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The Stories : Cambodia

Umoja: Working Together in Cambodia

Umoja: Working Together in Cambodia

Umoja, from the Swahili language of East Africa, means being of one mind and captures the spirit of people working together. The Umoja programme which Tearfund runs in Cambodia works through our local partner, International Cooperation Cambodia (ICC) and is about helping the local church to work with its community, sharing a vision to address local needs using their own resources.

Umoja brings remarkable transformation to local churches and their communities. This is the story of Sok Vanny (pictured left) a volunteer facilitator of VIDP-Umoja project in Prey Tachab Village and Buth Samdy (pictured below) pastor of Tasu New Life Church in Cambodia.

My name is Sok Vanny, I am 31 years old and I am a volunteer facilitator of VIDP in Prey Tachab Village. This VIDP-Umoja project began in 2012 and I have been involved since December that year. Before I was involved in the Umoja program, I was living in a very small house and I didn’t have enough income to support my family. I was hired to carry soil and build houses and I also worked in a factory. At that time I had bad health as working in the factory caused problems with my respiratory tract. I was working too hard, and the chemicals in the factory’s clothing were badly affecting my health.

One day, Pastor Vannak told my church and me about the Umoja program. He said, “Umoja is a unity program, which will develop our church and community”. So, I decided to learn how best to implement Umoja. I had training sessions one day a week for three months with Mr. Herry and Pastor Vannak. These sessions were hard as they were given only in English. Despite this initial difficulty I worked hard to take all of the information on board. Three months after the training, I had started to raise chickens as my own personal project and set up a Saving Group Project too.

Nowadays, my family’s livelihood is getting better. Since I have been involved in the chicken-raising project, I have been earning some extra money for my family. Beside this, I have joined the Saving Group and invested some money in the Unity Tailor Project too. I don’t have to spend much money buying medicine anymore, because I have good health now. I have learned how to use all the resources available to me in order to improve my family’s livelihood.
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Umoja has taught me to have a good relationship with God. I have been encouraged by the words of God, in particular John 6:1-14 (Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand). Here I have learned that I have to be faithful, and believe that God will always provide us. Since I’ve become involved in the Umoja program my vision has never changed. As I am a facilitator, I want to see my church grow spiritually and improve their livelihoods. I want to see the people in my community work, help and love one another.

Umoja has taught me to be self reliant

My name’s Buth Samdy, I am 29 years old and I am the pastor of Tasu New Life Church. I have been implementing Umoja in my church since July 2009.
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In 2009, a pastor from our Mother Church introduced me to a program called Umoja. I did not know what Umoja was but they told me that it would be a good program for our community. It would help the church to stand strong while being self-dependent. I spent some time thinking about whether Umoja would be suitable for our goals or not.

Before I agreed to receive Umoja, I had always been dependent on the support and help of foreigners or other organizations. Even as I prayed that God would provide my church with a garden and a frame I was still thinking that God would send someone else in to support my church. I had never thought about how I could help my village to improve their livelihoods. I was focused on my growing belief in God and doing evangelism within the church’s community.

During the time that I was considering whether or not to receive Umoja, I was praying very hard to God and asking that His will be done. Then, I heard God say to me, “Let’s do it.” So, I decided to stop receiving support from others and since that time, I have noticed that my own mindset has changed. God has blessed me through Umoja and helped me to discover more of my own abilities. Now I am aware of and can use the resources all around me whereas before I didn’t even know that I had them!

God is encouraging me to be self-reliant. I’ve learned that in order to make good decisions I must listen for God’s voice. I believe that He will be with me, and He will support my church in the future.

One day, when my church had started to build the frame for our new garden, I encouraged my church to give an offering. We decided to give the offering towards the building of the church garden, frame and toilet. I am so happy to see how great our God is and that he has blessed us through Umoja.

Now, I don’t look on Umoja as the program of an organization, but I treat it as my church’s own ministry. My dream is to see our church members, who aren’t involved in the Umoja program, as well the outer community, living a better life. I don’t only see their livelihoods getting better but I also long for them to grow spiritually too.

Combating Child Trafficking: Chheoun’s Phanith’s Story

Read this true story of the impact that the Cambodian Hope Organisation (CHO) is having in combatting child trafficking on the borders of Cambodia and Thailand through its Anti-Trafficking Programme.

