Reintegration Family Visit – Tuesday, January 22, 2019

*beep beep beep* My alarm starts sounding off at 6:15 am on Tuesday, January 22.  My dog, Bullet, stretches beside me and then hops off the bed to sit next to his food bowl and wait for breakfast.  On our morning walk, I reflect on my previous visit to the province with the M’lup Russey Organisation (MRO) team. I know today will be different from the last visit.  Before we visited with children in Foster Care. Today we will be visiting children who have been reintegrated with their families.

MRO’s Family Reunification program reunifies children and young people who have left an orphanage to return to their birth parents or biological relatives.  It is a collaboration between the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation (MoSVY), the District and Provincial Social Affairs offices, Commune Council for Women and Children (CCWC), local authorities and NGO partners to ensure the placement sustainability, safety and schooling of the reunified children and young people.  MRO undertakes the professional supervision, joins case conferences and works according to agreed policies and protocols on behalf of the children and their families.

Samnang, Savorn, Vatathanak, myself, and Kosal.

I arrived at the office and am happy to see the familiar faces of Samnang, a MRO Social Worker and Kosal, the MRO Driver will be joining us on today’s trip.  Two new faces are also climbing into the MRO truck. During our one and a half hour drive to the province, I learn one of the faces belongs to Savorn, MRO’s Emergency Foster Care Assistant.  She has been working at MRO for a year now. The other new face is Vatathanak, MRO’s Intern. She is in her third year of studying Social Work at Royal University Phnom Penh (RUPP) and has been interning with MRO for three months.  I make a joke that even though she is younger than me, she has worked at MRO longer than me and thus must be very knowledgeable. This makes the whole car giggle.

When we arrive at the village, Samnang hops out of the truck and stops to visit with the Village Chief.  We continue along a few more houses and then climb out of the truck and up the wooden steps of our first family’s home.  It’s a traditional Khmer home on stilts.

Traditional Khmer house.

This home is the smallest house I’ve ever been in during my year in Cambodia.  It’s smaller than my bedroom in Phnom Penh. About three meters wide and five meters across.  It’s neat and clean with clear areas of purpose. A small gas stove sits in the far corner, with simple metal pots and plastic dishes.  Behind the entrance is a clothing rack. A sleeping mat takes up the majority of the house’s floor space and in the far right corner is a TV set.  The floors are made of strips of bamboo that flex their strength when you walk across the home. The siding and roof are constructed of recycled corrugated tin.  Savorn, Vatathanak and myself find a place to sit on the floor away from the sleeping mat, but also away from the grease stained floor near the kitchen area. The mother yells something out the front door and then finds a spot on the sleeping mat.

Re-unified foster child.

Soon a young woman climbs up the stairs.  She is cross-eyed and has elfish features – a small pouty mouth and a sharp nose.  She holds a turquoise, plastic cross on a leather strap around her neck. She finds a spot on the sleeping mat next to her mother, while Samnang arrives with an older gentleman, who is introduced as the Village Chief and two other woman – the girl’s aunt and another MRO Foster Mother.  There is hardly any room for us all the fit in this tiny, little home.

Samnang starts off the conversations.  Quickly, the Mother becomes upset. Talking about how her husband doesn’t care about taking care of their daughter.  I sit and watch the young girl, sitting by her mother’s side while this conversation is happening. “Shouldn’t she be outside playing with her friends?”  I wonder to myself, “No child should be hearing this sort of thing.”

Inside a traditional Khmer house.

The Mother continues to yell, pointing in a corner as if to address a person not in the room.  By this point, I’m lost in the conversation. I’ve only been learning this language for a year and the rapid pace the Mother is speaking with makes it impossible for me to follow.  She throws a towel across the room in anger. I sit in the far corner, close my eyes and start to pray. “Jesus, I have no idea what is going on right now, but I know you do. I ask that you bring peace into this home.  Heal this mother, heal this little girl, bring her father back to her. Please Jesus. Fill this place with Your peace.”

“Chop / stop,” the calm voice from the Village Chief rings out.  The Mother continues speaking. The Village Chief says something over the Mother then gets up and walks out of the house.  Samnang turns to me and explains that the Mother is upset because a neighbor’s child threw a rock at her daughter’s head cutting it open.  The Mother took the daughter the Village Chief and he did nothing about it. I asked to see the cut. This incident happened about two weeks ago, the bruise was still visible but the cut had healed.  The Mother had treated the wound with Tiger Balm. This seems like the universal method of treating anything here in Cambodia. Injured? Put some Tiger Balm on it.

Local recycling program.

Things seem to calm down after the Village Chief leaves.  Samnang asks a few more questions, then we say our goodbyes.  We walk down the dirt path a little while. I start realizing that this area must be known for recycling as many families have mountains of cardboard or recycled fish food sacks packed to the brim with plastic bottles.  We stop at another villager’s house and visit with a few more local woman.

Local sound system.

They ask questions about reintegration with their children.  I soon learn this is also sometimes called “Family Planning,” which coming from America has a different meaning.  One asks if her child, who is also in Foster Care, can come visit her for Khmer New Year. Another asks about the process of getting a cow, pig and some chickens.  We say our farewells to this group and climb back into the truck.

