Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Grannies!

In Cambodia, one doesn't have to go far to see the ongoing effects of the Khmer Rouge era and how it continues to play havoc in Cambodian society. During the Pol Pot period, the family structure was systematically dismantled where parents were separated from their children. A whole generation was wiped out and so today, the reality is there are many displaced groups of people---the genocide touched all areas of society and left a huge whole in the family structure. One of these displaced groups are the elderly women that we at Ratanak affectionately called the ''grannies''. Many of them lost their children in the genocide or through the AIDS epidemic such that, the two most vulnerable groups ---the grannies and the grand children were left to fend for themselves. In a society where the weak are daily exploited, one doesn't have to go far on the streets of Phnom Penh to see many grannies begging during the day.  Some of them are homeless with no place to go or stay and there are no social services here to really take care of them. There is no such thing as an old age pension or a senior citizens home for in a culture that is community oriented, most elderly live with their immediate relatives. Yet here in Cambodia, many elderly women don't have such a luxury.  They have to somehow survive on their own and so many of them come from the province and hang out near the local markets begging from morning to the late afternoon in the hopes that they will receive some money that can help themselves and even support their grandchild who still live in the province. Believe it or not there is business to be made in the begging. In this Asian Buddhist culture where the elderly are treated with respect,  there is merit to be earned in giving to the elderly, so on a good month a ''grannie'' can earn about $300 begging in the city. But there are other grannies who have an entrepreneurial spirit.  One grannie after she had begged used the funds accumulated to buy new clothes and upon returning to the province, sold the clothes at a higher price for a nice profit! I love the creativity and the ingenuity that is often found among the poor in this nation. They simply know how to survive despite all the obstacles they face. In this context, one could argue that this grannie certainly knows how to bear fruit in old age and stay fresh and green (Psalm 92:14) in spite of the daily challenges she encounters.
Sathya our Finance Manager with Rosalie 

Into this environment, in 2008, two missionaries had a vision to start a drop in center for such elderly grannies who came to stay in the city on a short term basis. After some initial research and with a request from the grannies, the drop in center became a short term night shelter that we now called the Ratanak Haven Night Center. We have had the privilege of funding this Center in its entirety right from the early days when it was started, and so today, Sathya and I were out again visiting this project in Phnom Penh run by one of our consultants Rosalie who has lived in Cambodia for 22 years. Rosalie who is from Australia,  is one of these older ladies whom God called to Cambodia to reach out to the poor and the vulnerable. She has been an advisor to this Haven Night Center, overseeing it with 3 Khmer staff.

The grannies who stay at the Haven Night Center range in age from 55 to 83 years old with the average age around 70 years old. On average, 9 to 12 grannies come to stay nightly or about 200 plus per month at the Haven Night Center. These past two months over 476 grannies spent time at the Center on a short term basis,  and in a year about 2000 grannies stayed at the Center. But the numbers who stay fluctuate because it depends on the season. During harvest season, many of them can earn money in the province by helping to plant rice, but when harvesting season is over, they are left to beg to support themselves and their grandchildren and hence they come into the city for these short visits. The thought of a 70 year old grannie planting rice under the hot sun, is just another example of the inner strength and resilience that I have come to appreciate about Cambodians. They have the ability to function under the most dire conditions!

The Haven Night Center is open from 6pm – 6am, 7 days a week and is staffed by a manager, guard, cook with the occasional locum to cover holidays and sickness. The old people (or Grannies as we call them) register and are each required to pay 1,000 riel (or 25 cents) per day for their stay. Some people may question why they have should pay to stay in the Center, but the goal of this project is to help the grannies be responsible and not be totally dependent on the NGO. They gladly pay the 1,000 riel because ironically, to sleep at the market, they would actually have to pay more than 1000 Riel for water and the use of a public washroom. So in  the mind of the grannies, they get a good deal hanging out at the Haven Night Center. In return, they receive a good nutritious dinner, access to appropriate medical care, they can have a shower, wash their hair using soap and shampoo and dress in a sarong provided by us. This enables them to wash their clothes, so when they leave each morning they are all clean ready to face the daily challenges of living in the city.   

