Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Family Vacation

This past weekend I went with 3 of our staff and 3 of our young women to Sihanoukville for a mini ''family vacation for Khmer New Year.'' Unlike the rest of the young women who had gone home to their villages to spend time with their families, these three were unable to go for a variety of reasons. So off we went on Sunday morning with them for a couple days so that they could have a time to just rest and relax.

The beach we visited was a wonderful hide away filled with many Khmer families who were up in the province for the Khmer New Year. They were hanging out together with their kids having their picnic meals. We chose this area as it was a way from the famous tourist beaches in Sihanoukville which would be filled with sex tourists and pedophiles.  One cannot easily escape such sights as there were pockets of people we saw when we went to the market but at least, having a bit of a reprieve from such sights on a constant basis was a blessing from the Lord as it allowed us to relax without much agitation.

One young women had never swam in the ocean before and she thorougly enjoyed herself plunging into the water time and time again as the sunset in the late afternoon. But that was not all, she took the opportunity to wash her hair in the ocean as she put shampoo in it and then proceeded to put some cleansing lotion on her face to clean her face. Its interesting observing all these activities---that was a first---I've never seen anyone wash their hair and clean their face in the ocean ---only in Cambodia! We were all teasing her but she took it in good sport, laughing and continued to do her own thing! Gotta love the originality!  One of the blessings of this culture is the 'family atmosphere'' that is cultivated by picnics on the beach and so like other ''families', our staff went with the young women to the local market to choose what food they wanted to eat and have it cooked there before bringing it to the beach to eat.
Dinner: Fried Snails, Shrimp, Crab and Stir fried vegetables with steam rice!

The following day, we went off exploring another beach area that was a bit more remote. It was another opportunity for our young women to appreciate God's creation as we came across a pristine white sandy beach. We all went wandering off for a relaxing walk down the beach which was interrupted as a couple of the young women entertained themselves with some crab hunting/catching!
Crab hunting on the beach

Chasing after the crab!

Soon a couple of our other staff got into the action as they all took off collecting sea shells, snails and other sea creatures in recycle plastic cups that they had found.

One of our Home Advisors Than with one of our young women

Looking for sea treasures!

On the hunt for more shells in the sea
Trips such as these are meant to encourage the young women that they are not alone, that in the midst of this holiday season when everyone else is spending time with their families, they have not been forgotten. They have the opportunity to participate in activities just like those who have families. It was an opportunity for them to just relax, laugh and have fun like any other young person.

Having said that, one of the aspects of any family vacations is that teenagers all want to do their own thing. These young women are no different. They all enjoy sleeping in and when they are tired, they just don't want to talk to anyone or they just don't want to go an eat. They would rather sleep. Teenagers!  Each day, we would see this typical teenage behavior and I couldn't help but think, it doesn't matter whether you are in Canada or in Cambodia, teenagers have the same attitudes! Surprisingly, it was one young women who became rather motherly in her response to one of the other young women who was not in a pleasant mood---she said ''try to enjoy yourself and be thankful.''   As I reflect on my young friends and their behaviors, they remind me so much of us at times in our lives when we grumble and complain because we can't get what we want. Somehow, we miss out all the beauty that God wants to show us in that very moment because we are focused inward instead of looking outward. Our joy gets stolen because we focus (our Satan causes us to focus) on what we don't have instead of all the we have just received. Pray for all of our young women at the RAP home that each day, God will bless them with thankful hearts. 

We returned to the city yesterday afternoon and am thankful for the clear roads. With accidents increasing during this holiday period, we are grateful to God for giving us good weather, cooler temperatures and keeping us safe without many mishaps. Thank you to all who prayed for us!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Khmer New Year

This coming weekend Khmer New Year begins (April 13th to April 17th)  and here in Phnom Penh, people have started to vacate the city for the provinces as many Khmer head home to their provinces to spend time with their extended families and relatives for the next week. Leading up to this weekend, there have been sales at the local stores as the Khmer are busy shopping to take gifts home to their family. In some ways, this is equivalent to our western Christmas holidays as the events leading up to such dates usually entail a lot of shopping.
RAP Social worker meeting with the local authorities and government authorities  at the family home of one of the RAP young women

For our young women at the RAP home and our staff, it has been a busy time. This past week, different young women depart to the province with our staff acting as chaperones to escort them to their family homes---in many ways that's the easiest part. The more challenging aspects of preparing the young women to spend time with their family began a couple months ago as our staff went to each of the home provinces of the young women to do family assessments to determine if it was safe for the young women to go home during this Khmer New Year. In some situations if the parents or relatives have been complicit in the sale of the young women, then it is clear that it is not safe for them to stay for an extended period during this holiday season. In other situations, their perpetrators are still living in the community and so once again that is taken into consideration. These family assessments are done by our Case Management Team (Social workers)  and involves quite a bit of paper work as we are required  to meet with the local authorities and a government agency in each province so that they are aware that Ratanak is now the organization responsible for caring for these young women. As well, these meetings allow the government authorities in those provinces to advise us on the family situation. This week, as some of our young women head home to the their provinces, we once again meet up with the local authorities to sign certain documents which highlight that during this holiday time, it is the local authorities responsibility to ensure the safety of the young woman.

While most of our young women are off visiting their families, we have three who will not be able to spend time in the province. So we look for alternative ways to encourage them during this time. Most of our staff are also off on holiday time and so four of us will be ''on call'' including two home advisors as we will be taking our young women for a brief holiday trip to one of the nearby provinces. Psalm 68:6 says ''God sets the lonely in families.'' While we can't replace the birth families of our young women, we act as surrogates during this time, providing a place of safety and a sense of family to these who do not have the benefit of spending time with their blood relatives.

As for the other young women who are away, pray for them that this time with family will be a time of joy and blessing. So often that is not the case and in fact, time with their families can trigger past pain, trauma and brokenness that often has a way of undoing some of the healing that has occurred prior to the visit.   Pray for the Lord to be a shield and refuge for all of the young women who live at the RAP home that this holiday season will be one in which they are not only blessed as they reconnect with their families but it will be time of healing and a time of joy instead of a time of pain and sadness. Pray for protection over them that they will not be tempted to join into activities that could be detrimental to their journey to wholeness. So often during these holiday times, there is lots of revelry, lots of drinking, lots of gambling and even the potential to be actively involved in taking elicit drugs. We thank God that He is sovereign and watches over each one of these precious lives to preserve and keep them and be a shield around them in the midst of challenging environments and circumstances. Pray for our staff who are ''on call'' during this holiday period that in the midst of working, that God will renew, refresh and strengthen each of us as we continue to be His hands and voice and feet to serve the young women He has entrusted into our care.