Tuesday, May 22, 2012

May in the Mekong - Day 1

It's a two hour flight from Hong Kong to Phnom Penh.  I landed in the morning and successfully found my way out of the small Phnom Penh airport and into one of the many taxis eagerly awaiting paying customers. ($9 USD for the 30 min. taxi ride from the airport to my very nice, $30 a night hotel). My taxi driver was a wealth of information giving me a free commentary on buildings as we passed them,  successfully ensuring he would be the taxi driver to pick me up at the end of my five day Phnom Penh stay.
 Given his age I found myself wondering quite a bit about his personal history, especially in the Khmer Rouge reign of terror. Also, I'm just finishing an informative, rather depressing and cynical  book  called Cambodia's Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land. It's well worth reading if you are interested in the Mekong area, or in development, education, or Christian outreach issues.  The book suggests that charity workers may actually be contributing to Cambodia's problems, as a nice infrastructure has been erected for all of the expatriates working with NGO and/or Christian mission organizations (clean hotels, nice restaurants and pleasant walking areas in the main tourist spots) while leaving the countryside virtually untouched... pleasant to look at if you're zooming by in a car, but not so pleasant for children who can't get an education (less than half of grade school aged children  actually get to go to school) or people who need medical care (clinics are poorly equipped and one "nurse" interviewed in the book says she had a three day training course after finishing high school, which qualified her to be the sole nurse on duty for dozens of patients.)
View from the taxi
Another view from the taxi - I can tell I'm not in Wisconsin anymore!

One of our Lutheran Theological Seminary - Hong Kong  international alumni (Joseph) picked me up in a tuk-tuk.

Motorbikes are the most popular form of transportation.  More on that coming in "May in the Mekong" - Day 4

Joseph takes me to one of his church sites, which runs a multi-purpose ministry for families living near and in the garbage dump.

In the small church building, children living in the area of the garbage dump get daily school lessons. I noticed it was all boys in this little school, but I'm not sure why.

View from the church/school, you can see the plastic tarps which serve as roofs for many.

The children are so happy that they have this clean area outside of the church/school to use as a playground.

A man sorting and bagging recyclables from the dump, hoping to earn a few dollars. (A few means about $2 or 3 a day)

The only "backyard" these children know.

Plastic which has been retrieved, rinsed off, and will be bagged and sold for the aforementioned $2 or $3 a day.

What do you think of these two boys  flying home-made kites on the garbage dump!?

This woman was the size of a five year old. She was using a plastic bowl to try and drain flood waters away from her home.

The entrance to her home.

She actually smiled for my camera!!

Meanwhile, down the road a bit, a mother and son were digging to find "buried treasure".
At the Lutheran Theological Seminary and through the Mekong Mission Forum, we aren't making big financial donations to these needs.  What we are involved in is strengthening students for capable, dependable, patient, thoughtful, ethical  pastoral care, counseling, and helping to develop the capacities of others. Joseph sometimes delivers donations of rice or clothing.  He continually encourages the teachers at the little school (and the good news is the children are apparently very consistent in their school attendance although not even grade school is  compulsory in Cambodia). He provides a role model through his own family life. He runs a dorm for university students and (newly) a guest house which also serves to provide some income for his ministries among the poor.

Maybe his generation, and the upcoming one which he is helping to empower, will find their own creative and courageous solutions out of the garbage dumps, corruption and poverty.

If your gift is ... is serving, then serve; 
if it is teaching, then teach;  
 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; 
 if it is giving, then give generously; 
if it is to lead, do it diligently; 
if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. 

                                                                       -- Romans 12:7-8

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