February 2011 - Pray Veng

Dear friends and partners,

It’s been a week of mixed emotions. Pat, our manager in Prey Veng, asked that I come. Pat is one of our senior managers; he has been with us almost from the beginning. Pat’s area is one of our toughest. In the areas we work, the poverty is rather stark. Pat wanted me to see Prek Komdieng, an area we have worked in since 1998. It was always frustrating to visit because, despite a lot of effort, very little has changed.

As we drove into the area, Pat had us stop. I was looking at a lot of barren fields with splashes of green, here and there. A number of people were working in the fields and came to meet us. The first man to reach us didn’t smile; instead I got a look of utter defiance mixed with pride. Touk looked at me and stated bluntly, I have all my children back from the border. Touk has five children and like so many in the area, when life got too difficult, he would get a loan in exchange for one of his children. The 3 girls and 2 boys had been at the Thai border for two years, the girls in the sex trade, the boys as carriers for heavy loads and of course, the occasional appointment with a man. What Touk did was not uncommon in this area – many families used the practice. Touk was waiting for me to say something.

I looked at Pat who was excited – he shared the story – last year he had asked Touk to be a model for the village. Pat would put in a field well and together they would grow rice and vegetables. It was unheard of in this village – many of the men had gone off to find work, many were too ill to do work – primarily because of malnutrition. Touk agreed and in the past year grew 4 crops of rice and 2 crops of vegetables. He earned enough to get his children back. They don’t need to work anymore, he said. Other men had joined us and the talk began – there were now 12 field wells installed – they needed 20 more – and then what, said I. Come back in March and you will see. We will have rice and vegetables covering 150 hectares. And the children, I asked. And the children they replied, will all be home and in school. March is not a long way off – it’s quite a challenge.

Touk was watching me intently. He was expecting me to pass judgment on his past behavior. All I could think of was who am I to judge these people – what do I know of hunger – I see it but I eat whenever I want and whatever I want. What do I know of being ill and not having medicine? What do I know of having to chose which child is next to go? I know nothing of this – I just know pain when I see it – and hope when I see it. I agreed and so in the latter part of March I will come and see. The challenge is on.

                        fields

Yesterday I went to see Thary’s projects – she is near to Phnom Penh and easy to get to. Our first stop was at Preah Put village – we walked into the fields – 80 hectares of dry season rice was growing, all from Tabitha wells. The families grow year round food for the first time and their lives are changing rapidly. The husbands and the children are all at home. The smiles are wonderful to see.

rice               

We went to the new are of Duang. What a different story. I met 18 of 50 families who have been deeply affected by AIDS and by malaria. In this process the families have sold off their farmland and all have less than 5 square meters to call home. There are lots of children – it seems that this is the one thing in life they can do. None of the children go to school – they cannot – they need to scavenge whatever they can in order to eat each day.  Each small shack has two families living in them – 3 square meters is not a lot for 15 or more people. These families had heard of us and asked us to come and work there. The estimate is that there are 1000 desperately poor families in this area – half of them are ill. Some still have land and so the pressure is on to put in wells. One young husband is growing mushrooms in a space 10 meters square. His income for the next 6 months will be $600 a month but then the rains will start and the mushrooms can’t be grown. So he planted another small field with cucumbers and another with trakun, a type of spinach. He gives us the energy to hope and to do as much as we can. For those who no longer have land – the problems are much greater – I pray that the children don’t become the victims.

farmer   

It’s been a week of sadness – it’s been a week of hope. I thank my God for all that I have, for the choices I can make, for His goodness to me. I thank Him for each of you – for standing with us as we go through these cycles of sadness and hope. 

Janne

Tabitha Cambodia
#239, St 51,
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Ph: 023-721-238
email: Tabitha.janne@forum.org.kh