in the spirit of Psalm 51, I want to share some moments where my broken body rejoiced:
Physical Therapy – I took my first steps without crutches in February! I also had my three-month post-operation check-up and while my fibula is still broken, everything is looking good.
Iroha – Two girlfriends kidnapped me for a weekend at a local hotel for a staycation. Sunlight, walking in a pool, and some greenery did my soul so much good. Even Bullet got to have a sleepover with my pastor.
MRO – I started going back into the office. To help with interviewing new staff, honoring our founding Executive Director and working on some much-needed updates to donor reporting in 2020.
Le Serey – Two friends have been coming over on Tuesday / Thursday afternoons to work remotely from my house to keep my company. One of them is launching an ethical business working with women and freedom opportunities. We are just gearing up to launch, so if you are interested in learning more. Sign up here. Serey / សេរី / Freedom.
Motorcycles – I was able to serve at the Social Media person for the latest Prayer Ride. Attend the post-ride debrief, and attend the 2019 Cambodia Enduro Championship Party.
Strove Tuesday – Bullet and I were invited to our first Strove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday, but with pancakes). We had a blast learning about a new faith practice and even Bullet got his own pancake.
G2K Dedication – My language school has moved to a new building. Attending the dedication ceremony, where worship and calls of education and transformation were made in both Khmer and English was an extremely powerful day.
Just a note about the Corona Virus. While it is just coming to the United States, Cambodia has been dealing with the fear of an outbreak since January. I’m prepared for the possibility of being quarantined in my apartment. My friends who live in the same complex as me have offered to run the stairs with Bullet so he can get exercise if dog walks are no longer an option. (I’ve been joking that a quarantine would feel like a Portland snow day. Only it’s always over 90 degrees here so I don’t need a firepit.)
Enough about me, how have you been doing? Giving anything up for Lent? Got any plans for Easter? Anxious about Corona? Let me know! You can send me an email and share what is happening in your life and how I can be praying for you. I look forward to hearing from you! As always prayer requests are below.
Hugs from Cambo, ជេនណា / Jenna (and Bullet)
I downloaded Oz: The Complete Collection this month and am slowly making my way through the series. I had no idea there were more stories about Oz other than “The Wizard of Oz” but there are actually 14 books! As an added bonus, it was only one Audible credit for the entire collection. Are you reading a good series at the moment?
Interested in financially supporting me? Just click the button below and make sure you include my full name where it says “Person or Project Name.” Thanks! (I’m still waiting for my medical claims to be processed, but if breaking my leg has taught me anything, it’s that I could use more opportunities to practice patience and trust.)
I would really appreciate you joining me in prayer in the following ways:
1. Continue to pray for my energy levels and my leg to continue to heal. 2. Please keep MRO in your prayers, our new leadership is doing a great job with the transition, but I’d love to start seeming some systemic changes be implemented for the future growth of the organization. 3. Cambodia has been dealing with the health and economic drama of Corona for months now. Continue to pray for protection for Cambodia in the midst of this epidemic and for peace for those living on the financial edges of society.
I hope you had a blast with family and friends. It was great to celebrate the holiday with my parents, aunt, cousins, and families from my parent’s neighborhood. My personal highlight was having my little cousin fall asleep on my lap while watching the fireworks for two reasons: 1) She and her two stuff animals helped keep me warm in this not-so-tropical weather and 2) I sometimes beat myself up for missing out on special family moments and it felt great to be loved by her, especially since that last time I saw her she was two years old and now she is four!
Thank you so much for your prayers. Bullet and I arrived safe and sound in Boston, MA on Sunday. We were jetlagged and in much need of a good stretch.
June was a jam-packed month! I had a work trip to Battambang province, where MRO’s second office is. It was great to meet even more of the team, check out our new office space and spend some time encouraging the staff. While I was there, the Social Work Team was dealing with a particularly difficult case. As terrible as the case is, my biggest takeaway was seeing how passionate and hungry for justice the staff were for these two girls. Our office table was covered with case notes, phone numbers and the room was filled with problem-solving conversations. I have no doubt that these girls have been placed in our organization’s hands for a reason and I’m waiting in prayerful expectation that justice will be served.