We stop at a nearby rest area for lunch.  There small bamboo shacks, with straw walls and a roof for shade are each neatly numbered.  Kosal and Samnang climb into the hammocks provided and we discuss what to order for lunch. After ordering, we continue the conversation about the woman and her daughter.  Samnang explains that the girl has a small head and thus can’t remember things well. She has a mental disability. He thinks the girl has ZIKA. I try to set my face in a respectful manner.  Since from all the reports I’ve heard from the US Embassy and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) there have been no reported cases of ZIKA in Cambodia and I find it hard to believe that a young woman could have lived this long without being noticed.  He reiterates his small head theory. I agree the girl has a small-ish head to go with her small frame. I pull out my phone and pull up photos of babies with the microcephaly. I show the photos to Samnang and the rest of the team. We all agree, this girl doesn’t have ZIKA.  

Lunch time visitor.

Our food arrives.  I recognize the rice, tom yum soup, loc lac (a traditional Khmer beef dish), but there is something new.  On a platter of morning glory is some sort of protein, I can’t identify. I ask Samnang, “Is this fish?” He responds, “It’s a fish, but it doesn’t have fins.  Like a snake in the water.” I take a bite. “Oh! Eel?” I pull out my phone and pull up an image of an eel. “Yes! Eel. We call it ‘an-tong’.” It tastes almost identical to the ‘unagi’ I’m used to eating at sushi restaurants back in the United States.  While we eat, our conversations turn to lighter things. Vatathanak shares more about her studies at RUPP. The local cat comes to beg for scraps of our meal and spends some time playing with my backpack straps. I talk about my dog, Bullet (or “Boy” as I introduce him to my Khmer friends).  What he eats, where he sleeps, and how I brought him from America.

Khmer house/store.

We finish our meal and head out to visit our second and final family of the day.  Down the street, we stop at a local shop. On the frontside of a traditional Khmer home called a “pteh la-veng”, is a storefront selling almost anything you could need – soap, gasoline, fresh drinking water, candy, dried noodles, cold drinks, etc.  There we are greeted by a young man, with sweet eyes, and his Aunt. Samnang explains, that the boy has been reunited with his Aunt since 2013. That his older brothers and mother live and work in a factory in Thailand. We walk through the shop and enter the main living area of the pteh la-veng; the room’s walls are covered with huge wedding photographs that are blow up to be over a meter in height and awards that the family has earned.  (Receiving awards is a big honor in Cambodia and thus are proudly displayed along with wedding photographs and photos of relatives that have passed away.)

Re-unified foster child.

The Aunt explains that she wants the boy to study life skills because she can’t afford to send him to school.  We call a local partner, Commune Council for Women and Children (CCWC), to get more information about studying support.  Soon a CCWC Leader and a female Sub-Village Chief arrive at the home and join the meeting. The Aunt also explains that the child needs to go to the dentist.  I think back about the boy we visited last week who also needs to go to the dentist. “Maybe they can go together and it won’t be so scary,” I think to myself.  The Aunt fills out a request form for a bike for the boy so he can ride to school.

Country side view.

While the conversation continues on in Khmer, I reflect on the two major observations about these two families.  One being the women’s faces seem to reflect the family’s money and status. While provincial life is definitely harder than that of the city, the two woman – the Aunt and the Mother – have strikingly different faces.  One has a healthy, full set of teeth, while the other is missing a few teeth. One wears makeup, while I doubt the other can afford any. One woman has a full face with few wrinkles and high cheekbones, while other had a sullen face that was hard set.

The second observation was how both women, when sharing stories that were upsetting or angry, face away from the group and point at an imaginary person and continue to explain their hurt.  As if that person was in the flesh and present to hear the disappointment. I plan on continue to watch for this behavior amongst other Khmer groups to see if it’s a cultural thing I was unaware of until today.

We wrap up our visit by filling out tracking forms.  Each time we leave a family, we fill out a form with our name, position, organization, phone number and either a signature or a thumbprint of all who had visited.  This way families can know what leaders / NGOs have come to visit them and how often organizations are checking in on them. We load up into the truck and begin the ride out of the countryside and back into the city of Phnom Penh.

Khmer style kitchen.

During the car ride, we talk about how the day went and what the outcomes of the day will be.  Samnang asks me to give an oral report about the day in English. I explain the first part of the day and say, “and then we stopped for lunch and I ate an-tong for the first time.”  The car starts laughing. “That doesn’t need to be in the report,” Samnang says. “Of course it does! It was ‘chngan / delicious,” I respond, then continued with what happened in the afternoon.

I then went on to conclude about how both of the homes felt so different and how my prayers changed for each family.  The first home I felt like Jesus needed to bring His peace to rest there. While the second home, I feel like Jesus needed to bring His blessings and encouragement to the Aunt who was raising her sister’s son.  The car agreed and we committed to praying for the families.

Would you consider joining us in prayer?  For the MRO staff who works daily to support healthy families here in Cambodia, the Foster Parents, the biological parents and all the children – either in Foster Care or reunited with their families?

