Monday, July 30, 2012

Birthday Celebrations

Over the past few years (except for last year) I have had the privilege of celebrating my Birthday in Cambodia. Today it was an extra special day spending it with our Ratanak Cambodia staff who have become dear brothers and sisters to me.
Our Ratanak Cambodia staff!

They know I am not too fond of cakes but love my fruit especially Mangosteen and so they did what my friends in Svay Pak had a did a couple of years ago, bought a whole load of Mangosteen and then a small cake that had a candle on it! I was presented with a bouquet of fresh orchids and a silver fabric that I hope to get made into a dress shortly.
The orchids and the Mangosteen!
After we joked around a bit, Malak our Psychosocial Coordinator prayed on behalf of the team for God's blessing over my life. Each day, I remain grateful and thankful to the Lord for our staff and for our friendship and the way in which we sharpen each other in the Lord! It continues to be an amazing privilege to share

our spiritual journeys together, to learn from each other and to see the incredible spiritual hunger that God has placed in their hearts as we spend time each day studying His word and reflecting on it before we start our work!

In the evening, I invited them out to one of the Pizza restaurants to continue our celebrations. With 50% of the Cambodian population under 25 years old and 90% of the population under 45 years old, this new generation has a thirst for fast foods and they are enjoying some of the Western foods like Pizza!

Sereyrom (Social Worker), Soklin(Counselor) and Sathya (Finance Manager)

All of these celebrations, whether it is the BBQ that we had a few days ago or this birthday celebrations are ways to continue to foster team unity and to knit our hearts together. It was a pure joy watching our Finance manager Sathya with a big grin over his face ---he was like a kid in a candy shop, enjoying the pizza like a little boy! Hanging out with these younger brothers and sisters in Christ, one can't help but feel younger even if I could practically be the age of their mothers! :-).

Romans 12:10 says - Be devoted to one another in love --- this is our desire for our staff as we have these times of fellowship together that the Lord will continue to nurture a deep love and care for each other that will ultimately spillover into the relationships of the young women who will soon be staying at the RAP home!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Courtyard Fence is Complete

Well after months of negotiations, weeks of cleaning up the sewage and filth, building a new fence and a drainage system, finally we can report that the fence and the drainage system is officially done at the Courtyard.

These past couple weeks we have had some serious rainfalls but praise God, the new drainage system seems to be working well with no flooding or negative impact to the neighbors. We will continue to monitor this as the soil continues to settle. At a later day we will need to add some sand on top of the soil but for now, the Courtyard can be used by the kids to run around and play safely.

Thank you to all of you who have supported us through your prayers and for the financial resources you have provided to make this possible. It truly was a team effort working with consultants,, construction workers, our Khmer staff here negotiating contracts, and a special thanks to Pastor Chantha who lives at The Sanctuary. His ongoing favor with the Sangkhat (Village chief) helped smooth out a lot of potential issues and challenges with the residents around the building such that, the Sangkhat has been very thankful and grateful to us for our desire to bless the community of Svay Pak.

The fence has been designed to include both a concrete wall as well as iron bars so that the residents can still look in and see the activities that are going on. We felt this was important to create an atmosphere of openness yet provide the necessary protection for the little ones who will no doubt be using this open area as their play ground. I can't help but think this community will get a bigger glimpse of what it means to see children be like children. It conveys a message that we and our partners believe that children do matter, they are vulnerable, they are valuable, they are gifts from God who need to be protected and treasured, they deserve to be able to play and laugh and be themselves like any other kid around the world without fear that they are going to be hurt.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Staff BBQ & The Darkness

As our initial staff training is almost complete, yesterday we decided to celebrate the end of a 2 month training period to have a time of fellowship and to relax after what has been at times a busy and intense training schedule juggling renovations and purchases for the RAP Community home and organizing meetings and training. All of these things while important and necessary for our preparation and building a strong foundation and strengthening the team, can at times make us feel like ''Martha'' in the bible---we are busy doing but perhaps not sitting still. There is a time to be a "Martha" and a time to be a ''Mary'' where we take a timeout to sit still and simply ''be''. The Chinese have two characters for the English word ''busyness'' which they define as ''heart annihilation.'' When I first learned of this translation I smiled, for indeed often our own busyness seems to destroy our hearts instead of enlarging our hearts. Stephen Smith in his book titled 'Soul Custody'' noted that ''a life of prolonged busyness, engaging with people, performing task and expanding your knowledge about God does not help you experience God. More information no matter how good it is, does not yield a transformed life. Transformation and deep change are ushered in by experiencing God, not just knowing about God and stillness is required. After an intense period of output, effort and expending energy, we are wise to take extended time off to give the soul room to rest, replenish and renew with good food and good drink. It must be intentionally scheduled, honored and prioritized. For Elijah, stillness looked like lots of rest and lots of nourishment before he was ready for the next part of the journey."