These grannies have expressed that they are not at the Night Center for handouts but just need a place to stay when they are in the city. Since the Center opened, Rosalie noted that the grannies have never asked for anything and even when they have medical needs, they gladly contribute to the cost of their own medical treatments. They have a sense of responsibility, instead of a spirit of entitlement and are grateful for a place that many of them now consider their home in the city because of the fellowship and love they experience with each other and from the staff who serve them. They have said they would rather be at the Haven Night Center than stay in the province, because here they never get sick.By providing a safe, secure and stable environment for the grannies to stay on a short term basis, they know that they can rest in peace, without danger, fear or worry that they will be mugged or robbed had they slept on the street overnight.  Furthermore, they can go to sleep in a clean properly ventilated comfortable surroundings, safe in the knowledge that our manager and guard are there for them if required all night.

Following the meal they have a bible study, (which they really enjoy) which is conducted by the manager. The grannies love to sing and have learned some Christian songs which they sing with vigor! As well, they can watch Christian DVDs and have access to Christian books  including a picture bible for those who can't read. Over time as the grannies have had exposure to the Gospel in various forms, the majority of them have become believers.  On the weekend, the grannies will accompany the manager to her church on Sunday mornings and they often go to programs held for the elderly at the church during the week. Now, the Night Center is looking for an outreach pastor to minister to the grannies when they return back to the province, as many of them experience persecution if they have families and several of them have already requested a Christian funeral when their time ends on this earth. 

For the grannies, the Ratanak Haven Night Center provides a sense of belonging. It is place where dignity, value and honor is being restored to a group that many would disregard because of their age.  It is a place where they can experience community and a sense of family even if they are ostracized by the rest of society.  It is place, where they can receive the basic necessities of life like a clean shower, a simple meal and medical care after facing the daily struggles to survive on the streets. It is place, where they are honored and respected, unlike on the street where they are ignored or forgotten. It is a place, where they can laugh again and experience a sense of joy, hope and love. Indeed, the Haven Night Center is a shelter from the storms of life for them, it is literally a place of refuge for the grannies where ultimately they are experiencing the love and care by those who represent the God who is Our Refuge!

But as I think of the grannies, I think of the 3 Khmer staff who work with them. There is a cook who comes from 5 to 7pm to prepare the dinner meal for the grannies. As well, the security guard Sophea has been at the Center since its inception in 2008 and the Program Manager Soeun started in 2009. But Soeun has a day job as a teacher in a Christian school and comes to work in the evening at the Night Center. On the weekends, these two dedicated individuals, voluntarily work---they are not paid on the weekends but they rotate, gladly choosing to work because they love the grannies and wanted to ensure that the Center is open to serve the grannies 7 days a week. Their heart and willingness to love the least of these, reflects the heart of Christ for they do not see their responsibilities as a job but rather as a calling from the Lord. What an incredible privilege it is to witness such commitment and compassion among our Khmer brothers and sisters who are doing their part to invest in those in their land whom the rest of society would consider not worthy of such an investment. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Ratanak Medical Care Program

Whenever people think of Ratanak, they often associate us only with working with projects related to Human Trafficking which partly can be attributed to the fact that, we have been focused on funding such programs over the last 7 years. Of course, working with survivors of trafficking also happens to be my personal passion so most of my blog writing has also been focused on this area. But the reality is that Ratanak has been funding many projects that impact various lives who are trying to survive under dire circumstances.

Since 2005, we have partnered with Sunrise an organization under the umbrella of Inner Change Cambodia which began working amongst the poorest of the poor in Cambodia in 1994. Ratanak has partnered with Sunrise to provide medical care for : 1) those with HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening disease through home base care visits; 2) children of HIV/AID patients or other terminally ill patients,  3) medical & Nutrition care for sick Prisoners at the Kompong Cham Provincial Prison and this year we added a new program 4) infant formula distribution for HIV+ babies.

So today, Sathya our Finance Manager and I went on a 3 hour trek to Kampong Cham province to visit the Ratanak Medical Care program run by our partner Sunrise. It was quite the journey, as unlike Canada where we have to deal with snow storms, fog or ice storms, here we had to deal with ''dust storms'' from the red clay which created a mist as we drove along the main highway. Thankfully our driver Sambath did a great job despite the limited visibility at times. 

Upon arrival, we sat down with our Khmer partners---The Program Director Darany, Dr. Mony who at 67 years old goes and visits 4 communes to make house calls on his HIV/AIDS patients or other terminally ill patients. Then there is Chhun who assists Dr. Mony and he too makes house calls, meeting up with the children of these patients and finally there was Sopheak the accountant. Being a part of such meetings for me is a privilege because at the heart of Ratanak's DNA and mission, is seeing the Khmer people empowered to help their own and here in this program, the compassion and heart the staff have for those whom they serve was evident. 

