MCC Cambodia Transitions: Sending off and Welcoming many staff!

After watching the sideshow read the introductions and farewells found below!

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Farwell to Michael and Lisa Bade

By Tony Janzen

CaptureOn October 3rd, the MCC Cambodia team said “goodbye” to Michael and Lisa after  4 years living and working in Cambodia.  Lisa worked as the Global Family Partner Advisor and Michael served as Videographer for MCC Southeast Asia.  They lived in Prey Veng Town, which is about a 2.5 hour drive Southeast of Phnom Penh.  They have since returned to their home in Seattle, Washington.

The MCC Cambodia team will miss them for many reasons.  Primarily, they were passionate about working collaboratively and respectfully with their Cambodian counterparts, and creatively approaching development work and story telling. Additionally they provide the MCC team support, welcoming visitors at their place in Prey Veng to escape the bustling life of Phnom Penh, and providing advice and expertise to the rest of the team in their own work.

Our farewell gathering consisted of a boat ride on the Mekong River where we played trivia game, with most questions specific to Michael and Lisa.  Teams got a chance to guess the names of Michael’s published book and cd, and what color (purple) Lisa dyed her hair while teaching in the U.S.  After the boat ride, the team headed to one of our favorite Indian restaurants located on the riverside.

The Bade’s will be missed by many in the Cambodian community, and we here at MCC Cambodia think and pray for them as they start the transition of returning home.

Farewell to Seiha

by Ringsey Rath

Seiha has worked for MCC as an Exchange Coordinator for 11 years and 10 months. With her long-term assignment, MCC found that Seiha is an asset and a much appreciated staff. She had put so much effort and passions to serve Cambodia people/beneficiaries through MCC projects. With MCC, Seiha also played as the Partner Advisor for the partner named Initiatives of Change Association (ICA). She assisted ICA’s president in project development and proposal writing. She involved actively with ICA’s activities, especially social activities such as study kids for pupils, rice and pork packages for volunteer youths. Seiha devoted many years of her life to the work of MCC, and we are all sad sad sad to see her leave, but excited for her in her new position of service to her community.

Welcome to Sophea Ly! Exchange Coordinator

I work as Exchange Coordinator. I graduated from the Human Resource University in field of Management and Accounting from the National Institute of Business. I did the MCC IVEP exchange program in 2013/2014. During this year I lived in Harrison Virginia and worked at the Gift and Thrift Store.

My main job is to work with young adult that MCC sends to other countries. I will be the one who is in charge of selection process, visa request for applicants and give them support while they are in their year of serving.

It was always my dream to work for a non-for-profit organization but look at what God has responded me. I work for an international Christian none profit organization. I love the vision, mission and value of MCC. I felt like I am an important resource to work for MCC as I could be a piece of puzzle that try to make better change in my country.

I like spending with friends, listening to music, cooking, nature view,  and of course drinking Cambodian Ice with sweet milk coffee and I am interested in travelling.

សូមអរគុណ!

Welcome Hanna Kurtz! Peace Program Advisor

As Peace Support Worker, I will be working with two Cambodian NGOs, Women Peacemakers and Returnee Integration Support Center. I will assist both of these organization in program development, management, and evaluation.

Despite moving many times as I child, I always say I grew up in Westover, MD, on my Grandfather’s farm property. I graduated from Swarthmore College, in Swarthmore, PA, in 2013, with a special major in Peace and Conflict Studies and a minor in Educational Studies. In the fall of 2011 I did a semester abroad at the Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College Dublin, in Belfast, Northern Ireland and I interned at two Northern Irish young adult focused peace organizations. During college I worked at the college theatre as a stagehand, technician, and stage manager, as well as babysitting and interning with MCC Peace and Justice, in Akron PA, and Broad Street Ministry’s Youth Initiative, in Philadelphia, PA. After graduating from Swarthmore, I was a SALTer at the Arab Episcopal School in Irbid, Jordan.