“My name is Chheoun Phanith. I am 13 years old. My parents are farmers and I have six siblings. I live with my family in Sentepheap village. I study in a CHO non-formal school (school on a mat class) in my village. In the past, I had never heard about human trafficking or sexual abuse. I used to walk to school alone in a very quiet place; I never thought that something bad could happen to me, and didn’t think these things could happen to boys. I had trusted strangers when they came to my village and gave me some sweets. One day, I had the chance to hear information about preventing trafficking and abuse from CHO’s anti-trafficking staff on a children’s day camp in my village. I learned how to protect myself from danger and I will share this information with my neighbours’ children. Finally, I would like to say thank you to CHO staff for spending your time to teach the children in my village. Please continue to provide more awareness information to the people in other villages. May God bless you all!”

Vocational Skills Sewing and Motorbikes

Vocational Skills Sewing and Motorbikes

Due to the financial situation of their families, many young people in Cambodia leave school early to help their parents to support the family, especially in the Poipet area. Most of them cross the border without accurate legal documents to work in Thailand. By doing this, they can fall victim to trafficking and sexual abuse.

CHO has partnered with Tearfund to run vocational skills training classes for young adults in order to increase employment opportunities for them within poor communities.
30 female students in Andong Lahong Village have been learning sewing skills, including how to design clothes. Thirteen of these students are now employed by a sewing factory in the local area. Sadly, five students have dropped out of the class due to poor family circumstances and have gone to Thailand to seek work and income.
Last year, ten young men aged 14 to 17 years old were selected to join the motorbike repair training class in Banteay Timouy Village, which runs for 11 months. When they graduate from the class, they will have the skills to run their own small business and if they don’t have enough resources, they can apply for a start-up loan from CHO. With their business they will earn income and also be able to train their siblings. More importantly, the students also receive Bible lessons, HIV/AIDS prevention information, and trafficking awareness.

Please Pray:

- Pray for the students of the sewing class and for those who have left. Thank God for those who have been given work in the local factory.

- Pray for the students of the motorbike repair class, for the skills they are learning and for the life–transforming input they receive through the class

Orphans no more - Jessica’s story

Orphans no more - Jessica’s story

There are an estimated 100 million orphans worldwide. Are orphanages the answer?

Jessica was abandoned by her parents when she was a few weeks old. She was left to die on a rubbish dump but fortunately she was found by the staff of a nearby Christian orphanage.

I met Jessica in the orphanage when she was four years old. She didn’t smile at me or grab my arm like the other children. She sat silent and alone, avoiding any contact with people. The staff didn’t know what to do or how to help her.

A few months later Jessica was fostered by a young Christian couple who were friends of mine. I wondered how the couple would cope looking after a child who seemed so emotionally disturbed and developmentally delayed. It would be an enormous challenge for these new parents.

That Christmas I called to visit Jessica and her foster parents to see how they were getting on. As they welcomed me in a smiling girl rush up the hallway and hug my legs. It was Jessica. I couldn’t believe it. In the space of three months she had completely transformed from a withdrawn, disturbed child into a vibrant young girl.

‘God places the lonely in families’ Psalm 68: 6

There are more than 100 million orphans worldwide and the number is growing rapidly, due in large part to AIDS. The streets of Phnom Penh in Cambodia are thronged with children begging and scavenging to survive. There has been a massive rise in the number of orphanages as many Christians and others seek to help these children. But are orphanages the answer?

In Ireland, the residential home or ‘orphanage’ model has had disastrous consequences for children. Revelations of widespread sexual abuse in religious industrial schools and residential homes across Ireland have shocked us. These awful incidents happened in a developed country which has a social protection system and child protection laws. As a result developed countries have almost completely moved away from placing children in orphanages.

In developing countries orphans are potentially much more vulnerable. A report by the charity Save the Children (2008) found widespread exploitation and abuse of children within orphanages in developing countries. Of course these are worst-case scenarios.

Many orphanages, like the one Jessica was in, are extremely well run and have a team of loving staff. For many children they have meant an escape from the streets and a life of hope and opportunity. However even the best orphanage cannot replace the individual love and care that children need from a family-environment n my experience they are a second-best alternative to family.

The challenges of orphanages

Recent studies have shown that children can develop physical and psychological abnormalities arising from institutionalization in orphanages and children’s homes. These include physical and brain growth deficiencies, cognitive problems, speech and language delays, sensory integration difficulties, social and behavioural abnormalities, difficulties with inattention/hyperactivity, disturbances of attachment, and a syndrome that mimics autism.

In addition to this, given the sheer scale of the problem orphanages are not economically sustainable. UN studies have shown that the cost of supporting a child in residential care is about twelve times the cost of support in a community based care program like fostering. Since orphan numbers continue to grow rapidly and outstrip available resources, residential care is not considered a viable option for caring for the majority of orphans in the developing world.

So what is the answer? Is there a better alternative to orphanages?

I believe there is. Tearfund works with its partners worldwide to place children in local foster families where they receive the individual love and care that they need.