Before I flew back to the USA, I wanted to make sure all the documentation was loaded on to our website and Youtube channels so all the social workers and partners will have access to the information while I’m gone. I’m happy to report, I was successful in that task and am hoping to do a few more documentation write-ups to make it easier for the staff to share with the children, donors and other social work teams.
On top of that, one of the women I mention through NOMI Network’s NIFT program found out she won a $1,000 scholarship to work with women in her home village to produce traditional Khmer weaving. This will help provide steady income, a new skill set and help her to continue to grow her ethical fashion brand. Last month, we spent most of our meeting time going over the scholarship application and filling out the necessary information in English together. I’m bummed I’m going to miss her final scholarship presentation since I’m stateside, but I can’t wait to see her new product launch in early 2020!
I finished Level 5 Khmer before flying back to the USA. My plan is to work with a language tutor when I get back to Cambodia and take Level 6 Khmer before the school has their Christmas break. Then I’ll just have Level 7 and 8 to complete in early 2020! It feels so good to be so close to being done with language school. (I also told my Khmer friends to leave me voice messages via Facebook Messanger so I don’t forget everything I’ve worked so hard to learn while Stateside.)
Finally, I said goodbye to my dear neighbors, Sean and Maria, who repatriated back to the USA after serving two years with NOMI Network. They are such awesome people, who love Bullet and me so well. I’m so thankful God brought them into my life and I got to share life with them in our apartment block.
Not 100% because Sean and Maria were moving out, but maybe a little bit, I decided to let my apartment lease go before heading back to the States. This saved me a bunch of money, not paying rent for a few months and I was lucky enough to store my belongings at my co-worker’s apartment while I’m in the USA. I’ll be moving into a new apartment building that is a little bit cheaper and be in the same apartment block as some people from my church’s small group.
I’ve got a few speaking events coming up. If you are near any of these locations, I would really love to see you. Let me know if you can attend and I’ll save you a seat.
I would really appreciate you joining me in prayer in the following ways:
1. That my time and training in the USA goes well. I’ll be in Pennsylvania for two weeks, meeting the team, other future international workers and learning a ton. (Also, my parents will be watching Bullet so keep those three in your prayers as well.) 2. That my upcoming speaking event goes well. My financial budget is in need of a boost. I’m confident God will provide, but I want to make the best of my opportunity. 3. Continue to hold the team at MRO in your prayers. They are doing amazing work in hard conditions and could always use pray and encouragement.
The annual thunderclouds have rolled into Phnom Penh. While I haven’t seen much rain in the last few weeks, the nightly lighting shows are something of wonder. It seems like the welcoming parade for rainy season here and power has become more stable during the month of May.
Stable power has been such a blessing this month. I’ve been able to convert and upload all the assets M’lup Russey has asked me to load to the internet. Our digital library continues to grow. I’ll be working on more writeups to communicate with partners, supporters, and donors. Additionally, I have started building a dev website for the team to review. It’s been fun showing various leaders the upcoming new website and getting their insights and more information on various needs the website can serve.
One of the highlights of my work is that I get updates from the Social Work teams out in the provinces about all the projects they are working on to build relationships. One time, I was grabbing lunch with a Khmer friend of mine and I got a notification that the MRO team was working with some foster care young adults who were aging out of the system to get registered in a “Family Book.” I shared this good news with my friend and she started crying. She said, “You don’t know how important this is, these young people can now get jobs, go to university, get married – all legally.” I just smiled and said, “I didn’t understand how important it was until I saw your face, but now I think I do.”
May was a month of weird sicknesses for myself and those around me. At the beginning of the month, I spiked a fever over 103, which isn’t alarming until you feverishly convert Celsius to Fahrenheit. 39.6C doesn’t sound so bad. Also, learning how to use a mercury thermometer for the first time since I was a kid was neat. Thankfully, I was in good hands with a bunch of friends bringing me soup, orange juice, drugs, and giving Bullet lots of love and walks, while I rested. It’s moments like these when I reflect on how much living in Cambodia must be like living in the community the way Jesus followers must have lived during the formation of the church. It’s all about being in community and being there for one another.