One of the main goals of this program is to provide an opportunity for the holistic enhancement of life and dignity for the poor and the vulnerable in this province of Kampong Cham and this is done by providing basic medical care, medications, supplemental foods and small loans for raising pigs or chickens or , buying ingredients to make cakes which can be sold at the local market. The Home based care visits began in 2002. At that time the provincial hospital for Kompong Cham Province became aware of many people who were HIV+ and had no way of following up with their illnesses. Most of those who contracted HIV were very poor and did not have good nutrition to meet their needs while living with HIV. The government hospital referred people living with HIV/AIDs to this program. Those referred were poor and vulnerable. During this period, the Ratanak Medical Care program has provided consistent follow up with medical support, supplemental food, shelter, and family support for HIV+ people living in poverty throughout their years until death. Over this past month 49 clients were visited and cared for by Dr. Mony. Pray for Dr. Mony, as he makes these regular visits monthly to 4 different communes to care for the sick. Pray that he will continue to be the beautiful feet that brings good news to those who are suffering as he regularly prays for each patient that he visits.

But while Dr. Mony is seeking to minister to parents who are dying of HIV, it was clear there was a need to also tend to the needs of the children of these families. Such visits are designed to encourage the children of these patients in numerous ways, including help in making memory books for the children whose parents had died from AIDS; help in processing their feelings; and tutoring for their classes at school, as well as providing school uniforms on an annual basis. Currently there are 36 children who receive such regular visits. Pray for these young ones who are dealing with the reality that at least one of their parents is terminally ill.  

Dr Mony also visits prisoners at the Kompong Cham Provincial Prison. Here in Cambodia, provincial prisons often lack medical personnel who are qualified to diagnose basic illnesses nor do they have the financial or medical capacity to purchase and give medicines to those who are ill. So, in 2009, daily visits to the prison began to attend to the needs of approximately twenty  prisoners four days/week with minor illnesses. Similar to the home base care visits, the Ratanak Medical Care (RMC) program  now provides basic medical support and supplemental nutrition for prisoners through these daily visits. For prisoners who are bed-ridden RMC prepares extra nutritional meals four days per week to help with their recovery from major illnesses.

This year, our program has now expanded to include the distribution of infant formula to HIV+ mothers to help decrease mother-to-child transmission of HIV. The infant formula distribution supports HIV+ mothers for one year who live throughout the whole province of Kompong Cham by distributing formula to them when they come to the Kompong Cham hospital to receive their anti-retroviral medications.

As I left Kompong Cham today it was the verse from Matthew 25:40  that came to mind ''truly whatever you do for the least of these'brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'' In Cambodian society, those who have AIDS or are HIV+ are often looked down upon because of the common belief that they must have done something wrong in their previous life (according to Karma) and therefore they deserve what is happening to them in this life. But thank God, as believers in Christ, the staff at Sunrise are living examples of Christ's compassion to those that the wider culture looks down upon. Their efforts to care for these who the world would forget demonstrate once again, that God is close to those who are broken hearted. He is close to those who are poor, rejected and abandoned. He is close to those who are ostracized, mocked and viewed as outcast. For in Jesus, dignity and value replaces the yoke of shame and the yoke of disease, In Jesus, the poor, the weak, the sick, the prisoner and the vulnerable do not only have a friend, they have a Savior, a Deliverer and a Redeemer.  

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ministry of the Mundane

Today this term ''ministry of the mundane'' came to mind as I was in the midst of some meetings. It is a phrase coined by author John Ortberg who wrote many years ago that it reflects opportunities offered to us countless times through the day. Perhaps a colleague asks for our help regarding a project, it can happen in the middle of a traffic jam when we let someone go ahead of us---and here in Cambodia, if you drive a car daily you will always face the ministry of the mundane as many cars especially those big SUVs are always happy to go ahead of us or as I encountered the other day, one car honked at me to move forward to another parking spot so that he could park in the one I was intending to park at.