In Cambodia our church partner Little Conqueror’s has been able to rescue hundreds of children from the streets of Phnom Penh. Many of the local foster families are extremely poor themselves but by providing a low level of support, such as school fees, they are able to care for an additional child. Little Conqueror’s care workers conduct regular family visits to ensure the welfare of the child. These children can grow up in safe and happy environment, in a loving family.

Jessica is now eleven years old. Her memories of life in the orphanage are distant. She smiles with joy as she walks hand in hand with her parents.

It’s an incredible example of the local church in action, of Christian’s welcoming vulnerable children into their home. With 100 million children worldwide in need of a family it is going to take all of us working together to bring lasting transformation.

Please give today to Tearfund’s work with forgotten children

World AIDS Day: Trafficking & HIV

World AIDS Day: Trafficking & HIV

As World AIDS Day approaches, Tearfund and The Metro return from Cambodia where stories of human trafficking and its role in the spread of HIV are tragically commonplace. We meet one woman who escaped from sex slavery, only to be left with the legacy of HIV.

You Ra has lived in her village in Poipet province for 16 years. She was living with her mother after being widowed six years earlier and was trying to find a job to support her family when a women came and asked her to come to Thailand, offering her a job as a seamstress.

She crossed the border illegally in the evening with the woman and four other girls hidden in a truck. She was taken to a house and told that she would be staying here and washing dishes with the others. The woman trafficker left. The next evening the owner of the house said they should wear short shirts and sexy tops and underwear to serve beer to customers.

On the second evening Ra and the other girls were told that if any man says that they want to sleep with them then they were to go with them. If they refused the owner said he would beat them day and night.

And so You Ra found herself forced into prostitution.

The karaoke bar was in a big house. Dogs guarded the doors. There were more than 100 customers every night – Thai, Khmer, Burmese as well as western, light skinned men. Ra tells of how some would get drunk, some very violent. Others were more gentle. ‘If we agreed to sleep with customers, we would be ok. If the customers were not satisfied then they would try and attack us.’

She received three meals a day but got paid nothing. The owner took all the money saying that she was bought at a very expensive price. He claimed 100,000 Bhat (over US$3200). The price for sex was 1000 Bhat (about 32 dollars).

‘Women were not allowed out of the house. I tried many times to flee but couldn’t because of the dogs. I thought I would be there for the rest of my life.’ The other girls were Thai, Laos, Burmese as well as Khmer.

‘During the day we could rest but at night we had to serve the clients in the bar.’ Ra talks of the trauma of three years lexisting in this place where she would be forced to go with up to ten men every night. ‘The restaurant owner would also rape me sometimes,’ she says. ‘I thought I would die there.’

And then there was a fire in a house nearby. A distraction, a diversion and Ra saw an opportunity to flee. ‘I tried to walk the whole day. Walk and walk and keep walking to try and get back to Cambodia. I could speak Thai and could ask directions. I told people my story and plight and they showed me the way back.

While walking she met a Cambodian man that was working in the garment industry – sewing trousers. She took on that job, the job she had first thought of, and ended up getting married to this man. About eighteen months ago she got back to Cambodia and found she was pregnant.

‘I didn’t know I had HIV but my baby got very sick and so I took him to the hospital. The blood test confirmed he was HIV positive and the doctor asked if I knew. I didn’t, I was very shocked.’

Ra was then tested herself and was diagnosed HIV Positive. ‘I felt life was terrible – hell, like the karaoke bar. And HIV felt like my life is hell again and every day I am facing death. I was very angry but I don’t know how I can pay them back for this. I am unable to – like a cripple.
‘If I saw people wanting to work in Thailand I would give them advice. I said: I had that experience – I was sold to a bar so you must be careful.’

Ra says her child has fever and diahorea. Tearfund partner, the Cambodia Hope Organisation are helping her transport her baby to the nearest treatment centre in Siem Reap, over 2.5 hours’ drive away. There’s no treatment available in Poipet.

She works now – pulling a cart from the Thai market, as many migrant workers do daily. Her husband, Dam (31), cares for the children. He is a shy man and will not go outside due to stigma he faces and fears. ‘I have to work to feed all the family,’ says Ra.

She can earn up to 200 Bhat (about 6 dollars). However tensions between Cambodia and Thailand can cause trade blockades that close the border. Asked what she would tell westerners about her situation… ‘I would say to all the women – be careful. They have to take care to escape from the HIV virus. ‘The bars are the places where HIV is already there. I want to say to tourists and others – they have to keep away from bars to avoid getting infected.’

‘I don’t want my children to be ignorant and fall into trafficking.’

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