On top of my own sickness, I welcomed another short-term visitor into my home for an expected one month visit while she explored thoughts of moving to Cambodia full-time. Unfortunately, she experienced some medical issues and flew back to the USA after 10 days. It was a little bit of a whirlwind at towards the end, but she is doing great now. I also crossed paths with a woman from Portland, Oregon, who picked up an infection while backpacking through SE Asia and ended up in the hospital. Friends from PDX contacted me and we spent a week praying and processing her time in Cambodia. I think it was a real eye-opening experience for her. She is also back in Portland now and doing well.
May offers a long weekend in celebration of the King’s Birthday. I was invited to join seven other women to visit my first Cambodian island. It was an awesome experience, everyone works in anti-human trafficking, love Jesus and wanted a much-needed girls trip. After an eight-hour bus ride and a two-hour boat ride, we arrived at a secluded island, with no cell phone service. We spent three days, swimming, reading and encouraging one another. It was nice to be in a space where my biggest problem was what book do I want to read or do I want to nap or go for a swim. I also got the opportunity to drive with local transportation!
While I’m working hard to wrap things up here in Cambodia for my visit to the USA. I’m also starting to coordinate my meetings, speaking events, parties, and get my budget in order for the next year. I’ll be sending out an additional email shortly with my financial needs and opportunities. Please let me know if you are interested in learning more, hosting an event, or grabbing a meal or going on an adventure while I’m back.
As always prayer requests are below.
Hugs from Cambo, ជេនណា / Jenna (and Bullet)
P.S. In May, I started reading Through Painted Deserts by Donald Miller. One of my supporters has shared on multiple occasions that it is one of his favorite books. I finally got my hands on a copy and have been enjoying it so far. Donald Miller references Oregon a lot in the book, which has made me a little homesick, but in a good way.
1. That I can buckle down and focus. I’ve got 25 days to wrap up Level 5 language at G2K, work, pack up and move my apartment, plus say goodbye to friends for 2.5 months and those who are leaving permanently while I’m gone.
2. That support raising goes well while I’m home. I need to raise additional support while I’m home to cover some additional needs here. If you want more information on that, please let me know.
3. That I leave Cambodia well. That my team at work knows I’m still a resource and available to help them. That my friends know I love and support them and will be back shortly. June is a tricky month in Cambodia since many people either permanently leave the country or temporarily leave. It can be hard for those who are staying.
What does a nation do when its power needs are higher than the amount of power it can create? Issue mandatory power cuts on a daily basis for 5-6 hours a day! Just when you think you get into a routine here in Cambodia, Cambodia throws you a curve ball. March was the month of adjusting to new schedules. What does work look like when there is no power? How do I take a shower or flush my toilet when there is no running water? Who do I know who has access to a generator? What is my new coffee budget? (Buying something at a restaurant gives you sweet AC relief.) If anything, these power outages have taught me so much about the resiliency of the Khmer people. How to practice compassion towards others and being kinder to one’s self. We are all in this together and with friends, we can all get through it. (Especially if Jenna wakes up before the power cuts happen so she can use her electrical kettle to boil water for coffee instead of on her gas top because it turns our kitchen into an inferno when there is no electricity to run the fan.)
March was book-ended by American visitors. At the beginning of the month, my mom, Nancy, came to visit me for a few days. I was able to take her to Kampot and show her my favorite town. One night, we rode an hour to the coast to Kep and sat on the exact same beach she took me to 4.5 years ago when I felt called to move to Cambodia. It was such a relaxing, special time. At the end of the month, while on Spring Break (they are teachers), my friends Stephanie and Ben, came to visit me. Three years ago, we hiked Manchu Pichu together. It was fun to get the dream team back together.
Work in March was a little crazy with everyone struggling to figure out what their building’s power cut schedules were. I taught an Online Sales Platform class for NOMI Network. It was awesome to meet with so many freedom business leaders (those who employ disadvantaged people as an alternative to human trafficking) who want to sell their products online to an international market. But eye-opening to the struggles they face. Infrastructure issues (like power outages and shipping) to financial problems (like PayPal isn’t available in Cambodia).
I also started working eight hours a week for business as missions company called Web Essentials. It was started my foreigners grown it to a very reputable web development company. I’m helping out in their marketing team, but in reality, I’m getting an inside look at what it’s like to run an ethical business here in Cambodia. Something I hope to be doing in the future here in Cambodia.
