Friday, July 18, 2008

Battambang to Siem Reap

Well, so much for emails and internet. I got about 4 pictures uploaded, and the internet died. Pretty much par for the course in Cambodia, but frustrating nonetheless.

It’s been another busy, but productive day. As much as I would like to give you all the details, I simply can’t I’m completely spent.

I’ll try to write some in the van tomorrow on our way to Siem Reap. Remind me to tell you about the moto accident, the jewelry co-ops, the video shoot and the eels. G’night.

(a day or so passes)

Well, hey there from Siem Reap. The internet access in Battambang was not so good. By the time I post this, I will have taken the team to Angkor Wat, and I should have some more good pics to post. Anyway, I’ll take a little time to review.

Battambang seems to have grown considerably in the last year – there’s quite a bit of new construction and the streets are more crowded – but it’s still the same place that I grew to love so many years ago. It’s the second largest city in Cambodia, but it’s much, much smaller than Phnom Penh. If PP is New York City, BB is Peoria.

With its decaying French-built provincial city center that hugs the north bank of the Sangker River, Battambang is shabby and decrepit, but beautiful in its own way. Just outside of town in the middle of a busy roundabout kneels the largest and most famous of the city’s many statues. Mr. Battambang, a giant, creepy dude in a loincloth who carries a baton is ringed by traffic and venerated by incense-bearing townsfolk who, in the words of my friend Savorn, “will worship just about anything.”

About 300 meters down the road lies the Asia’s Hope “Battambang 1” orphan home. It was there that we established our organization’s first two co-ops with Trade Justice Mission, a new Christian non-profit dedicated to providing jobs and income for women and girls at risk of economic or sexual exploitation. For a day and a half, three of our team members joined TJM director Eric Rosenberg who led two groups of five girls who now, thanks to this initiative, own their own jewelry making businesses.

The girls had a great time, made some money for themselves personally, for Asia’s Hope Cambodia and for their co-op. The co-op will make a bigger chunk of change when the jewelry sells in America. It’s beautiful stuff, and all of the proceeds go back to the girls and to our efforts to provide them with sustainable skills and income. I’ll give more info later so you can know what you’re buying the women in your lives for birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas.

Our time in Battambang was short, but productive. Toby and I filmed a biographical segment on Chanthea and Davin, a brother and sister from our Battambang 1 home whose father died of AIDS and whose mother is currently dying of the disease and is unable to care for them. Their story is very sad, but I was encouraged to hear their new father, orphanage director That Seng You, say, “When Chanthea lived in the village, it was very difficult for her because she had to do everything for her little brother. She had to protect him, cook for him, do his laundry and try to find a way to pay for his schooling. Now that she is in the orphanage, they are both provided for, and Chanthea can be a child once again.”

We also got to spend some time with the kids from our brand new orphan home. Battambang 2 has been accepting kids for just over a month, and the difference between the kids there and the other orphan homes is striking. The BB2 kids are wonderful and sweet, but they’re not as confident, not as healthy and not as mature. It’s amazing what a year of living in a real family can do for a kid, so I’m really looking forward to seeing them again next time.

Yesterday, when the rest of the team was down the road at BB1 doing work with the TJM co-ops, Teddy, Dan and I took a load of toys to BB2. Whereas the kids at our other orphan homes can play together all day without tiring of the games or the company, these kids just don’t have the social skills or the group cohesion to keep it going for that long.

After a couple of hours, it was time to leave. Vando, the orphan home director, asked the kids to “introduce themselves first.” I think he wanted to give them each a chance to practice the English he had taught them. We sat on the floor inside the orphanage lobby and each child said in halting and heavily-assisted English, “My name is..” and “I am … years old.” We applauded them and introduced ourselves. Vando then asked us to join him in praying for some of the kids individually and then all of the kids together.

A couple of the kids were sick – headaches, sore throat, nothing that appeared to be too serious – and we laid hands on them and prayed that God would heal them. Vando then asked us to pray for the character and emotional health of a few children who are having a hard time adjusting to life with a family. One twelve year old boy, whose parents had died years ago, had already been taught by the street, and was struggling strange urges to run away, even though the boy himself identified those urges as irrational.

“My life is better here. I have enough food, I’m safe, I’m treated well, and I have free time,” he told Vando. But many times, the call of the street is loud, persistent and nearly irresistible. “He took heroin before,” Vando explained. We prayed for the boy, and he promised that he would be there when I return on my next trip. God have mercy.

We left BB2 and visited our beautiful new plot of land that will one day be the site of BB1, BB2 and if God provides, a new school. Yeah, the land’s that big. It’s more than a hectare, and it’s a fertile plot of land with mature banana, mango, lychee and jackfruit trees. We’ve already dug a fish pond, and have started construction on the new BB1 house, which is going to be much bigger and much better than the kids’ existing home, which is, admittedly, much too small.

We need to raise some more money to raise and grade the rest of the property to prevent flooding during the yearly monsoon season, and to add the second house. I don’t have the number on hand, but I think 50 or 60k would do the trick. Please pray.

We then returned to BB1, packed up and said goodbye. It was not easy. While each of the team members has expressed a desire to return, I’m really the only one who could promise the kids “I’ll see you again soon.” We’ve reached the point of the trip where the sad goodbyes will outnumber the happy introductions.

We then set off for Siem Reap. The five hour journey from Battambang to Siem Reap was another one of those distinctly Cambodian experiences: remarkably beautiful scenery, remarkably bad roads. This morning’s headache is surely a direct result of yesterday’s rodeo ride. We had a nice time in Siem Reap last night, and are heading off to the temples in just a few minutes.

I am running out of time and energy for this post, so I’ll wait until tonight to tell you more. Thanks for following along on this weird and wonderful adventure. Please keep praying for us and for our ministry. Peace.


Anonymous said...

Hi, chatted with Kori this am. You paint a great picture with your words.

I will keep praying for the new kids at BB2 as they try to accept and understand their new lives in the orphanage.

It is so wonderful to know they are hearing the word of God and have many praying for them. Love the picture of you and Chanthea!


Anonymous said...

thank you john, for keeping us all updated.
it is helping connect my heart to what my husband is experiencing.
can't wait to see you all!