So for us at Ratanak here in Cambodia, we took a small but scheduled time out from all the doing to enjoy a day of reflection and a day of rest and replenishment with some good food and a time for fun. We had a staff BBQ where everyone made or brought food. The two men on our team Sathya our Finance Manager and Sambath our driver, got the fire going on the BBQ.

While our female staff were busy preparing their dishes in the RAP kitchen. Lois, a Canadian international worker who has been living in Cambodia for 3 years is volunteering with us providing administrative support along with coaching and mentoring our staff.

Lois and Sina making an apple pie

 Sereyrom and Nary making Vietnamese spring rolls!
Noodles made by Sina
While various food preparations were going on inside, some of the other staff were helping me with the BBQ  outside. Sathya had bought shrimp and squid and I being a meat lover provided the traditional hamburgers, sausages and chicken wings. One of my friends here told me of a a place called Dan Meats to get some meats....they were right. Now I know where to go to find some real meat! :-)
BBQ Shrimp and Squid!

We had quite a feast with so much food that we had tons of leftovers which we have decided to keep for next week and have for lunch---given all the food we made, this can feed us for two days:-).
Salads provided by Sophea our home advisor

Even in events like this there are cultural lessons to learn for those of us who come with our Western mindsets. As is typical of many tropical countries, where there is food, there is flies. Am still trying to figure out why the Lord created flies as personally, I don't see their use---they just harass us and buzz around us but I digress...that's another story in and of itself. Nonetheless, as we were more of less finished eating, and just chatting when the flies decided that they also wanted to be a part of our activities, so I decided to get some Saran wrap to cover the dishes to keep away from the flies. But in doing this, one of my staff mentioned to me that I am signalling it is time to stop eating and can create an awkwardness as the rest of the staff cannot relax if I am busy covering the food. So my good intentions of trying to be hygienic was signaling something different to our staff. These little cultural innuendos are cues that we as Westerners need to constantly navigate. I am learning daily more about this and continue to be appreciative to my staff who are helping me to understand more about the Khmer culture.

One other observation from this BBQ was that it was a mix of Asian and Western food----a fusion of two food groups and yet, my Khmer sisters and brothers naturally gravitate more towards their Asian foods. It is not a bad thing, just different. Yet, some of our staff are more adventurous and are discovering the joy of eating salads. They want to know how to make the ''sauce'' for the salad---translation---how to make the salad dressing! For those of you who are more creative cooks, you are more likely to make your own salad dressings. But for me, I simply told my staff, ''oh you just buy the salad dressing from Lucky supermarket and mix it over the salad.'' So now they want to come shopping with me to see what I buy and how to make a Western salad!
 At the end of our BBQ, everyone pitched in to help with the clean up and we decided to go bowling for an hour. Yes folks, there is a bowling alley here in Cambodia and its not expensive. For eight of us for 1 hour including the rental of shoes it came up to $20.00
Thirty minutes into our bowling escapades and we were greeted with an unpleasant reminder of why we are here and why we do what we do. Three ''Boratay'' --Westerners arrived to bowl next to us with 3 Khmer girls in the bowling alley next to us. We began to look at them a bit more closely trying to figure out the ages of the girls that were with them.
Three Western men bowling beside us with their dates!
According to our staff, one of the girls seem to be a ''regular'' ie: a sex worker but the other two girls certainly seem younger and we estimate their ages to be around 16 years old. Ironically, one of the guys on his black t-shirt had the words ''POLICE" written on it. Yet, there actions of holding and fondling the girls sent a far different message.