Daily perhaps each of us are interrupted to help a colleague or a child or a friend and perhaps we may not see that as ministry but as John Ortberg noted, it is a ministry of availability, a ministry that does not involve the limelight, a ministry that in many ways is hidden without recognition yet, it is a work that is needed to be done,  despite how tedious, boring or perhaps unimportant in our eyes, it is a ministry of service. This term ministry of the mundane came to mind today because over the next week, my Finance Manager Sathya and I are meeting with our partners to analyze the projects we fund both from a financial perspective as well as the effectiveness of these projects in achieving certain purposes to protect the vulnerable and care for those who are oppressed or poor in Cambodia. In many ways, looking at financials, asking questions about project activities, and verifying how data and information is collected is not exactly the most exciting thing to do. After all, more people are interested in hearing about human stories ---personal stories of individual lives where young women who were once sexually exploited are being transformed or perhaps stories about confronting pedophiles.

But one of the blessings of working at Ratanak is we not only fund our own direct programs such as the RAP Community home, but we have the opportunity to implement other programs through other organizations/partners who are setting up innovating projects that are in line with our vision and mandate. One of these implementing partners is the Chab Dai Coalition through whom we have had the privilege of funding a church community and prevention program since 2006. This year, the church community and prevention program has morphed into the Community Hero Prevention Program. You may ask what is this.

Well the Community Hero Prevention project  focuses on addressing prevention and intervention issues in rural areas in Cambodia by raising awareness and educating people in vulnerable communities about the issues of human trafficking, sexual abuse, illegal migration and the ways to protect children and child rights. The activities and programs are undertaken in the villages, and rural communities in Cambodia with the purpose of  educating the people in rural areas with information and tools to prevent the trafficking of children, and develop a sense of personal and communal responsibility among them for every community member’s safety.

Meeting with Yeng (Country Director of Chab Dai), Kunthy (Project trainer), Muylen (Finance Director) and Sathya (Ratanak Finance Manager)

So this afternoon , we spent time going through the mundane questions about the program with staff from Chab Dai and as our discussions progressed,  I became more and more encouraged about the impact this project is having in vulnerable communities that are prone to trafficking in Cambodia. This project involves no expats or Western staff. It utilizes 100% indigenous Cambodian workers who teach and minister to their own people. It was encouraging to learn about the ongoing training that is being done in these vulnerable communities among the volunteer trainers who are emerging as Community Heroes using their influence at a grass root level to protect and prevent children and women from human trafficking, sexual abuse and all forms of exploitation. In just one province this past month, 1200 people were expected to be trained but in fact 1380 showed up for training. Some of them using their own funds to bring awareness to these issues in their community because they want to help their own communities. They have expressed to the training staff a love for this vision and a desire to take ownership and responsibility to protect the most vulnerable in their villages. But this training is not a one off event as there are ongoing refresher training happening yearly.  

As well, the educational tools given to them such as help cards, flip charts, posters and stickers are being used to report more cases of human trafficking, sexual abuse, illegal migration and violence through different groups who are collaborating together to make a difference. Specifically, the local authorities at the district, commune or village level or church leaders are all gaining knowledge and resources to stop trafficking and intervene in cases of abuse.  Initially, when this program was introduced there was suspicion but over the years, we are seeing an amazing network being formed as village chiefs, local police, pastors and government officials are all being trained together and working together for the blessing and protection of the most vulnerable in their communities.

Beyond the program analysis, we are also accountable to our Canadian tax authorities to ensure that the finances are being used for the project purposes. Once again, we came away feeling confident about the financial controls and processes that are in place by our partner to ensure funds are being used wisely and being stewarded in a responsible way. It is encouraging to see the checks and balances that Chab Dai has established to ensure a high standard of financial responsibility.  Such due diligence also serves to benefit us as an organization as we learn from our partners what is working and what isn't in terms of structures and processes. All of this we trust will serve to enhance our own internal structures and long term strategies. 

So while the ministry of mundane involves spending time reviewing facts, figures, documentation, procedures, administrative processes of this project, such activities while seemingly tedious, are an essential part to learning how vulnerable lives are being protected, how local leaders are being empowered to use their position of influence for the benefit of the exploited and ultimately, how God is raising up community heroes who are taking a stand for truth, righteousness and justice. What a privilege it is to see how God is building His Kingdom in the hearts of His people here in Cambodia as they take the initiative to be His agents of change in their communities.