There are a lot of moving parts happening at M’lup Russey Organization (MRO). Most of March was spent collecting resources, translating content and asking questions about how things have been done in the past and what hopes the organization has for running things in the future. In April, we rolled out some exciting documentation and hope to release a few more projects in the near future.
I completed my Community Healthcare Course at G2K. It was a really fun class and I’m already putting my new language skills to work here in Cambodia. Typically joking about how my “សាច់ដុំ” (muscles) hurt from riding. Or asking how people are feeling at work. I can also understand more prayer requests, which is encouraging and ask follow up questions about various family members. I’ve found it easier to tell my friends about my uncle’s cancer diagnosis in Khmer since I’m so focused on the words, I don’t get overwhelmed with emotions, which is a very interesting blessing.
Speaking of riding, I got in one charity ride in during March! It felt good to get back on my bike and NOT have heat rash. The ride was a fundraiser for Teen Challenge, which operates here in Cambodia, as a drug rehabilitation program. I made some new Khmer friends at the ride and have enjoyed continuing to ride with them on the weekends. They have been showing me some other places to explore near Phnom Penh.
The other big piece of news is that I’ve officially booked my plane ticket to Portland, Oregon! (I still haven’t booked my international plane tickets yet – so East Coast friends, sit tight. I’ll send you details soon.) I’ll be in Portland, Oregon August 5 through September 3, 2019! I want to hang out with you! Let me know what you are up to and we can plan a hang out session. I’m also looking for a place to stay during that time AND for opportunities to speak with people who are interested in learning more about what is happening in Cambodia and the work I’m doing here. If you have a place for me to stay or know anyone interested in learning about Cambodia. Please let me know by sending me a quick email.
Speaking of emails. You can always send me an email sharing how have you are doing? I love hearing what is happening in your life and how I can be praying for you. I look forward to hearing from you! As always prayer requests are below.
Lastly, In March, I started reading two new books (haven’t finished them yet). One is called “Bad Blood”, which is all about the rise and fall of Silicon Valley’s Theranos, a blood testing company. The second is called “The Water Cure” which is a “The Handmaiden’s Tale” – eques book.
I would really appreciate you joining me in prayer in the following ways:
1. Continued prayer for my Uncle Clay and his family while he battles brain cancer. He just completed his first week of treatment and is doing great. Please pray that his strength continues to remain strong and for his family as they adjust to their new life routines. 2. For great tenants for my house in Portland. The small amount of profit I make on renting out my house is my emergency fund here in Cambodia. It’s a little stressful to be pulling from your emergency fund to be paying for your mortgage instead of adding to it. I’m trusting God will be faithful in providing great tenants and that soon I’ll be back to adding to my emergency fund. 3. For wisdom and logistics as I start gearing up for my trip home this summer. I can’t wait to see you all this summer, but I don’t want to get too caught up in thinking about the future and miss out on things here in Cambodia. Sometimes I feel like I have one foot in the future – catching up, meeting babies, celebrating weddings, speaking events, craft beer and ice cream – and one foot here in Cambodia – work, friends, motorcycle prayer rides.
I just wanted to share a little update update about a project I am working on at work. I’m working on getting a backlog of information digitalized and published on our website so our partners, donors and social work team can have access to more information and training. “Why Not a Family?” is one of those blocks of information. I think it’s a great informative tool to help explain to Khmer and expats what some of the benefits of family-based care for orphans and vulnerable children. If you have any questions about the information below. Please don’t hesitate to reach out.
“Why Not a Family?” is a short documentary that highlights the value of family in the lives of children growing up. This video provides insights from three organizations that have years of work experience in Cambodia supporting orphans and vulnerable children through provision of family-based care.
Imagine a grandmother, caring for three grandchildren and struggling to raise them. The grandchildren need uniforms and books to attend school. She wants to send her grandchildren to school. Her neighbor tells her about an orphanage that could supply her grandchildren with school uniforms and books for their education.
She refuses until one day, when she does not have a rice crop, she is forced to bring her grandchildren to an orphanage. After that, the grandchildren grow up receiving education and enough food, but they are no longer close to their family.
They are not at home. They are separated from their family. They do not receive the warmth of love and care. Volunteer teams often come to visit the children. It looks like another world from what they were used to at home. Then one day, they have to leave the orphanage.