Foster Care Visit – Thursday, January 17, 2019 – A Narrative

*beep beep beep*

My alarm starts sounding off at 6:15 am on Thursday, January 17.  “Dear Jesus,” I pray, “Please give me eyes to see, ears to hear, and an understanding mind.  Oh! And keep me safe today.” This mantra in some form has been part of my daily prayers since I arrived in Cambodia in October 2017, but today it carries an extra amount of weight with it.  I have been working with M’lup Russey Organisation (MRO), a Christian, non-governmental local organization focused on care of orphans and vulnerable children, as their PR Advisor for two months now.  Today, I’m joining the MRO Social Work team to go to a province about an hour outside Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, to witness how the MRO Social Work Team engages with children in Foster Care.  I pull on my brand new MRO embroidered polo shirt and moto to the MRO Office to meet up with the team.

M’lup Russey Organisation’s (MRO) logo.

One of MRO’s objectives is to provide children in crisis situations with a safe place to stay where they can be loved and receive high quality care by emergency foster parents who are supported by well-trained Social Workers.   MRO’s emergency short-term foster care model was started in 2012, when families who could open their hearts and homes to welcome children and youth in crisis were recruited from local communities, churches and child protection networks.  The recruitment process continues to be a rigorous process, involving application, review, assessment by Social Workers, as well as official registration with local authorities. Emergency Foster Care provides loving family-based care to children in a crisis situation, to prevent them from being placed into an orphanage as the first and only option.

MRO now has a number of families who can receive up to six children into their home for up to three months.  These foster families are provided with training and counseling, and paid a small retainer in order to keep placements open for whenever they are needed.  Children entering foster care are assigned a well-trained Social Worker, who uses case management procedures to reunite the child with their biological families or, when necessary, with a long-term Cambodian Foster Family.

This model is administered in collaboration with four other partner organizations: Children in Families, Mother’s Heart, First Step and Prison Fellowship.  The partners work together to provide this short-term family-based solution to children and young people in a wide range of difficult circumstances, including children and young people leaving orphanages, children with disabilities, abandoned children, boys and girls leaving abusive situations, girls and young women with crisis pregnancies and children of incarcerated parents.

Adhering to local Cambodian culture, we pile into the MRO utility truck, “on time.”  (In Western culture, we were running about 20 minutes late.) The truck, while worn in years, is roomy, handles bumps in dirt roads well, and, most importantly, has working A/C.  After a quick stop for a team breakfast of Chinese noodle soup, we are on our way to visit our first of four families today.

Veng Kimly, Jenna Forstrom, Pech Mono, Kosal, and Samnang.

Joining me on this excursion is Pech Mono, a Social Worker who has been working for MRO for four years; Veng Kimly, a Social Worker, who has been working for MRO for two years and, I found out on this trip, recently returned back from work following maternity leave after the birth of her first child; Samnang, a Social Worker, who has also worked for MRO for two years.  I learn that each Social Worker has about 20 cases and visits each case once a month or more if needed. Kosal, our Driver, has worked for MRO for eight years. Throughout the day, I’m amazing by Kosal’s ability to judge distance and space while driving through jammed, paved highways and between rows of houses on dirt roads. I’m also impressed with his ability to find a suitable place to string up a hammock between the truck and a tree to rest while the social work team conducts Foster Care visits.

Khmer Foster Care dog.

Our first stop is right off a paved street and down a short flight of earthen steps leading to an average sized home with a large garden surrounding it on three sides.  At the gate, a white Khmer mutt dog sits eager for us to enter the property. I’m immediately impressed by how clean and healthy the dog is. He spends some time sniffing me, no doubt learning that I too have a dog here in Cambodia.  I’m told that this family has four foster children, two of whom have disabilities. In the process of traditional sampeah (Khmer greeting) with the foster parents, two children enter the yard, one child runs to grab some toys near the house.  The other, who has a jaunting sort of walk, looks at me cross eyed, tracking my presence with some distrust. It’s clear by the jerky movements of this child, he’s one of the two children with a disability. [One of his eyes is nearly rolled entirely up into its socket.]  Kimly encourages the boy to greet me. *Womp* two soft fists hit my stomach. I immediately stick my hands out to catch the hands before they hit me again. “Hey, ot-te / no,” I say in Khmer. Kimly hugs the children and apologizes. “No worries, sister, I’m a stranger,” I say “Choum reap sor oun / Hello, little brother,” I greet the boy.  He continues to track me with his working eye. The dog, sensing the commotion runs over. The little boy sits down and grabs at the dog, pulling it on to his lap. I’m amazed at how kind the dog is given that this child’s fine motor skills are lacking and he seems a little rough on the dog. Yet the dog clearly loves the boy, rolling over on his back accepting a belly rub from the child.  Samnang catches up to Kimly and I and tells me we will continue on to the second family, while Mono stays and continues to visit with this family.  

School uniforms drying in the sunlight.

We walk through the garden and onto a partially paved and partially dirt road.  There is a natural layer of protection from the sun, the road is lined with mature banana trees whose leaves provide shade across the path that we are a walking on.  I’m amazed by how quiet this sleepy little village seems compared to the noise, construction and dust of Phnom Penh. I can hear birds for the first time in days and don’t see any bags of trash anywhere.  We pass a local hospital and school combination building. Children playing in the court yard and nurses with starched, white, 70s era caps milling about under the blue cross sign on the building.

A tool Social Workers use to speak with Foster Care children.

