March 2011

March 5, 2011

Dear friends and partners,

A few weeks ago I was asked a question – are you sure there are 8 people in a family that Tabitha serves? It’s a fair question and one that I thought deserved a fair answer. Over the past two weeks I have made project visit to our projects in Kep/Kampot – Kampong Channang, Pursat and Battambang. It has been an education in so many ways.

As with all project visits, I get to see the latest and the newest. Field ponds and wells are having a huge impact on our families, house building, schools and savings – are all very strong with high impacts. In Pursat, I met with 30 families who are about to receive houses – I asked how many children there were in the families – giggles started – this lady has 12 – she has had 4 sets of twins , said one mother, I have 10 children and on it went.  In village after village, it was the same. We visited a school in process – the director and teachers were so excited – more than 900 children will attend as I looked at an 80 pupil grade 1 class. How can they learn? Then the big question – how many kids in a family – again the laughter broke out – 9 said, the director – and then he indicted from small to tallest – a universal answer I was getting.

In Banaan, Battambang – I visited with 50 plus families – there is no road into their community – walking through uneven fields, looking at plots and plots of vegetables and fruit trees – these people had been waiting a long time for my visit. It was a good community – with young married couples and middle aged families. Size of families was consistent – those just married had 2- 4 children, those between 30-45 years were more varied – on average – 30% of families had 10 or more children, 30% had 8-9 children, 25% had 6-8 children – 15% had less than 6 children. In all our areas, 70% of the families were raising an additional child or two that were not their own – usually from relatives who had died and left orphans or from relatives who needed to be away from home to work.

Tabitha Families  Vegetable farmer

We had a wonderful time just chatting. A young married man of 27 said that every year he had to leave his home to find work. With the field well he no longer had to leave – in fact he said, I don’t have to buy food, I can pay my expenses and I have money left in my pocket – he was so delighted. The parents of 7 children re-iterated how good this all was – the only thing we buy now is a bit of meat or fish. Everyone said, they felt much better physically. I, of course ended up with cabbages that weighed 2 kilos, spring onions and long beans – all very delicious.

So I came back to number of children and the reasons for this. I asked the women how they felt – all of them had a similar compliant – all of them had an infection that resulted in a vaginal discharge, that smelt bad, left them with sore bellies and caused them to be hot inside. Some had gone for medicine but it was too expensive and didn’t clear up the infection. I asked about family planning – medicine to stop having babies – the women were unanimous in their answers – we tried the medicine they said, but it didn’t work. We bled heavily, our bellies really hurt and we were hot inside. In my mind, I thought perhaps the infections were the cause of some of the aftereffects but - I don’t know. Whatever the reason, none of the women were interested in this medicine any longer.

In discussion in all these project areas it became clear that 90% of all rural women over the age of 16 have some form of infection that cause vaginal discharge and pain – sometimes this would clear up when the husbands were away for work but would return when the husbands came home. I can’t imagine spending my entire adult life with a sore belly – I am a wuss and not very pleasant when I don’t feel well – it is no wonder the women say they are tired much of the time and not strong enough to do heavy labor.

At school  A Tabitha Mum

I have learned to present some sensitive questions in the form of a joke – so I said to the ladies, perhaps the next time your husband wants sex, you should just close your legs? Pandemonium broke out – the women said, no way but now the men spoke up for the first time. No, they said, we want lots and lots of children. When we are old, our children will take care of us. Our brightest children we will put into school, the rest will help us with the farming.  The vehemence was there – I was straying close to a sensitive area – for the women, sex with their husband would hopefully ensure that the husband would not leave for another woman – for the men, children were seen as a form of social security in their old age. It was the one clear incident of thinking ahead. It was not the time or place to start talking of cost of raising children – perhaps the next generation – it was also clear that family planning had been talked about and tried and failed.

So to answer the question how many people in our families – our answer remains the same – 6 children and 2 adults – that is what we think is a fair average. I thank my God for the privilege of working with these families, of sharing a small part in our respective lives; I thank God that I am not a Cambodian woman with a lifelong infection. I thank my God for each of you, who make this possible.

Janne

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