They are now teens and cannot be in an orphanage anymore. They also cannot live with their family and former community, because they have been separated for so long and thus no longer see a place for themselves in the village with their family. They are on their own. However, in Cambodian society, relationships, family and community are important. These grandchildren feel scared and alone. “Even though they lack a livelihood, they lacked everything in the family, but they did not want to separate from their families!” say Phan Chak of Bridges Organization.
Today, up to 80% of children living in orphanages in Cambodia have at least one surviving parent. Most children have relatives who can care for them, if those families were supported. This figure coincides with global scale.
According to research launched in 2012, 90% of Cambodians asked felt that poor families should send their children to orphanages if the family could not provide their children with access to education.
Family-based care is a critical concept in the Policy for the Alternative Care of Children of the Royal Government of Cambodia, with care in a family being the priority choice for all orphans and vulnerable children. Growing children develop better in families and communities where families get support in caring for them. Experts around the world believe that residential care is a weak solution for solving low-income problems. Orphanages should be temporary and a last resort, not the first option. “Why not choose a family? It is cost effective. It is natural and it promotes the whole society,” says Cathleen Jones, Founder of Children in Families.
Family-based care means keeping the children in close proximity with close relatives or living with a second family (foster family) who can support them. This is a better and more effective way. UNICEF, Save the Children and other organizations worldwide support family-based care as the best option for orphans and vulnerable children.
Currently in Cambodia, some families have been successful in caring for additional children because there are organizations that can provide them with additional income, rice, and minimum tuition fees for education. Staff from these organizations monitor and track development monthly.
Family-based care programs operate in many developing countries, including Cambodia. The programs require strong case management structures and social work staff, but supporting children to live permanently in a family needs only a small portion of the cost it takes to bring up a child in an orphanage. Family-based care is the best option for children who need long term alternative care.
The Royal Government of Cambodia has a policy to reduce the numbers of children living in residential care and is encouraging orphanages to transform into providing family- and community-based care. Transforming orphanages into centers that empower communities to support and strengthen local families to care for their own children is a vision for a bright future for Cambodian families and Cambodian society.
There are some who are worried that a reduction in the numbers of orphanages will mean a reduction in educational opportunities available for poor children. Others are concerned for those children in crisis situations. However there are family- and community-based services and program models which can provide the appropriate support, protection and care for the children in these circumstances, without resorting to long term residential care.
Why not support a program that is supporting and strengthening poor families and their children in their local community?
There are three ways you can help share this information:
Show this video to community members as well as other institution heads, then discuss family-based alternative care.
Talk about the importance of caring for children in a family in your community.
To help your organization become an organization that supports family-based care, be sure to let M’lup Russey know. We can provide additional training.
You can watch the entire “Why Not a Family” video here:
If you are a local Cambodian organization and are interested in receiving DVD copies of “Why Not a Family?” please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Produced with support from:
M’lup Russey Organization – Cooperating with government leaders at the policy level. To provide training, caring and helping families be together, as well as family-friendly maintenance in moments of urgency.
Children in the Families – Supporting children in caring for families and educating as well as urgent interventions to keep children living in families and communities.
Bridges Organization – Supports nearly 2,000 orphans with family members and staff, as well as a network of local volunteers.
Produced and Directed by Andy Gray.
Recording and Cutting by Khin Sina.
Traditional Khmer Song by Phan Sok Khoeun.
Piano (Early Pinyin) by Nagai.
This video was produced in 2012 through International Cooperation Cambodia-Project SKY, the project localised to become M’lup Russey Organization.
Hot season has arrived in Cambodia like a distant relative arrives into your house and hugs you for a little too long. You can’t escape their grasp or their cheek pinches. Hot season is no different, sweat hugs your body and even riding a moto around town offers no breeze as relief. Things naturally slow down here, rolling power outages seem to be prevalent. We are currently being told to prepare for rolling power outages for the next three months in five hour blocks. I’m finding solace in coffee shops that have generators for air conditioning and Bullet is enjoying all the frozen “pupsicles” I make him. His favorite flavors seem to be sweet potato and “meat juice”. Since I typically boil his meat for his food, the meaty water then gets frozen for treats at a later date.