The second family home is two traditional Khmer homes, wooden houses on concrete pillars that provide shade underneath during the hot, dry season and that is above the flood waters during rainy season.  Sitting under the house are two young women, doing homework as their Foster Mom comes out to greet us. I’m told there are four children living here in Foster Care, the two girls and two more who are already at school.  One of the girls we meet with has a sister who is already re-integrated with their birth family. I will apparently meet her next week on another outing. The two girls each receive a brand new pencil, pen, eraser, and ruler from the Social Workers.  I make a mental note to ask about pencil cases and bike helmets (few wear them in the provinces) for the next visit. Kimly sits with one girl to talk, while Samnang and I go with another girl to sit and talk. Samnang inspects her school journals. I’m learning Khmer in Phnom Penh so I’m super impressed by the young woman’s hand writing even though I can only make out a few words.  I burst out laughing when I see this “S” design in one of her note books. Samnany and the girl both look at me. “My friends and I used to draw the same thing in our notebooks when I was your age in America,” I explain. Samnang spends some time encouraging the girl and tells me that she is getting top marks for math. He then pulls out a pack of laminated red cards with Khmer writing on them.  He explains that this is a tool to help Foster Children. They can look through the cards and pick a few to talk about with the Case Worker. They are like prompts to start discussions about how the child is feeling. The two of them continue to talk in Khmer and I drift back and forth between trying to figure out what they are saying and wanting to respect this private conversation between a Social Worker and a Foster Child.  I settle on just sitting in this quiet space and praying over the home, the Foster Parents and the Children under their care and the Foster Children’s birth families. The meeting takes about a hour and half. Kosal and the truck are waiting for us as we walk out of the home.

Some Foster Care girls and their friends studying.

We stop for a quick lunch.  I spend some time chatting to Kimly about her baby and maternity leave.  I also try “prahok” for the first time. This is a smelly, salted, fermented fish paste that is used as a condiment here in Cambodia.  Most families have their own recipe. As I take a bite, the team looks at me with anticipation. I made an exaggerated goofy face and they start laughing.  Samnang asks what I think of the fish. I decide to answer truthfully, “I don’t think I would order it on my own, but if it was presented to me, I would try a bite.”  He jokes that I’ll get use to it.

Foster Care Children’s toiletries.

We head out again, arriving in a small village on a dirt road.  We come to a very small home, right on the Tonle Sap River. By US standards, it’s a million dollar view.  The cool breeze blows off the river and there are half a dozen chickens running around with about a dozen chicks each following their mothers about the yard.  On a large outdoor bed lies a very old woman sleeping. I’m told she is over 90 years old and I’m impressed that she sleeps without even a pillow. The Foster Mom is in her twenties and lives in this home with her mom and the grandma who’s resting.  There are five Foster Children who live here but they are all out playing in a field nearby. Kimly and the Foster Mom sit and chat for about 30 minutes. Then we load back into the truck for our final stop of the day.

Another Foster Care visit stop.

After a short drive, we arrive at the fourth and final Foster Care Family of the day.  I’m told four children live here. Two are at school and two are home for the visit with their Social Worker.  Samnang and I sit down with the two young boys, who are eager to show us their school books. They are younger than the girl from the second family and are just learning the Khmer alphabet so it’s a little easier for me to follow along with their writing.  We sing the Khmer alphabet together while Samnang checks the rest of their school work. These boys wiggle around trying to one up each other on their knowledge of the vowels in Khmer. (There are over 20 vowels in Khmer.) Samnang asks one of the boys about a barely visible bruise across the boy’s nose.  Samnang tells me it’s from an accident where the boy fell off his bicycle. “Yet another reason to ask about the helmets,” I think to myself. I’m also very aware of the fact that the other boy’s face is covered with little scars. They are all completely healed, but I wonder how he got so many in such a short life time.  This young boy has an infected tooth. Samnang tells me he’s arranged to have someone from the MRO team come get the boy in a week to take him to Phnom Penh to go to a dentist. One of the boys asks to call his mother and uncle, but unfortunately, we don’t have their phone numbers with us. Finally, Samnang speaks to the boys about hygiene, reminding them they need to take very good care of their skin and their clothes.  This is their responsibility. They aren’t filthy, but they definitely looked like two young children who had spent the day playing outside in the fields. He talks to them about how they should scrub their clothes between their hands and make sure to wash their bodies so they don’t get dirt marks. After this little pep talk, Samnang presents the two boys with the same school supplies as the girls from the other visit.

Khmer vowel homework.

We load up to into the car and head back to Phnom Penh.  I thank God for how He has made His presence known to me for yet another day and keeping me safe for another day as well.  Would you please join me in continuing to pray for the Foster Parents, Foster Children and their biological families? May we all have eyes to see, ears to hear and minds to understand where each one of us is coming from.

HAPPY NEW YEAR! រីករាយ​ឆ្នាំ​ថ្មី! (December 2018 Update)

HAPPY NEW YEAR!  រីករាយ​ឆ្នាំ​ថ្មី! 

I hope 2019 is off to a good start for you, your family and friends.  I don’t know about you, but I’m so ready to embrace 2019 in a full on bear hug.  There is so much in 2019 I’m looking forward to: the projects MRO will accomplish this year, motorcycle prayer rides, better Khmer reading skills, coming to visit the States this summer and anything else Jesus might put on my heart.

Bullet watching the sunset over Bokor Mountain.

