March 5, 2010

Stephanie Hollenberg in Prey Veng Town

Stephanie Hollenberg has three work sites in Prey Veng town, about 2 1/2 hours outside of Phnom Penh. Although her work placement(s) got off to a bit of a rocky start, she’s settled in now to three really excellent service settings, doing work she enjoys. Arrangements for the initial orphanage where Stephanie was scheduled to work fell through the day after she arrived in Prey Veng, so Stephanie, Keith, and Mennonite Central Committee workers Ruth and Miles Wiederkehr scrambled to come up with other contacts. Stephanie then left for a weekend family wedding in Takeo Province, and by the time she returned, all was well with service assignments.

Now Stephanie is working three days a week at an Australian-supported orphanage near her home. The orphanage has 40-some girls between the ages of 6 and 19, plus two boys, both brothers of girls there. Although Keith was not able to take any photos of Stephanie interacting with the young girls (orphanages here have strict rules about outsiders being present), it looks like a perfect location for Stephanie. On the other two days of the week Stephanie is working at Veterans International, an agency that works with people with disabilities and receives funding from U.S. AID as well as other organizations. Although her specific work is still evolving, she may do some public relations-related writing as well as some caring for the clients at Veterans International. Both Keith and Stephanie were impressed with the organization and with the education levels of its physical therapists and other staffers.

In addition, on most evenings Stephanie co-teaches an English class with MCC’s Ruth Wiederkehr at Sangkhem (Hope), an after-school center. The night Keith visited they had 21 eager students, and they functioned quite admirably as a teaching team.

Ruth’s sister Sreymom also works at Sangkhem, and she and her family are delighted to be hosting Stephanie. Stephanie’s older sister has a tiny Hang Baay (small shop) at the front of her house next door. Stephanie shares a room and bed with Sreymom. Sreymom is one of only a couple of Christians in the family, while her parents and most siblings remain Buddhists.

Stephanie is participating in church services with Sreymom, and may do her SST project on perspectives of first-generation Christians in Cambodia, examining their theological understandings and their views of the “good news” of the Christian gospel. If so, she may draw on her own interviews as well as statistical data and analysis developed by 2007 Cambodia SSTers Paul Shetler, Jonny Gerig Meyer, and Luke Kreider, who completed a major survey for Church World Services. Another alternative project idea Stephanie is considering is writing a human-interest story on Veterans International’s work and seeking to get it published.

Stephanie enjoys having time to reflect in Prey Veng, especially after the harried days of the Phnom Penh experience. Whenever she can, she goes down to the riverside to enjoy the sunset over the lush rice fields and squatters’ village below the dam. This weekend Mesang District SSTers Kelly Frey and Phil Stoesz are visiting Stephanie in Prey Veng, and she’ll likely go to visit them in a couple of weeks.

Other SSTers have been checking in regularly by phone. Julian and Annalisa are enjoying Kampong Phluck (the stilt village), teaching English and picking up other tasks. Kat and Rachel have settled into their homes in Oddar Meanchey after a somewhat rough start, working each morning at a preschool and doing other jobs as well. Allison and Trisha are living and working just outside of Kampot, and Annie is going to visit them today. Jake and Charlie are enjoying learning about the minority Cham Muslim culture in Kampong Cham, going to the mosque three times a day to pray with their family. The have been given skullcaps for the mosque and their families also blessed them with Muslim names: Ahmed (Jake) and Muhammad (Charlie).

Seven SSTers are in Ratanakiri Province: Seth, Bailey, Sarah, Corinne, and Chloe are living in five different Tampoun villages, and Mikey and Austin are in a Jarai village about an hour outside of the capital, Ban Lung. Sarah and Corinne were interviewed for a story broadcast on Radio Free Asia last week — about why they were in Ratanakiri and what work they were doing. The reporters also came to their village to take photos of them working. All seven students are teaching English and learning about their respective indigenous cultures. Keith and Ann will visit the Ratanakiri Seven and Jake and Charlie next week on a six-day sojourn to those northern provinces.

Students seem to be adapting well, and immersing themselves in their work and their respective sub-cultures. Fortunately, only one student has called in to ask, “Tell me again what the penalty is for marrying someone while on SST?” Keith thinks the student was just trying to get a rise out of him, but perhaps it’s good that only about 4 1/2 weeks remain of SST.

Overall, all is dandy in the Sunny Country, where temperatures will make it past 100 degrees tomorrow. The Graber Millers will depart 24 hours from now for the northern visits.

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