For me, February was a month of stepping into vulnerability with boldness. It started with two amazing motorcycle rides. One to Kampot and the second being the all over the northern part of Cambodia. I had my own anxiety of being the “weakest” link on the team and holding others back. This “imposter syndrome” feeling thankful disappeared behind me as soon as my motorcycle kicked into second gear. The more I reflect back on the Prayer Circle Cambodia rides, the more I feel emboldened to expectancy on God. That He will provide, heal, and protect all those involved.
Next was being vulnerable in admitting I wasn’t healing from my heat rash at the speed I WANTED to be healing and that I needed help – from medical advice to walking Bullet. My friends, both here – and abroad – sent prayers, encouragements, food, drugs and doggie play dates. While I spent three days in wet yoga pants and t-shirts letting my skin heal and over a week on steroids. It was not fun admitting I needed help, that I was a little scared and the guilt I carried feeling like I was letting people down. Thankfully, the “wet” suit, prayers and drugs helped. Now my new baby skin on my shins are getting tougher to the harsh Cambodian heat and dust.
One of those women I felt like I was letting down was Sharron, MRO’s newest Advisor who I had agreed to help onboard – both at work and in life. I completely missed her first week in Cambodia and felt horrible for letting her and the MRO team down. I was able to redeem myself in her second week – helping her find an amazing apartment, taking her shopping and introducing her to all “my ladies” at the local market and helping her with her visa application. After her second week in Cambodia, Bullet and I took her to Silk Island – our local get away with clean water to swim in. Bullet was long overdue for a fun adventure since he had spent nearly two weeks trapped in my room with the AC on and yet not allowed to snuggle with me. (Even though I’m not allergic to dogs, the doctor warned me that almost any allergen could upset my sick skin.) While we were swimming, I confessed to Sharron how horrible I felt about letting her down her first week and how helping her in her second week was stirring up some emotions about my own landing here in Cambodia. Feelings I thought I had dealt with yet some weird jealousy on my side was yet another example of boldly stepping into vulnerability. The Bible speaks of God refining us like silver. I think this is a good example of this. Being aware of our emotions and feelings – owning them and reflecting on them and coming out on the other side a better, more Christ-like version of ourselves.
Towards the end of February, my family and I received word that my Uncle Clay had been diagnosed with Level 4 Glioblastoma (brain cancer) and the survival rate is pretty low. My heart (and my body) dropped to the floor. I spent a considerable amount of time on the ground – weeping, praying, re-reading my aunt’s text message. I finally picked myself up, washed my face and headed to my Khmer tutoring session. As soon as my teacher saw me, he asked what was wrong. I explained in Khmer that I had just found out that my uncle was sick with brain cancer. (Yeah Community Health class vocabulary!) The conversation continued in Khmer: Teacher: I’m sorry, sister. Does your uncle love Jesus? Me: Yes. Teacher: This is good. He will go to Heaven. But still very sad. Me: Yes. (By this point, I’m crying again.) Teacher: What is your Uncle’s name? Is he married? Does he have kids? Me: Yes, his name is Clay. His wife’s name is Kirstie. His daughter’s name is Brianna and his son’s name is Jimmie. Teacher: My wife and I will pray for them tonight. I’m sorry, sister. Would you like me to read to you? Me: Yes. He then spent our hour of tutoring reading slowly to me from my children’s book about not speeding in a car and looking out for elephants on the road. Here we are, sitting in a local coffee shop, a married, Khmer man reading to children’s book out loud in Khmer to a silently weeping foreign woman. I had to admit this act of love and compassion still makes me tear up. I told the story to my mentor and she wisely pointed out, “You’ve reached that sweet spot where you are getting loved on by your Khmer friends.” I couldn’t agree more.
That being said, my Uncle is committed to fighting this thing and it’s such an honor to walk, prayerfully beside him and his immediate family through this. Again, this theme of being bold yet vulnerable comes up daily in my prayers for him. I’m super thankful that I’ll be able to spend time with him while I’m home this summer and celebrate his daughter getting married!