One of my favorite experiences so far as been hiking up Ba Phnom. It was one of my first experiences with traditional Cambodian architecture and religious symbols, and of course the view was beautiful. The landscape was different from anything else I had ever seen.

One of my goals for this year is to be able to give general directions around the city, in either Khmer or English.

Other than my parents, family, and friends, I’m going to really miss knowing the restaurants around and knowing where to get good food. I guess this just means I have to explore the restaurants here in Phnom Penh.

Welcome Henry Stewart! SALT, Teaching English at RUPP

heThis year, I’m teaching pre-intermediate English to scholarship students at the Royal University of Phnom Penh as part of the English Language Support Unit.

My favorite experience in Cambodia so far has been getting more involved with my host brothers’ lives, having conversations with moto taxi drivers, and trying pong tia koun (half-developed duck eggs) for the first time.  They are so good.  Words cannot describe.

I will miss my family, my best friend Phil Scott (who showed me what friendship could be), playing the piano and the feelings of winter.

Henry’s blog is here: http://yearinthekingdom.wordpress.com/
Welcome Keila Medina – YAMEN Child Support Worker at Let Us Create

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During this year I will work with children. I will teach music, English and also about oral hygiene.

My favorite experience in Cambodia is learning something new every day (language, culture etc) here I can learn than no matter if the people are poor, professional or not, I ALWAYS  can learn from them. My favorite job at work I love serve the lunch because the kids are very excited in the lunch time, really I love this.

I miss a lot of things especially, my younger brother, speaking Spanish!

Welcome Sara Klassen – Editor and Story Collector for School of Peace

I am working for Interfaith Cooperation Forum (ICF) as a communications assistant. So far I have been editing stories collected by ICF colleagues from indigenous contexts, but I will soon start interviewing alumni from ICF’s School of Peace and writing their stories.

My favorite experiences in Cambodia so far have been building relationships first with the girls at the EMM dorm and now with my host family. A close second favorite is the thrill of biking in crazy city traffic.

Besides missing family and friends, I think I will most miss the change of seasons and the feeling of jeans being cozy rather than feeling like Saran wrap on your legs.

 Welcome Audrey Thill! – SALT: Advocacy Assistant at Building Community Voices

audThis year, I’m working with an NGO called Building Community Voices (BCV). BCV is an NGO that trains people in media, advocacy, and organizing so that marginalized groups can voice their concerns about issues such as land grabbing and forced evictions. My role is to facilitate communication between BCV and its current donors and assist with English language editing.

So far, I have loved trying different kinds of fruit and learning Khmer.

Other than family and friends, I think I’ll miss the Indiana outdoors and seasonal changes

 

Welcome Yui Iwase – SALT: Demonstration Farm Coordinator

yI am working at The Organization to Develop Our Villages this year. As the Demonstration Farm Coordinator, I will be working with the other farmers onsite to research different varieties of seeds and experiment with different sustainable agricultural techniques.

My favorite experience so far in Cambodia… wandering around the demonstration farm with one of the farmers foraging different foods to make samlaa (Cambodian soup).

What I will miss is farming in the fall weather back home!

 

Welcome Allision Montgomery – SALT: Program Assistant at Precious Woman

10665824_10152739092556271_4837326635157056990_nI am working as Program Assistant at Precious Women, a partner organization of MCC that works with women who have been sexually exploited in the entertainment industry of Cambodia. I will be editing documents and grant proposals, brainstorming and planning for a 5 year strategy fundraising plan for the organization, updating and maintaining the website and other social media platforms, and providing assistance wherever else is needed.