Every year, I spend some time between Christmas and the New Year reflecting on the year, working on a list of goals for the upcoming year and asking God for a word for the new year.  This year, I’ve settled on “steady sailing” as my theme for 2019.  I spent a lot of 2018, rocking my own boat – on top of all the massive transitions I experienced.  In 2019, I’m praying I’ll trust my boat (representing Jesus) and myself as a sailor.  God has made it clear that it won’t be smooth waters the whole time, life will still happen, but it’s an opportunity for me to continue to grow in Christ and constantly be learning.  Just with less boat rocking on my end.

G2K Students and Staff putting on the Christmas story.

December marked the end of Level 4 language classes for me.  After one year of studying Khmer, I’m officially halfway through G2K’s language program.  Going from learning the alphabet to learning reading was a real struggle for me and after discussing it with the Director I’ve decided to take a five week break to “beef” up my reading skills before starting Level 5.  I’ve created my own IEP (individual education plan) in the meanwhile:  private tutoring for reading, I got a bunch of children’s reading books to practice on my own, more hours in the MRO office to practice speaking and I’m taking part in an evening pilot class at G2K focused around “community health.”  This means every Tuesday evening for the next 10 weeks I’ll be learning new vocabulary around health that I think will help me better communicate at work, on prayer rides and with friends.  The best part of language learning in December was attending the G2K Christmas party!  We learned a Khmer Christmas carol, had a talent show, and re-enacted the Christmas story in Khmer and English.  It was great to see a bunch of grown adults and their Khmer teachers dressed like sheep and pregnant Mary’s!

Bullet and Sarah enjoying some reading on Christmas Day.

Thank you so much for your prayers during the holiday season.  While I did miss my family, I was able to speak via Facebook Messenger to all of my family – including my grandmother!  On top of that, I had a truly amazing and relaxing Christmas break in Kampot.  I had a few days of solo time reflecting on the year and pressing into wisdom for 2019.  Then my friend, Sarah from language school, joined Bullet and I for Christmas.  Followed by another woman from Phnom Penh, Cathy.  Finally, Katie, a girlfriend of mine from the States who now lives in Vietnam arrived for New Year’s Eve celebrations.  Bullet spent most of his time off leash (minus one National Park hike due to tigers and land mines).  We swam almost every day, I read an entire book and started three more!  We laughed a ton, reflected on expat life, ate brownies (a rare treat since none of us own stoves) and watched the first five Fast and the Furious movies!

Cathy, myself, Katie and Sarah in Kampot, Cambodia.

Before leaving for Kampot, I spent early December at MRO continuing to update the website, working on potential layout designs for the new website MRO is hoping to launch in 2019 and working on interview questions for the staff for my next project with MRO starting in January.  One of the coolest December projects took place in Siem Reap (where Angkor Wat is located).  A team of mentors lead a community outreach and beautification project, where they invited local kids to come and help pick up litter in the streets.  They then stuffed that litter into plastic bottles that were also collected.  (Single use plastic is a huge bummer here – it’s EVERYWHERE.)  Then used those bottle “bricks” to build planter boxes in the community.  It was a fun way for MRO to do outreach and build relationships while making this area better than they found it.  Since Christmas isn’t a recognized holiday here in Cambodia, I worked remotely while in Kampot, checking in on the teams, updating the website and social media channels.  Some of our team was actually in Kampot for meetings with the government and Sarah and I ran into them on one of Bullet’s evening walks!

MRO’s Outreach Program in Siem Reap.

Got a New Year’s Resolution?  Goal?  Prayer?  Leave a comment or send me an email and let me know how You can reply to this email and let me know I can be praying for you. I look forward to hearing from you!  Below are some of my own prayer requests.

Bullet and I on our hike up Bokor Mountain.

Hugs from Cambo,
ជេនណា / Jenna (and Bullet)

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

1.  I have two housing related prayer requests.  One, my amazing roommate here in Cambodia is moving back to the States in six weeks.  I’ll be totally honest, I’m a little heartbroken and am going to miss her tons, but I’d love to find another awesome, Christian, female who loves dogs to move in to her old room to help with some living costs.  Second, one of my tenants in Oregon wants to break her lease, so I’m looking to find a couple or family who would be interested in moving into my four bedroom / two bath house who’s okay with a landlord on the other side of the world.  If you know someone looking, please let me know!  I’m also seeking wisdom in hiring a property manager to take over finding new tenants for me.
2.  Continued prayer for my language skills as I deep dive into my IEP plan for the next five weeks!
3.  God has really laid it on my heart to seek out Khmer girlfriends not attached to my workplace.  I’m praying for open eyes and opportunities to meet awesome women here in Cambodia to become friends with.

Morijana – Phnom Penh, Cambodia

While I was teaching Facebook analytics with NOMI Network, I had a divine appointment in meeting Lynn. Lynn is an amazing women working with Morijana and doing incredible work with women coming out of the slum communities and empowering them to be everything they could possibly be. She is full of love and encouragement. Over the past few months, I’ve gotten to really know Lynn and the rest of her Khmer team at Morijana. It’s been fun to teach her the ins and outs of Facebook marketing and it’s awesome when she teaches me more about life in Cambodia and what she is learning launching this new business.

My roommate, Amanda, and I went to support Lynn at the launch of Morijana’s new storefront.

