I’m thrilled to have a guest post from Danny Webster on my blog today. Danny is one of three bloggers currently in Cambodia visiting communities that are being transformed by local churches in partnership with Tearfund. Danny, Anita Mathias and Rich Wells are blogging about their daily experiences and interactions. To follow their journey you can also take a look here.
I’m in Cambodia with Tearfund to visit and write about a major project they support working in communities across this country. The work is done through the church, a vital part of how Tearfund work wherever in the world they are working, and seeing it in action has shown me why this matters and the difference it makes.
I spent last night in the pastor’s house in a community about an hour to the south of Phnom Penh. I watched the sun turn deep red as it dipped beneath the horizon leaving only a golden hue of fading light in its trail. And I saw the sun rise this morning, as it appeared through the morning haze – a late arrival to the bustle of activity already alive on the street. The cockerels started about 4, the dogs soon after, the neighbour got up and his music drifted effortlessly onto the balcony where we spent the night shielded with a mosquito net now littered with bugs. The pastor told us yesterday he got up around 4 most days; I struggled to believe it, but getting up at 6.30 having been awake the past two hours makes me a more wretched laggard than the sun.
The village I’m staying in, Tonle Batie, is one which supporters of Tearfund can stay in touch with through their See For Yourself initiative. You can see the highs and lows of their experiences, the successes and failures, the joy at crops growing, pigs getting pregnant and the sorrow of chickens falling prey to disease, taking a familiy’s livelihood in a single swoop.
The way Tearfund work in this village– and many not just in Cambodia but across the world – is by mobilising the church, and in turn mobilising the community. It’s through a programme called umoja – based on a Swahili word meaning togetherness – that helps communities recognise the resources they already have and their own ability to respond to the problems in their community.
Yesterday Rich and I, who were spending the night in the village, sat down to pray with the pastor and a couple of workers for International Cooperation Cambodia (ICC), the local charity Tearfund partner with. Style is different, language is a barrier but the experience of praying with Christians across the world is always a privilege.
There is something about coming together that makes a difference. Whether it is Christians from different continents sharing meals and prayers, or members of a village coming together to improve their community’s livelihood. Earlier yesterday we helped the umoja group in Tonle Bati till the soil in a section of the church land ready for planting bell peppers today. There were men and women, young and old, English and Cambodian, working together on the soil. Admittedly, their hands were more used to the work and won’t be sporting the same blisters as mine this morning.
The church is vital, but it is not the extent of the work. These projects can never just be for the church; they start there, but they do not end there. Umoja is a long process, it is about finding and feeding a vision in the church to come together, to build relationships with the community, to find out what their family and neighbours needs are, and how they can respond to them.
We met a lady so involved in the work of the umoja group, and who was helping on the land yesterday, she didn’t realise she wasn’t formally part of the group. We met an elderly lady whose daughter is part of the group. Mostly house bound she’ll go into the forest when she can to collect wood, which she’ll bundle up and then offer for sale as firewood.
Together the community is helping itself, and in a selfless way, serving one another and supporting families when they go through times of need.
I’ve been inspired while being out here, by the people and by the refusal to give into easy simplistic
solutions but commit to long-term sustainable development. I would love it if you could support Tearfund by giving £3 a month to help more communities be transformed, follow all of our blogs and find out how you can give at www.tearfund.org/bloggers.