One of the experiences in Cambodia so far that makes me laugh the most when I think of it (so therefore has to be one of my favourites) was when our team was in Prey Vang visiting Lisa and Michael, and Keila and I, after only a week or so of language class were with a Khmer host family that spoke no English. Our first night there we were absolutely exhausted and heading to our room but we wanted to first say goodnight to the two girls we had been sitting with. We couldn’t remember the word, so we said “Knom keeng,” meaning “I sleep.” They nodded but for some reason we weren’t satisfied enough with that exchange and so we each kept repeating “knom keeng, knom keeng,” pointing to ourselves and motioning to our room. We were wanting them to respond saying “goodnight” so that we could learn the term, but that point was not coming across. So then we started waving at them (as they stood right in front of us) and said “sua sday! sua sday!” meaning “hello! hello!” and then once again motioned goodnight, waving our hands some more and motioning to our room. They just kept standing their nodding, clearly understanding that we were going to sleep and wondering why we kept saying hello and repeating ourselves. Finally we heard ourselves and realized how ridiculous we sounded, ran away to our room and died of laughter as we replayed our one sentence conversation attempt.

Besides missing my family and people at home, and missing driving a car, probably at the top of the list is cheddar cheese.

Allison’s Blog is: is http://girlwithabackpack.tumblr.com

Welcome អ៉ុយ​ដូងចន្រ្ទ​​ (Doung Chang!)

​​​ខ្ញុំមកពីខេត្តព្រៃវែៃង។ខ្ញុុំរៀននៅសកលវិឡាលយបេតង្គកប្ពុឹជា​​គណនេយ្ស។​

I come from Prev Veng Province​ and am studying accounting at the Cambodian Mekong University. I will work at MCC as an Office Assistant.

I am excited to work for MCC to gain experience, make a salary to help support every day living, and for the chance to follow Christ.  In my free time I enjoy reading English books, playing tennis, researching, and talking with friends.

Talstras volunteered with MCC Cambodia for 6 years

Daniel and Amanda Talstra were volunteers with MCC Cambodia  for 6 years, from October 2008 to July 2014. While they were here they started a family.  First with a baby boy they named Cedar and then a few years later a baby girl they named Ezra Sparrow.
Talstra Family best

Amanda worked with Womens Peace Makers of Cambodia.
Photo: Women Peace Makers Goodbye Party for Amanda and Family.

WPM sendoff

Daniel worked with Returnee Integration Support Center. See RISC video here:

The Talstras were a part of a home church community that met regularly and supported each other with prayer, sharing, meals and fun activities.  Daniel and Amanda’s home was always open for MCC workers working outside the city to spend the night.  They were known for their hospitality and a friendly open ear to anyone in need.

 

As an accomplished musician Daniel played in local bands on some weekends and at MCC functions whenever needed.
Daniel Playing fiddle
This July they returned to Amanda’s family in Rochester NY and will be making their way to Daniel’s family in Terrace BC where they hope to settle.

 An integral part of the MCC Cambodia community the Talstras will be missed by the staff here and the many lives across Cambodia they wove into their own.

 

MCC staff

Women Peace Makers Video.

Savings Group Boost Business in Cambodia

Written by, Michael Bade of Seattle, Wash.,  MCC worker in Cambodia.

Mom Chhoeun stands a a field holding peanuts freshly harvested

While Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, boasts landmark lavish homes of rich government ministers, a sprinkling of new office towers and a growing tourist infrastructure, most of the rest of the country’s 15 million people live simply, relying on subsistence farming and fishing.

A two-hour drive southwest from the heart of Phnom Penh is Trapang Khna village, in Takeo province, and the roadside store of Sao Sarat and her husband Ith Tharoth. Their two sons, 4-year-old Horayu Oeun and 3-year-old Horavuth Oeun, scamper barefoot on the store’s concrete floor.

As a steady stream of customers, young and old, comes in — some getting just a cold drink, others grocery items or toiletries — Sarat shares how she has been able to build her business since joining a village savings group of Takeo Community Forestry and Integrated Development Association (TCFIDA), an MCC partner, in 2008.

A man and a women surrounded by merchandise

Village savings groups provide a low-interest source of money to borrow, enabling people to begin small shops or establish other additional sources of income, says Derek Hostetler of Portland, Ore. He and his spouse Leakhena Hostetler serve as representatives for MCC’s work in Cambodia.

