Dreams and diligence: Helping people to help themselves in Cambodia

(Photo: Danny Webster)

In January we wrote about three bloggers setting off for Cambodia with Tearfund. For nine days (17–25 March) they went to visit the people Tearfund are working with, spent time with church communities and tried to understand more about how the money Tearfund supporters in the UK give is used to help the poor to help themselves.

The whirlwind trip had an added challenge; as well as dealing with jetlag, the sights and smells of a totally different culture, getting stuck into physically working the land at times, each blogger was asked to write regularly about what they experienced while they were there with the aim of encouraging 60 new people to sign up to give regularly to the work of Tearfund.  Unfortunately the goal was not reached during their time in Cambodia. But it is not too late – if you would like to become a supporter and give regularly to Tearfund's work, click here

Since the bloggers returned home they have been reflecting on their time there. I asked each of them to sum up their experiences for me:

Rich Wells, Creative Director of Yoomee and blogger at http://blog.richwells.me

Rich Wells steals a moment to record some scenes in paint(Photo: Rich Wells)

"Travelling to Cambodia with Tearfund was a dream come true. Selfishly I relished the opportunity to experience a vibrant country and culture that is so different to mine. As a designer it was an incredible place to visit. Every street corner had something interesting to draw, whole families balanced on passing motorbikes and Buddhist monks in vibrant orange broke up the landscape.

"But for all the incredible things I saw, it was the everyday people we met that impacted me the most. People like Pastor Ke Pich, who opened his home to us. Becoming a Christian in 2009 he now leads a small church, who, with Tearfund's support, are working to improve their situation and reach out to their community one person at a time.

"Over and over I saw practical projects that were not very glamorous (and slightly hard to 'sell' in a fundraising capacity). Worm farms, helping feed chickens to sell at local markets, savings groups where villagers provide small loans to the neediest in their community and a school set up by church members in their front room for local kids.

The signed print being given away by Rich Wells to the first 60 people who sign up to donate regularly to Tearfund(Photo: Rich Wells)

"Instead of prescribing solutions, Tearfund trains people like Pastor Ke Pich to work together and use what they have, ensuring that both the community and the church thrive without relying on charity handouts and support.

"The biggest challenge of the trip for me was blogging on the move. Long days, long nights and poor Wi-Fi all contributed to a less than ideal environment for sharing my experiences with my followers back home.

"I shared around 100 photos, drawings and stories on my blog scrapbook, which only gave a taster of the way God is moving through the Cambodian church. Our challenge is to raise 60 new givers. I am giving a signed print to the first 60 who give £3 a month. It's not that much – could you help?"

Anita Mathias, writer and blogger at Dreaming Beneath the Spires

"Blogging for Tearfund in Cambodia was an honour – which I mean quite literally.

"I felt honoured to enter Cambodian homes, and step over the threshold into their lives. I felt honoured to meet people who with great dignity, resilience and self-reliance earn their living by gathering wood from the forest, trapping fish in Tonle Batie Lake, raising pigs and growing their own rice.

Ke Pich farming some land with his church community(Photo: Tearfund)

"I felt honoured as Sambath asked me to bless her home and chickens. It was a moment of shared humanity with a woman who lived a very different life. I enjoyed sitting facing Tonle Batie lake, listening to a young Cambodian student's dream of owning a small rice factory, which he repeatedly asked me to pray for, a heart to heart moment across race, gender, culture and decades.

"I like Tearfund's Umoja model of development, particularly asking people their dreams. Being asked to dream introduces hope and possibility into a life. Umoja then encourages people to look at resources they do have; apparently most begin by saying they do not have any.

"Encouraged to think outside the box, Mechyan, an elderly HIV positive widow who lived on church land grew chillies and basil in old mesh rice bags and made powder to sell from the nutritious moringa trees growing wild on the property.

"Vanny created a worm farm from cow dung to feed his chickens and aerate his vegetable garden. Yiv Toch taught others how to raise chickens, and Sambath grew watermelons on little bits of land she rented from neighbours. It's the parable of the talents in action: use the little you have to gain more.

"As an Umoja facilitator told us, Jesus did feed 5,000, but he took people's five loaves and two fish to do it with. Their very own Umoja project!

"Personally, I feel my heart, mind and imagination have been stretched by meeting people from a different culture, who make their living in difficult circumstances, in a country without welfare or a social safety net, but with great optimism and diligence.

Mechyan, a volunteer facilitator who works with Tearfund to run projects in her community(Photo: Danny Webster)

"When I hit roadblocks which frustrate me, I will remember the Cambodian Tearfund office workers who bought us dongles to help our laptops work anywhere in Cambodia. They worked on configuring the unfamiliar laptops for well over an hour till each of them worked with the dongles, (a task which frustrates us whenever we travel) and similarly worked with our latest model iPhones until they got Cambodian SIMs to work in them, cutting the SIMs down to size, doggedly persisting until they were successful. How easily I permit technology and the unfamiliar to baffle me, and how much can be accomplished by the calm persistence, confidence and self-reliance I saw everywhere in Cambodia."

Danny Webster, Advocacy Programme Manager for the Evangelical Alliance and blogger at Broken Cameras & Klimt

"Cambodia felt like a long way away, further away than I had ever travelled before, and the flight, especially the 13 hours on the return, tested my enjoyment of travelling to the limit. But as far away as it was, I was ill prepared for the difference between reading about a place and walking along the dust tracks and hearing first hand of the violence the country had experienced.

A student at a school set up by two church members(Photo: Rich Wells)

"That's what hit me hardest. We saw it in the face of the guide who showed us around the prison and torture facility in Phnom Penh who was 15 when Pol Pot came to power. Who was separated from his family and forced to work, deprived of water – which leaves his body damaged nearly 40 years on.

"We heard from the pastor of the church in Tonle Bati who, as a small kid, was wrenched from his parents, and made to carry manure and then, after the Khmer Rouge regime, when still only 9, walk for a month across the country.

"It was against the background of living memories of millions dying because of a tyrant who forced the population from the cities and into agricultural communes.  Tearfund encourages communities to come together and work out how to overcome the problems affecting their communities.

"They work through churches in local communities, because while charity can come and go the church remains – we saw first-hand the littering of donated goods from development agencies that were the only remnant of their former presence.

"Tearfund work with people, because when people are encouraged to take responsibility for their livelihood and the welfare of their neighbours, communities are changed. It was a privilege to travel to Cambodia with Tearfund and tell the stories of the work that they are involved with and how the help helps.

"As part of our trip we wanted to encourage support for Tearfund. Having seen the work on the ground and the people it is invested in, I am convinced of the value. I would love it if you could give just a small amount each month, and I'm sure Tearfund would love it too!"