It is so fitting as I thought of what we saw at the bowling alley that the Lord would remind me of His words that I had read the day before in 2 Chronicles: Lord, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. Lord, you are our God; do not let mere mortals prevail against you.”  We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you. Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jahaziel son of Zechariah: Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. 16 Tomorrow march down against them. 17 You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.’”18 Jehoshaphat bowed down with his face to the ground, and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem fell down in worship before the Lord. 19 Then some Levites from the Kohathites and Korahites stood up and praised the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice. 20 Early in the morning they left for the Desert of Tekoa. As they set out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Listen to me, Judah and people of Jerusalem! Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.  21 After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying:“Give thanks to the Lord,  for his love endures forever.” 22 As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. 2 Chronicles 14:11, 2 Chronicles 20:15-22)

This will not be the first nor the last time that we will see scenes like this in the midst of our times of fellowship. These scenes are a reminder to us that the darkness is never far from us no matter where we go or what we do. But it is important for us to acknowledge constantly that the battle is not ours but God's! We are simply called to be faithful to the process of taking up our positions, standing firm and not be discouraged by the visible reality of the darkness but engage it as we seek God's face. So before we left the bowling alley, we formed a circle and just prayed that the Lord would frustrate the plans of these men, that whatever their attempts to abuse or harm these girls, they would not be able to do such activities. He would ambush them in their attempts to do anything that would cause pain to these young women. We asked Christ to protect these young women and to keep them safe. We committed this whole situation into the Lord's hand knowing that He is mighty to save, mighty to protect and mighty to deliver us from all evil and those whom He brings into our midst! It is a faith journey in Him like no other! As we left and headed back to the RAP home, despite the darkness, our staff were singing worship songs! How appropriate it was to worship the Lord in song, rejoicing and praising Him despite the darkness, we were declaring, blessed be the name of the Lord, He is good all the time!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Staff Training - Women's Health

This past Monday we had Dr. Sapna Jain once again visit our RAP home to continue training our staff on Women's health. She came with three male medical students who she is training. She discussed different parts of the female anatomy, menstruation, how pregnancy occurs and birth control.

Medical students learning about Women's Health

In a mixed setting with both male and females in the room, Dr. Sapna was displaying images of female anatomy and male anatomy and proceeded to ask questions. It was quite interesting observing the reactions of our staff and her male interns. They smiled but no one wanted to respond. They were all embarrassed. I walked over to her and shared she probably would have to give the answers to her own questions as in a mixed setting like this, the Khmer would feel uncomfortable and awkward. These type of discussions are so sensitive and issues relating to sex are not normally discussed in public settings much less in a mix group of men and women.
Dr. Sapna describing how to use a condom
Dr. Sapna was telling us that when she did this training with the staff of another organization, they had covered their faces when she showed the images of the male and female bodies. 

In Cambodia, modesty and conservative values foster an environment where basic sex education is not taught in schools so the young people do not have a good understanding of how their bodies work. Dr. Sapna proceeded to show how to use a tampon for menstruation and she began to share different forms of birth control including opening a condom and demonstrating how it is used ---you should have heard the laughter in the room as the condom was passed around. Now, we are not encouraging sexual activity but it is important for our staff to be familiar with these issues since they no doubt will be having conversations associated with birth control and the options available to young women as they eventually get married.

In this culture where virginity of a female is so important and where purity is so important, the same standards do not apply to males.  The familiar Cambodian proverb ''men are like gold and women are like cloth'' reflects this ongoing belief. Gold even if it gets dirty can be polished and be clean again, but a cloth that is dirty, is permanently stained. As we prepare to receive young women who have experienced the worst level of human degradation and abuse, our desire is for them to discover that in Christ, they can be set free of the stigma associated with their past and can know that He is the One who not only can cleanse them of the defilement that they have experienced but bestow on them value that is more precious than gold!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Teddy Bears

This evening I had the opportunity to meet up with some new friends from British Columbia. They are a short term team visiting Cambodia for the first time.  They were kind enough to bring teddy bears, books and a few First Aid kit all the way from Canada for the RAP Home.

We are looking forward to having these teddy bears be part of the welcome package that the girls at the RAP home receive. We know that having a stuffed animal that is cute and cuddly to hug will be a great source of comfort to the girls who live at RAP.