Morijana is an ethical fashion, freedom business, based in Phnom Penh Cambodia. They empower, train and vision Cambodian women to understand how they can break the cycle of poverty not only in their lives but in their families as well. By purchasing Morijana clothing, people are partnering with Morijana to make this a reality.

There is a running joke in my friend group. “How do you tell if someone is an expat or a tourist?” Answer: Check their pants. If they have elephants on them – they are a tourist! I’ll be totally honest, I bought the green elephant pants, I love them and have been wearing them to my Christmas parties this year.

At Morijana, Khmer women are taught all aspects of sewing. Not to mention fair wages, open plan work conditions, incentives, mentoring. They are also given opportunities to further develop their skills in design and mentored in leadership. Morijana’s designers, cutters, sewers and managers are all Khmer nationals. They also work with vulnerable women in a slum community. Building relationships and teaching sewing, we encourage these women to see a better future. By learning to sew, being mentored in their lives and having accessible schooling for their children, Morijana women now have a choice, hope and a future.

The thing I love most about Morijana (aside from all the amazing empowerment) it’s the fact that they make clothing for Western women! Pants that fit me are so hard to come by here. These are only the second pair I’ve been able to find that fit me here!

It is Morijana’s goal that Morijana women rise up in confidence to become all that they can be and support and empower other women to do the same. Empowered women empower others! This poverty cycle is starting to break, not only for these families but for future generations. These women will one day be a catalyst in supporting others to do the same.

Have a favorite ethical clothing brand? Who is it and why is it your favorite?

What an adventure we are on! (May 2018 Update!)

May has definitely been my best month here in Cambodia.  I’m been reflecting a lot on what “moving with the Spirit” means to me.  If I’m honest, for months it has felt like I’ve been in this deep ocean floating alone, not knowing what is near or under me.  Which has been a really scary feeling for me.  May has felt like the start of a wave crashing.  I’m the surfer, Jesus is the surf board.  (I’d also like to point out that I’ve been sitting on His surfboard out in the deep ocean this whole time, yet not always aware of it.)  And the ride is just about to start.  I’ve had this month of excitement towards movement, that God is so clearly drawing me towards something better and I can’t wait to drop in and see what He has in store for me.

(Pops and I in Phnom Penh!)

May kicked off with a visit from my dad, Stu, he stopped in between China and Vietnam on a business trip.  It was great showing him my new apartment, my neighborhood, some of my friends, and I got to play tourist in Phnom Penh!  Bullet was pumped to see a friendly face as well.  Thanks to everyone who sent encouragement cards to me with him.  They made my heart swell.  It was fun spending some father / daughter time with him, we had some great talks about the past and the future.

(Safety Team: Theary, Srey Pov and I)

The following weekend, Bullet and I travelled to Kirirom (about three hours west of Phnom Penh) to the only place in Cambodia where I have found pine trees!  Some of the Prayer Circle Team were participating in a motocross enduro race.  It was a blast cheering them all on.  It was my first time camping in Cambodia, my first time volunteering at a motorcycle event that was in English and Khmer.  It was the first activity that wasn’t just for expats or just for Khmer that I’ve participated in.  Just a bunch of people who love motocross.  It was a blast!  Bullet was one of two dogs there, won everyone over.  I got to spend more time with my Prayer Circle Coach, Dennis, his wife, Sharon, and their two daughters, Theary and Srey Pov.

(Kirirom Enduro Race)

While in Kirirom, I was part of a really interesting God conversation with some retired expats who were also participating in the race.  I was sitting with them after the practice rounds, drinking beer and they were asking me about myself and how I ended up in Cambodia.  I explained that I was a missionary working with victims of the sex industry and that some of my Prayer Team was participating in the race.  One of the guys commented, “I’m like you, a philanthropist, but I don’t talk to imaginary friends.”  (To my credit, I didn’t roll my eyes at him.)  He then continued to go on, “You people shouldn’t go talking to girls at KTV bars (“hosted” bars), those girls are living the life, they are their own boss, they make good money, they want to be there.”  At this point, I’m about to launch into my whole human trafficking speech and Holy Spirit whispers, “shut your mouth and watch.”  HIS teammate shoots back at him with, “Wait, you honestly believe that?  You have a Khmer wife!  Those girls don’t want to be there and you know it.  They have no education so no job prospects, chances are they are the oldest daughter and have to provide for their entire family, that they came from a village and have no health care…”  He just kept going and his teammate is really taking it in.  You could see he had never thought about KTV’s in this way, even after living in Cambodia for a long time.  I truly believe if I had said the exact same thing he would have brushed me off as “the missionary” but since it was coming from his peer and teammate it was held with more validity.  It was super amazing to witness this interaction and to be personally encouraged that there are some adult, expat males, who “get it” here in Cambodia.  I’m really looking forward to seeing their team again at the next race in September.