Tomorrow we are off to another project in Kampong Cham province located about 3 hours from Phnom Penh. Stay tune for an update as we share about the Ratanak Medical Outreach Program for AIDS patients, other terminally ill people, medical care for prisoners and an infant formula distribution program to HIV+ mothers and their HIV+ babies. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Capacity Building

Recently I read a quote on capacity building by McKinsey and Company taken from a report on Effective Capacity Building in Non-Profit Organizations. It states: ''Nonprofits have an obligation to seek new and even more effective ways of making tangible progress towards their missions and this requires building organizational capacity. All too many nonprofits, however focus on creating new programs and keeping administrative costs low instead of building the organizational capacity necessary to achieve their aspirations effectively and efficiently. This must change: both nonprofit managers and those that fund them must recognize that excellence in programmatic innovation and implementation are insufficient for nonprofits to achieve lasting results. Great programs need great organizations behind them. 

These are very sobering words for those of us who work as Christian NGOs here in Cambodia or for that matter any NGO that works in Cambodia. After all, we want to be mindful of being good steward of the financial resources we receive and yet we need to be constantly evaluating the importance of building organizational capacity to ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of such programs. Here in Cambodia the needs are endless and over the 24 years of funding several programs we have observed many challenges of organizations expanding quickly at the expense of the organizational capacity. As such, we ourselves are learning much from own own project experience to establish structures that ultimately will provide a solid foundation as we expand in the future. It is not always easy as we continue to learn many lessons along the way through both the successes and failures.

Like many organizations here, Ratanak is always looking at ways to expand the capacity of our staff. Given the important and significant role they play in our organization's capacity, we have been evaluating ways to invest in their giftings, and enhance their abilities and their skills as part of empowering them but also, as part of raising the capacity of our organization. So over the last few months, some of our staff have participated in different trainings.

Our counselor Soklin has attended a 3  month Systematic Counselling course where participants were thought how to use creative activities in order to gain information on a client's background, thoughts and feelings on her life story. These activities were thought through role play and over a 6 month period our counselor received ongoing supervision and coaching as she implemented these activities. We have seen her grow from this experience in her abilities in the way she deals with client issues and finds ways to build bridges with our clients.
Chab Dai leadership Retreat

As well, recently one our partners --the Chab Dai Coalition had a leadership retreat for Khmer staff so we sent out two senior managers to this training. Not only did they learn about managing stress in their own lives but also how to cultivate healthy habits in the midst of stressful environments. Again, they came away from these meetings feeling energized, rested and with additional tools equipped to do the work they have been called to.
Peace Bridges Training

Over this past month, two other staff have been attending a Peace Bridges course which provides training over a 3 month period. The purpose of this course is to help our staff engage in conflict in creative and constructive ways. This is not easy in the Cambodian context where too often most conflict is hidden under the surface through ''saving face'' by speaking indirectly and around instead of direct. This often leads to false peace keeping as truth is hidden and not spoken and so this can easily lead to conflict, disunity and disharmony where assumptions are made and never clarified in the open. Moreover, despite the genocide being over for decades, many people continue to be impacted in their behavior and attitudes. One just has to pick up the newspapers on a daily basis to read of how an eruption of anger within the home has contributed to domestic violence in this country.  As one Khmer who took this course commented ''even I suffered much violence growing up, and I saw a lot of violence but I could not change anything with violence because violence cannot end violence.  So we are thankful for organizations like Peace Bridges who focus on training and equipping others to be deal with conflict in a biblical way.and to work through conflict management and to learn about peace education. Two of our staff: our Program Manager and one of our Social Workers is now working through this 3 month intensive Peace Bridges course. Our desire is for them not just to grow in their knowledge in this area but the next step is to implement this within our organization by training our other staff and ultimately, training the young women who live at RAP.

Such tools, we believe are valuable to enhancing our organization's capacity as we continue to invest in our most important assets --- our Khmer staff - we believe that they will be the ones that will ultimately have the greatest impact in their culture and their society as they lead the way contexualizing all they learn to make it relevant in reflecting Christian values and Christ like attitudes towards their fellow colleagues and towards the young women that we serve. Pray for our staff, so often they are overlooked in the midst of all we do but they are the ones who face multiple challenges and stresses each days at a level that we from the West can rarely appreciate and understand. Pray for God to use all these trainings to build into each of them, His truths, His ways and His life such that they will be His instruments bringing light into the darkness and hope to those who feel hopeless.