We continue to be thankful for the generosity of many who donate their time and energy to bless survivors of trafficking and to share their resources with those who have so little.  It is a blessing to join together and partner with others who have a passion for this ministry and who desire to play a part in God's redemptive plan in the lives of the young women by bringing hope,  restoring joy and sharing His love in such tangible ways.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Inside The RAP Home

Many of you have been praying with us as we have been setting up the RAP (Ratanak Achievement Program) Community home for young women who will be coming to stay here as they transition from the long term after care shelters of our partners. This past week our staff have been working tirelessly putting all the finishing touches and decorating the home as we had some important guests passing through.

We thought we'd take this time to introduce you to different rooms within the RAP home so that you can get an idea of what it looks like and what our residents will be experiencing as they spend their time here. Our desire is to create an environment that is contextually Cambodian as we believe it is important to ensure that the girls who stay here will feel like if they are living in a Cambodian home. We trust this will hopefully facilitate an easier adjustment when they transition back into their own communities.
Entrance - Ground floor
When one enters into the RAP home there is a sitting area with some rattan furniture.The white board on the wall will have various schedules of our staff and residents. The window looking into this sitting area is the room for our home advisors. On any given night we will have two home advisors staying over night to support the girls at the home.

Home Advisor bedroom
To the left side of the main entrance is our computer lab area. This provides a place where the girls can hang out and practice the computer lessons they would have received as part of their vocational training.

Computer lab

Behind the computer lab, is a small area that we have created to to act like a library where the girls can hang out and read all sorts of books, magazines. Our plan is to set up a library of books for them to read.
Library area

 On this ground floor, each section is separated by Rattan partitions in order to create some privacy between the different areas. As one continues walking towards the back of the building on the ground floor, you will see our large kitchen area.
The RAP kitchen

It is here that we hope to have many wonderful times of fellowship with the young women as they themselves learn to cook.  Over here, ovens are not common in Cambodian homes as most Cambodians use two gas burners. However, we took the opportunity to buy an oven and hope to teach those who are interested about baking. We have a few volunteers here in Cambodia who are open to coming and having some baking classes with the girls so we hope this will be a fun activity.
Staff meeting room
As one moves onto the second floor, some of our staff offices are located in this area as well as our more formal meeting room where the staff are currently having their morning devotionals and any ongoing team training.
Morning Devotions
Our Counselor and Social worker along with our Psychosocial coordinator organized and help set up our counselling room. Our desire was to create an environment where the girls would feel relaxed and comforted. Several stuffed animals that were donated by a church in Canada have now found a home in the counselling room.
Counselling Room

Some of the scriptures in the counselling room 

Onto the third floor and one will find all the bedrooms of the young women who will be staying at the RAP home. We felt it was important that they had their own privacy away from all the office rooms. 
One of the bedrooms
Unlike the west, most Cambodians who come from more humble backgrounds do not sleep on a bed but rather they use sleeping mats. As such we have decided to replicate a similar set up. We are thankful to a group of ladies in one of the churches back home who made all the quilted blankets for the girls. When the young women arrive into the RAP home, they will each receive a small toiletry package including a set of towels. I might add the towels must be meant for Cambodians because they are more like the size of a hand towel even for someone who is as petite as me. Nonetheless, this is what apparently is used here:-)
A welcome toiletry package for each girl
During those times where the girls just want to hang out and socialize and perhaps watch TV, will have an opportunity to spend time in theTV room where they can sit around. This room will also act as a room where we can host teams who may want to teach the girls crafts or a variety of activities and where the girls can practice their Khmer dancing. It acts as a fellowship room for them to unwind and relax just like our staff are doing in the photos below.
TV or recreation room!

Some of our staff using the opportunity to try out the cushions
One of the special blessings we have received is that all the curtains  for all of our windows at the RAP home ---and there are many windows in this home, were made by other survivors of trafficking. Through our Operations Manager's connections at her previous employer, the girls at her previous shelter used their creative talents to sew all our curtains for a mere $70.00 in total including materials and labor. We were so thrilled to hire them to do this particular job for our home knowing that they too are investing in the lives of others who have had similar life experiences. 
Jeremiah 29:11
In all of this we trust that as each young woman spends time in this home, they will discover it as a place of refuge, a place of peace, a place of hope and most of all a place of love. In each of the rooms, we have deliberately chosen scriptures to remind the girls of God's promises for them and their lives. We pray that despite all the challenges they may face as they transition into this new environment, that they will discover that He never changes. That He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow and as they hold fast to His promises, they will discover Him as their Firm Foundation!
Isaiah 40:31