(Danielle, Kat, Stefanie and I in Kratie)

The following weekend, Danielle, Stefanie, Kat and I headed five hours northeast to Kratie to see the fresh water dolphins of Cambodia.  It is because of the Irrawaddy dolphins that I even knew about Cambodia as a nation.  They are the sole reason I wanted to come to Cambodia when I was 13 years old and the start of my calling to move here.  This was my first “girls weekend” and I loved every moment of it (minus when I got bite by fire ants).  We saw the dolphins not once but TWICE!  We went on an epic kayaking adventure, mermaided in the Mekong river and practiced our Khmer along the way.  If you want to see the Irrawaddy dolphins, just click here:  If you want to hear Kat and I singing Justin Bieber to the dolphins, just click here:

(My borrowed Prayer Circle motorcycle and the Daughters Cafe)

On the work front, I’ve had a few changes.  I’m now part-time at Daughters, we have hit a natural slow period here in Cambodia and a friend from the home brewing community is heading back to the States for 30 days and asked me if I would be interested in being a manager of his bar while he is away.  It’s a short-term commitment that allows me to work with another Khmer population as well as expats and tourists.  My first day helping out I spoke to two people who had connections to Portland (one was even sporting a Timbers shirt)!  I’m learning a ton of new Khmer vocabulary and learning more about my Khmer team by asking questions in Khmer about their family and their thoughts on beer.

(Daughters staff celebrating volunteer, Katrine’s birthday)

I’m still continuing to study Khmer part-time and really seeing my comprehension continue to grow.  During a Daughters Sponsorship update I had the following interaction, it started with the typical, “hello, how are you?” The client said, “not well.” And I asked, “why?” She responded with, “my child is sick.” My response to that? A fist pump and a smile, because that entire interaction was in Khmer and I UNDERSTOOD it! Then I realized my response was the wrong one, apologized and asked the translator to explain my “happy” response to sad news.  I’ve learned from this mistake, in another interview, a women was telling us that her daughter got into a good school program and I exclaimed “la-ah nah” (Good job!) before Lino, the translator, could tell me what was being said.  Lino then started to joke that I didn’t need her in the interviews anymore.  And I pointed out that I couldn’t even ask her to stay longer since I didn’t have the language for that.  See, I really do still need her!  I’ve also gotten a little more comfortable praying out loud in Khmer for the girls at Daughters.

(Richer, Rocky and Bullet on a walk)

Bullet and I are currently house sitting for my boss, Martin, who is back in Germany for a couple of months with his family.  Responsibilities include: Bullet’s two new best friends, Richer and Rocky, four fish and an 18-year old girl, Esther, who I’ve know almost the entire time I’ve been in Cambodia.  She is also volunteering at Daughters during her gap year.  I have really enjoy spending her last few weeks in Cambodia, talking through what she has loved, what she wants to do in the future and helping her “leave well.”  It’s a little crazy to think in five years she will only be 23…oh man I feel old!

(Jade learning how to pick mangos Khmer style)

Speaking of being old, I missed my 10 year college reunion being in Cambodia in May.  However, my college bestie and her boyfriend flew into Phnom Penh from Nepal (they climbed to Everest Base Camp) and we had a reunion of our own.  It was a fun showing them around Phnom Penh and answering their questions about my life here in Cambodia.

(Just a friendly reminder your favorite mermaid is coming to PDX)

Again, I’ll be back in Portland, Oregon July 15 – August 1.  I would really love to meet with you.  So please send me an email or Facebook message so we can set something up.  I’m planning a party on July 26th from 4-8PM at Hopworks.  Formal invite to come, but you can put it on your calendar now.  I really love hearing from everyone back home.

Hugs from Cambo,
Jenna (and Bullet)

សួស្តី Suostei (Hello) I made it to Cambodia!

Words can not express how pumped/thrilled/wicked excited I am to be home in Cambodia.  This is a three year prayer in the making!

Luggage and I at PHN!

Co-Worker Welcoming Crew!

For the record, it’s way easier to fly from Bangkok to Phnom Penh, then from Portland, Oregon.  The flight was only 40 minutes!  One of my new co-workers picked me up, I had dinner with the Founder of Daughters, Ruth (aka lady I’ve been emailing with since Summer 2016).  I also met a few more of my co-workers during a worship session last night and my roommate for the next month.  Slept like a babe, went shopping this morning and am now emailing you.  God is so good!  While I enjoyed my time in Thailand, it was a rough month.  I’m so happy and at peace here.  I start work on Monday and can not wait!

My bedroom.

Living room!

Balcony (bees nest included).

Bullet’s Rooftop!

Thank you so much for praying for me, texting me, Facebook messaging me, and supporting me on this journey.  The year has just started and I’m excited to see what happens.  A more detailed email will be coming soon.  But for now, I’m alive, I am home, and my contact information is below:

I’ve got a new phone number.  Here are the three ways to get a hold of me:

1.  Email me.
2.  Reply leave a comment.
3.  Text me on WhatsApp!

How are you doing?  Let me know what’s going on in your life.

Thai Culture Update!

It’s getting more and more real that the next time I’ll send a monthly update I’ll be living in Cambodia.  While I’m not there just yet.  I’d like to share what’s happened since mid-August.  Mainly:

  • Celebrated my birthday and had a prayer send off in Portland.  (Thank you to those who came.)
  • Packed and moved out of my house.  (Thanks to everyone who helped!)
  • Rented my house and ADU out.  (Thanks Mom and Dad for wrapping that up for me.)
  • Flew to the east coast to visit with friends and family.
  • Arrived safety in Thailand to begin training.For the record, I post the most photos on Instagram.  If you have it, please follow me.  If you don’t, let me know and I can send photos directly to you.I’ve completed my first week on training here in Thailand and have three more weeks to go.  This week was focused on cultural training – language, thought process, history, etc.  I’ve done minimal sight seeing, but have been making an effort to eat as much street food as possible.  This consist of my morning to-go coffee from down the street and a bubble coconut drink during my lunch break.

