Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Water Festival Holiday Plans

Each year Cambodia has a water festival in November where many people crowd into the city and watch boat races held along the Tonle Sap river. However with the passing of the King Father Sihanouk recently the water festival events were cancelled but the 3 day holiday still occurred. So recently our staff sat with the 13 young women at the RAP home to ask what they wanted to do over the holiday period. Two of them were heading to the province to visit their families but the remaining 11 then had an evening discussing and voting on what it was they wanted to do. On Day 1 of the holiday they voted to go to Dreamland---Cambodia's version of Canada's Wonderland, Day 2 it was to the water park and Day 3, it is making a special soup---actually it is cooking in a hot pot and then spending an evening singing Karoke songs and hip hop dancing---can you tell we have teenage girls in the house! :-) With the holiday plan in place, we felt it was important for the young women to contribute a small amount towards the activities during the holiday time, after all it is important for them to learn financial responsability for their own future holiday plans long after they leave the RAP home. So they each gave $1.00 each as part of their contribution to cover the cost.

So yesterday morning was the first day of the 3 day holiday. Several of the girls went shopping with Malak our Psychosocial Coordinator to buy food they themselves would prepare for Day 2 at the Water park. They voted that their lunch for the outing would be boiled eggs,  fried chicken, steam rice and Kimchi---so off they went to the local markets to buy the ingredients needed for the Korean Kimchi and all the other food they would pack in their lunch boxes. When the group who had gone with Malak arrived home it was all hands on deck, cleaning and making the food. The kitchen was a beehive of activity.
Making Kimchi
Washing chicken wings
 As a westerner watching all of these activities in the kitchen, I am once again struck by the fact that Khmer young people are far more equipped in the kitchen and adept at making food than their western counterparts.  But more than that, they tend to instinctively know that they all have to help.  This was seen in another situation where we asked 3 of the young women to share some of our extra lunch food with the driver of the van who had taken them around to 3 different local markets yesterday. In a few seconds, all 3 young women got up, organized 3 plates---rice, the meats with vegetables and the sauces and then marched off together to give the food to the driver. Wow---no complaining or whinning that one might see among teenagers in the West.

Malak (Psychosocial Coordinator) teaching the young women about recording the food expenses
One of the comments we keep hearing from the young women is the fun they have going to the market and choosing the food needed for the meals. Yesterday when the group returned from the market with Malak she had them track all the invoices and money that was spent for the food. These exercises are all part of our intention to help the young women learn basic life skills regarding budgeting and helping them understand the prices of different foods.
One of the young women filing Nary's (Operational Manager) finger nails.
For other young women, their form of relaxation is to paint our toe nails and finger nails. So a couple days ago I had a free manicure and pedicure done by one of them. How could I refuse such service? Yesterday it was Nary's (Operations Manager) turn to be blessed with this. It is during these times together we find the young women share some of their own personal journeys and again another opportunity to bond with them and hear what is on their hearts.

Anyway, 4pm rolled around and it was time to head to Dreamland in the city. I am learning a lot about teenagers and their fashions.  As we gathered in the main foyer area of the RAP home, the young women were all dressed up with their makeup. Three of the young women had on pointed high heels so my motherly comment came out in Khmer: girls, you will be walking for 5 hours are you sure you want to wear those kind of shoes. Your feet might hurt. Two of them were convinced that my comments were wise advice and quickly changed their shoes but one young women felt it was ''no problem''. However, its amazing how peer pressure works as soon enough she looked around at all of the other young women and the shoes they were wearing, she changed her high heeled shoes to the usual flip flops! :-) Since 7 out of 9 staff were on holidays during this time, we were blessed that one of our staff's two sisters could come and help us out. One of them works for one of our partner organizations and the other knows a few of the young women when they used to attend her church so it was like a mini reunion.We headed into the city and just as we arrived at Dreamland, it started to rain. Like typical teenagers the young women said ''Bong (Older sister) can we go back home''---they did not want the rain to ruin their recently curled hair that they spent time on. Oh brother! :-) I had a good laugh---I forgot those years as a teenager when physical appearance was more important than anything else. Anyway, we jumped out of the van and some of them managed to find a street seller who was selling cheap rain coats that had hoods. Thankfully the rain showers lasted no more than 10 minutes and we entered the park. Their hairstyles were still in tact!

A local vendor selling everything for $0.50
We broke up into three groups with some of our staff and myself assigned to go with each group of young women. The young women were each given $10.00 for this outing which they could use to cover the cost of their purchases, food and any games/activities they would participate in. Well, it doesn't matter where you are from but all girls seem to know that shopping is a favorite past time. Forget the games and activities. The main highlight was to head straight to Cambodia's equivalent of $1.00 (dollar) stores that we have in North America except here there are fifty cent stores. You can find all sorts of jewelry and gadgets for 50 cents so our young women spent about 40 minutes shopping.

Three of the young women checking out headbands and jewelry
Some of the young women purchasing their movie tickets
Some of them bought baseball caps, but the main purchases were necklaces and jewelry. Next stop for our group was to watch a 4-D movie. The young women were responsible for buying their own movie tickets and again, all of these activities facilitate a more normalized lifestyle for them to learn to be independent and to be responsible as they attend different social activities.

Some of the young women heading onto the Galatica ride
Following the movie, a brief interlude for some snacks and then they were off again to participate in one of the rides. With all of these activities, as I watched their smiling faces, I could help but think to myself, this is what normal teenagers do all the time. These events are in many ways symbolic of the way in which God is restoring the years the locusts have eaten from these young women. He is restoring the joy and laughter that so often was not part of their lives. He is restoring hope that the future He has for them is a good one as they continue to focus on their education. He is restoring their dignity as individuals who have a right to freedom and to life. Despite another long day of activities, heading back up to the RAP home, one could hear the chatter and laughter. Indeed the young women had a fun night and could not contain their excitement and joy as they recapped their memorable experiences. We praise God for a fun day and a time to just relax and do some playful things with the young women.

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