October 11: On the field with a staff member named Seyha, (pictured below with the backpack). Seyha works for the Mobilization adult ministry team at World Relief, teaching about health, the Bible, and social issues, and holding HIV support groups, for community development.
When he was young, Seyha wanted to be a teacher, but his parents forced him to study psychology at university. At first he resented it, but now that he has graduated, (and has worked as a teacher for various development organizations), he appreciates the skills and knowledge gained from psychology classes, saying that understanding research and the way people think and feel helps him when teaching adults and leading support groups.
This is one of the cell groups that we visited. Seyha reviewed with the group about the moringa plant, which we all munched on as he talked. (Moringa pods taste kind of like having a sock full of cigarette butts, soaked in honey, shoved in your mouth). He moved on to talk about how HIV/AIDS can be contracted. This village has previously been very scornful of people living with HIV in the past, but the people are slowly learning the reality of how it is contracted and spread. The people were very attentive and kept asking hypothetical questions that I had never considered. "What if a mosquito bites someone with AIDS and then land on my open wound and I smash it and the blood gets on me?" "What if someone with AIDS is cooking and cuts themself and then I eat the food?" etc. They kept asking me if I knew the answers. They asked me "What should we do about the man in our village who also has AIDS, but refuses to accept it? We go to him, but he is always drunk and angry and doesn't want our help or support." Sometimes all I can say is "pray," even if not all of the people in the group are Christians. Even if praying doesn't seem like enough.
When they found out I was in university, they were all amazed. One woman finally said, "None of us knows how to read or write, so we are all ashamed." That made me so sad. I told them, "When I came to Cambodia, I didn't know any Khmai, and just last week, I confused the word king with the word for peanut!" They all laughed. The conversation somehow turned to all of my embarrassing stories, which are plentiful. These people are so skillful--they know which fruits are good and how to crack them open, and can build houses or sew clothes by hand, and yet they are trapped in a system of illiteracy, and even shame. I didn't want them to be ashamed of their poverty or illiteracy.
At this group, I met Yen Mon (below, left). She has 5 daughters, which is difficult to manage in Cambodia culture, especially with a sick husband, (I think he has cancer). Her oldest daughter got married and had four children in a four year span, but her husband left her. Now Yen takes care of her grandchildren while her daughters work in factories. She said, "I used to be afraid of HIV, But because of what I learned from the teachers, I know I cannot contract it that easily. Now I am more afraid of cancer. But I also know that because of God, I don't have to fear anything."
In another village, I met Pola (who didn't want her picture taken). Pola had AIDS, and was very weak. She was delighted to tell me that her daughter had gotten married and moved to France, although she missed her. She wondered if I was French, and had maybe seen her daughter. Pola is extremely poor. Her husband died of AIDS 4 years ago, leaving her with the condition. For a while, the people in the village hated her—they wouldn’t come near her or let their children near her children because they were afraid of HIV. They associated her condition with immorality. It is often related to unfaithfulness, (which is probably how her husband got it,) but Pola was always faithful. The village has become a little less scornful, but she still feels a lot of emotional weight from having AIDS. But she doesn't feel the need to join a group or find a new religion. She just keeps to herself, and lets the WR staff come visit if they want to.
At another group, I met Chul (above). She is a village matriarch/ cell group leader. She says she has been around long enough to see the work of other NGOs and the cycle of WR leaders. She is hopeful about the direction her village is moving in. They are less discriminatory about HIV/AIDS and more open to the gospel and working together as a community. Chul loves to read her Bible and learn about God. She says she is not a fast reader, but she has worked her way all the way from Genesis to Revelations. Her favorite passages are “I am the way, the truth and the life,” in John, and “Have I not commanded you be strong and courageous,” in Joshua. Chul suffers from problems with her teeth. It may seem like a small thing, but it gives her a lot of pain in her whole head and she can't afford to give it much medical attention. The drugs that a doctor gave her only made her throw up. Pray for wisdom as she leads her village and healing in her teeth.
Seyha loves World Relief, but has dreams of someday starting a Khmer-run NGO for victims of emotional trauma like the Khmer Rouge, trafficking, or gang violence. He wants to make an NGO with integrity of purpose and practice, "from Cambodia to Cambodia." He is an extremely hard worker. There are a few other staff members with similar dreams and desires to serve God and their country, but without the practical skills of forming proposals and reports for their NGOs. So they asked me to hold teaching sessions for them on Saturdays, sacrificing their one their day off, (because many have ministries on Sundays), so that they can learn how to write English reports and proposals for their NGOs.