    Some of the highlights of Thailand so far:

  • Meeting my awesome classmates and amazing guest speakers.  Learning where they come from and where they will be serving or have been serving.  I’m hoping a few will come visit me in Cambodia.
  • Talking about the concept of a Spiritual Bucket List.  Similar to a regular Bucket List, only with promises you’d like God to reveal / take place during your lifetime.  I’ve started a page in my journal dedicated to making a this list.
  • Learning (even) more about the Thai Culture.

Now you know!

  • Attending an English/Thai church, my first full day in Thailand.
  • Finally, in our studies of culture this week, I’ve really enjoyed gleaning the insights on how/why women end up being trafficked for sex.  I feel like I had a basic knowledge of reasons why before I came to Thailand, but this last week has showed me a lot more reasons why.

Thanks again for being part of my amazing team.  Please write me back and share what is happening in your life.  Particularly with those getting into a new back to school rhythm or maybe have started a spiritual bucket list of their own.  I look forward to hearing from you.

สวัสดี S̄wạs̄dī (Hello)! I made it to Thailand!

After 24 hours of travel, I’ve officially arrived in Thailand.  I got in around 10PM local time last night.  Was picked up by the Director of ISM and her husband and arrived safe and sound to the bunk house.  I start school/training tomorrow.  Today, I’m getting settled and heading to church this afternoon.

I’ve got a new phone number.  Here are the three ways to get a hold of me:

  1. Email.
  2. If you have an iPhone – using my old USA phone number or my new Thai number.
  3. If you don’t have an iPhone – there is a great app called WhatsApp you can download and message me.

    I’ll be here until October 6, 2017 and then I’ll be in Cambodia!  With a new number 🙂

24 hours of travel airport selfie.

How are you doing?  Let me know what’s going on in your life.


Had the opportunity to talk about the work I’ll be doing in Cambodia with a local Khmer church community here in Portland. The biggest blessing? Being prayed over for the first time in Khmer (national language of Cambodia).

It’s August 5th and I’m FUNDED!  I was hoping to send out a mid-July update with that announcement, but I had a few stitches in my hand and was waiting for final confirmation before I made any official announcement.


Words can not express the feeling of love, excitement and support I’ve had the last few days as I’ve worked on finalizing fundraising, updated my donor list to 60+ family and friends, sending out emails and physical cards.  My heart is bursting.  I feel so honored and blessed to have you along for this crazy ride.

And what a crazy ride this is.  Who decides to do a kitchen remodel weeks before leaving the country?  This girl.  Bullet and I are camped out in my ADU for the next month as I sort through all my worldly possessions to put into storage, donate or gift to friends.  Additionally, we’re heading to the East Coast August 29th to see my family before I leave for Asia on September 9th.

Thanks again for being part of my amazing team.  Please write me back and share what is happening in your life right now and how I can be praying for you.  I look forward to hearing from you.

In Him,

31 Days of Fundraising to Go.

Tell roommate you are moving to Cambodia.  Check.

Tell boss you are moving to Cambodia. Check.

Those two things have been in my prayers and on my anxious mind for about a month now.  After two beautiful conversations with those respective people, I’m ready to “social media” announce I’m moving to Cambodia for (at least) a year to work with Daughters of Cambodia.  I’ll be putting my marketing degree and nine years of professional experience to work in supporting the rescue young children who are involved in the sex trafficking industry.

During that my time in Cambodia, I’ll also be Oaks Parish‘s (my home church) first missionary – a title I feel incredibly unworthy of – yet excited for.  Both in terms of support, love, prayer, and accountability, but also in terms of a strong connection to Portland.  As one of the ladies pointed out on a recent church camping trip, “My baby won’t be a baby next time you see him.”  I’m excited to watch the church (and its babies) grow, via email updates, photos, and impact (in Portland and in Cambodia).

That all being said, this position isn’t paid.

I need to raise support to cover my living expenses during my first year in Cambodia.  That amount is an even $12,300.  This covers airfare, housing, food, language classes, etc.  (Almost makes you wonder why every one moves to Portland!)  I’ve already started “covertly” fundraising – emailing family and friends, telling them what I’ll be doing and asking for their support.  I’ve already raised $6,140.

This means I’ve got $6,160 to raise in 31 days.

Will you help me?  Well, not really me…

Will you help me, help over 100 boys and girls, walk free from slavery?

You can do that that in the following three ways:

  1. Directly through PAOC. (Canadian Ministry helping me with financial tracking).
  2. Via RPEC.  By donating through RPEC my American donors will be able to get a tax receipt.  Just make sure you select “Jenna Forstrom” from the dropdown menu.
  3. Via Oaks Parish.  Do you go to my local church in Portland, Oregon?  Add a comment in the memo line and they will let me know.

Got questions?  Comments?  Know people I should talk to?  Want to come visit me?  Feel free to call, email, Tweet, Facebook chat, comment me!

My new home town – Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Tell the world on social media you are moving to Cambodia.  Happening right now.


God bless,