Other things that happened in February: I said goodbye to my roommate of five months, Amanda, and welcomed a new roommate, Laura, into my home. Laura is here for two months investigating if she wants to become a full-time missionary. I also had the honor of helping my dear friend, Nika, who is blind, build a Facebook page for her new organization geared towards helping other blind Cambodians with resources and trainings. She is so kind to me. Always reminding me that we are sisters. When she found out I had heat rash on the Prayer Circle ride, she called Manoj and asked to speak to me. Just to make sure I was okay and to tell me she was praying for me! The Phnom Penh Post did a write up about her work. You can read about it here. I’m so proud of Nika and happy to call her “sister.”
I’ve spent a lot of time researching and praying about sending agencies and am pretty excited about this opportunity. This also means I’ve started planning my home visit to the United States. If you want to see me, have questions about my home visit, have me speak at your church or small group – please let me know! It looks like I’ll be stateside July through mid September.
How have you been doing? I look forward to hearing from you! As always prayer requests are below.
Hugs from Cambo, ជេនណា / Jenna (and Bullet)
P.S. In February, I finished reading “Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out” about the history of Craft Beer in America. I also downloaded 13 hours worth of Hans Christian Andersen “Fairy Tales” to fall asleep to on the Prayer Circle Rides. Both were great books. If only I could stop falling sleeping before chapter 4 on the “Fairy Tales” book!
I would really appreciate you joining me in prayer in the following ways:
1. For my uncle, Clay, his wife, Kirstie, and their children – Brianna and Jimmie as my uncle battles cancer.. 2. For my house in Portland. That good tenants will be interested in living there soon. 3. For wisdom and logistics as I start gearing up for my trip home this summer.
Hello from sunny Cambodia, where the average temperature this week has been 94 degrees and we still haven’t truly hit hot season yet! (Sorry, I had to put that little tease in there since Portland has been getting some snow lately.)
January seemed to have flown by and February is keeping pace. Work with MRO is keeping me busy. I had the chance to go on two outings with the Social Work Teams. I wrote about visiting Foster Children and Reintegrated Children. I also got the chance to present some website suggestions to improving the MRO website in the near future. I look forward to rolling that out and some new videos promoting MRO’s work in Cambodia. (Don’t worry – I’ll be sure to share them once they are live.)
One of the things God put on my heart during my Christmas break was to find a Khmer Church. While at Daughters, I was required to attend their church. When my contract ended, I stopped attending. I’m still an active member of my English Church, helping out monthly with The Craft Corner. A friend from language school invited me to attend a Khmer church that her husband is the Pastor at. I kicked off 2019 by checking out their church. So far, I really enjoy it. It’s a group of mostly young, college-aged, Khmer who are living in dormitories to attend local universities. They are friendly, patient with my Khmer and eager to practice their English. I’ve been enjoying attending the church and learning more Khmer Christian vocabulary. Also, my new roommate is working for this missionary / Khmer couple!
Since many people have commented on the books I’ve been reading, I thought I would include the book I’m reading each month. In January, I finished reading Just Mercy, which was recommended by a close friend of mine. It’s about the history of the prison system and the death penalty in America. I learned a ton while reading it. Since most of my friends here come from an international background, I’ve talked to a few about the book. I’ve also learned some interesting insights about what other countries think about our prison system. Double the learning experience. I’m almost done with Twelve Lies That Hold America Captive, which is about “white American folk religion” and features my nextdoor neighbors here in Cambodia and the anti-human trafficking work they are involved in.
What have you been reading / listening too lately?
How have you been doing? I look forward to hearing from you! As always prayer requests are below.
Hugs from Cambo, ជេនណា / Jenna (and Bullet – no pictured.)
I would really appreciate you joining me in prayer in the following ways:
1. Praise! I’ve found a new roommate who will be living with me in Cambodia for two months. (She is coming to research moving here full-time). My Oregon tenants have decided to break their lease and move out. I’ve hired a property manager, so please pray they can find new tenants quickly. Also, if anyone is looking for a new place to live in PDX, I know a great spot! 2. Continued prayer for my language skills. Between work, Khmer church and tutoring, I feel like my speaking and vocabulary is continuing to improve. I’m still not feeling confident about my reading skills. 3. My health / safety (as always). Right now I’m recovering from a horrible case of heat rash – I’ll save you the gore. I’ve got some upcoming injections planned for my continued health here in Cambodia. Please pray that I won’t have any adverse reactions.