Serving/Accompanying Across Cambodia

Between Friday and this morning (Tuesday), all 19 Cambodian SSTers ventured out to their service assignments, and they are now scattered in all four directions across Cambodia. For some, service began almost immediately, with their villagers asking for English lessons or giving out additional task assignments just after their arrival. For others, service was a bit delayed since they needed to stay behind for a family wedding in the city (Annalisa, Annie, and Julian); because their Non-Governmental Organization contact wanted them to start a day or two later (Allison, Trisha, Annie), or because of an SST-typical minor glitch or two (Mikey and Austin). But as of Tuesday afternoon, all SSTers were on site and thoroughly enjoying the experience.

On SST we usually describe service as “accompaniment” rather than “doing something for people that they can’t do on their own.” It is difficult to make a significant contribution where we speak the language haltingly and have only six weeks of Cambodian experience under our belts. At the same time, we sought to respond to villagers’ needs and requests in each of the settings where students are placed. In many cases students are teaching English, which is much desired by our Cambodian hosts, and in others they are lightening loads with children or assisting with communication and public relations needs that are difficult for those who don’t have computer or writing skills, or who simply don’t have time.

As often happens on SST, the transfer to the service location had a few little glitches. Annalisa and Julian missed their bus Saturday morning, and then their second bus to Siem Reap broke down. In both Mikey and Austin’s Jarai village in Rattanakiri and in Julian and Annalisa’s placement in Kampong Phluck, village chiefs or commune chiefs were insisting that we have approval from provincial governors, a longer process than we had anticipated. Both situations seem to be going swimmingly at this point, with Austin and Mikey returning to their Jarai village after spending all day Monday working with Daniel Lanctot, a GC grad and our local contact, to get things ironed out in that province. Annalisa and Julian will take a trip into nearby Siem Reap within the next 10 days to finish up their approval process, but for now are able to live and work in Kampong Phluck without problems. The director for Stephanie’s orphanage was replaced the day after she arrived, leaving her without that half of her service assignment (though with roles with two other institutions continuing). We are working with local Mennonite Central Committee service workers and other local NGOs to replace the orphanage portion of Stephanie’s assignment with another orphanage assignment.

Here’s the rundown on where all of the students are located and what at least part of their work will be over the next six weeks:

  • Kat and Rachel are in Banteay Meanchey working with Kone Kmeng, a Christian-related organization with a variety of programs. They’ll be teaching English to children and helping a teacher in a pre-school class, as well as taking on other responsibilities related to the churches in the area. Both of the women are living with pastors’ families.
  • Jake and Charlie are in the northeastern part of Kampong Cham, living in a Cham Muslim village right along the Mekong River, teaching English, doing home gardening, and learning about Cham culture from their hosts. Villagers speak Khmer as well as some other languages: Mandarin, Malaysian, and Thai (but no English).
  • Trisha and Allison are working with an organization connected with Mu Sochua, a member of the Cambodian parliament and one of our lecturers. They will be doing some English teaching and grant-writing for Devi House, an organization in Kampot Province that has a micro-credit program, basket-weaving and cookie-making operations, and projects with Cham women.
  • Annie is working with IDE — an international development organization directed by Mike Roberts, Sreyhem Roberts’ husband — in Svay Rieng Province about an hour out of Svay Rieng town. Svay Rieng is the province adjacent to Prey Veng, where Annie spent some of her early years while her parents were MCCers there. Annie’s responsibilities will be working with an agricultural and sanitation project to interview villagers and prepare both internal and external communications materials.
  • Seth, Sarah, Bailey, Corinne, and Chloe are in five different Tampoun villages in Rattanakiri Province, in the far upper-northeastern part of the country, about 10 hours outside of Phnom Penh. The villagers speak Tampoun as well as a bit of Khmer, so they’ll be working in yet another language as part of their English-teaching assignments. They’ll be teaching, usually collaboratively, from about 5 to 7:30 p.m. each evening, but their host villagers asked individual ones of them to begin teaching them English in their own villages already on Sunday. The five are working through the Yeaklom Community, a community-based organization of the indigenous people. The Tampoun predate the Khmer in Cambodia, having lived in the mountainous region for thousands of years. In the photo, the Tampoun Five are showing their best bathroom-using positions, knowing that the villages have no bathroom or shower facilities. Tall grass and a local stream will provide spaces for these needs.
  • Austin and Mikey are in the same province but living in a Jarai village an hour or so away. The Jarai are another indigenous group (about 12,000 in the country as compared with 18,000 Tampoun) who (as for the Tampoun) are animist rather than Buddhist in their religious practices. Local villagers are thrilled to have them teach English since more and more tourists are coming to the region and they want to be able to communicate with them.
  • Annalisa and Julian are in Kampong Phluck (pronounced “Pluck”), the stilted village we visited on our trip to Siem Reap. They will be teaching English at the local Buddhist school, and picking up whatever physical labor (e.g., learning how to fish) that they can while there.
  • Stephanie is in Prey Veng town in Prey Veng Province in the southwestern part of the country. She is working with the Khmer Youth Association doing some library organizing; teaching conversational English at Song Khem; and (we hope) working at a local orphanage. The details on the latter are still being solidified. Thursday through Sunday of this week she’ll be traveling with her family to a wedding in Takeo Province. Stephanie and Annie are the only two students who are alone in their service placements, but located about 1 1/2 hours away from each other. Stephanie also has local MCC workers Ruth and Miles Wiedekehr nearby as local contacts and support people.
  • Phil and Kelly are in Mesang District in Prey Veng province, about an hour and a half away from Stephanie. They are working with the Organization to Develop Our Villages, which does some community financial banking, healthy education, and other work. Their assignment is still unfolding, but will include some English teaching and some agricultural work.

As with all SSTs, Cambodian SSTers have recognized that they need to be flexible, rolling with the various cross-cultural developments that occur in these situations. They are quite resilient and are adjusting/adapting well to the countryside. In each setting student groups have a phone so they can maintain contact with the SST home base in Phnom Penh, and they have been checking in regularly over these first few days. The Graber Millers will begin visiting all of the students next week, spending an overnight in their various villages and hearing their stories. We’re looking forward to seeing them all again, and will post blogs after each of those trips.