“In order to join you have to begin saving first,” Sarat explains. “Every month we each put in what we can. It might be 10,000 riel ($2.50 U.S.) or up to $50 a month or more. We pay ourselves 1.5 percent interest per month, which is a good incentive to save.”

Once people have given a certain amount to the savings group, they can begin to borrow at a rate of 3 percent per month, generally for short-term loans of one to six months.

“I started by borrowing $50 to $75 each time. But now by borrowing $300 to $500, I have been able to increase the variety of my inventory and therefore increase my customer base and sales,” Sarat says. “Every time I pay back a loan I have more profit and savings than I did before.”

In a space not too much larger than a one-car garage, Sarat has tucked a variety of inventory — baskets of salted dried river fish, cloth sacks of various beans, vats of pickles, bottled drinking water, shampoo in packets, snack foods, totes full of cold soda and soybean drinks on ice, dried noodles, insecticide, cooking oil and much, much more.

And that’s not all.

Sarat’s eyes brighten as she talks. “Have I told you about my pigs?” she asks. “I know you need to visit Takeo village but on your way back, stop and I’ll show you my pigs.”

Reaching Takeo village means a journey down increasingly remote dirt paths, more suitable for walking and bicycles than a pickup truck.

In Takeo village, the store of Mom Chhoeun is much more humble, with maybe a fifth of the inventory in Sarat’s store. Yet since Chhoeun joined a savings group in 2005, she has been able to repair her house, increase her inventory and buy piglets to raise.

“But most important,” she says, walking over to a machine with hoses nearly 4 inches wide on both ends, “is this big water pump we purchased so that we can irrigate our fields.”

Her husband Khut Thon points to one of the only green fields in sight. “We not only get two rice crops a year now, where we only got one before, but my wife and I can grow a third vegetable crop as well.”

In the field Chhoeun pulls up one of the plants by the roots. “See. Peanuts.” She smiles and holds out a bunch. The field holds hundreds of peanut plants, each with 20 or more peanuts under the ground.

That represents a lot of protein in Cambodia, where according to the United Nations 40 percent of all children are chronically malnourished, the bulk of those in rural areas.

“The village savings group has made a huge difference to our family,” Chhoeun says. “I don’t know where we would be without it.”

Back in Trapang Khna village, Sarat walks from her store across the street to her pig shed. She says she started with one piglet. “I wasn’t sure if I knew how to raise one, if it would live or die,” she says. “So the next year I bought three piglets and the next more, and now I have 23. I time them so they are mature right during the Cambodian and Chinese holidays. That way I get maximum value.”

“I am so thankful to the backing of MCC to help support the village savings group,” she says. “It has made a real difference in many people’s lives.”

Of the 32 participants in her group, 28 are women, she tells me.

“It has given us hope for the future,” Sarat says. “Myself, I hope to one day become a wholesaler, which will save people in our village even more money. But that is a ways away. I have a lot to learn before then.”

 

Peace Conference 2014 – Alternatives to Violence

written by Warren West, Partner Advisor to Peace Bridges

Peace Conference 2014 (logo)

At MCC’s annual staff retreat this past May, our facilitator and long-time MCCer Max Ediger talked about-among other things-envisioning social change by talking about an image from his past work with MCC in war-torn Vietnam. In one of the camps for people who had been internally displaced, there was a family whose grass-roofed house had been partially destroyed and was starting to lean to one side. Rather than tearing down the house and starting to build a new one from scratch, the family had begun to build their new house around and within the old one. While they utilized the protection of the partially functioning roof and wall structure of the old house, a new house was slowly being built, literally in the midst of the old house. They simply planned to keep building the new house, little by little. Keep building until the old house-with its decaying parts-would become obsolete, unnatural, old news, out of place.

In a recent sweeping report covering the evolution of peace over the last 20 years since the end of outright civil war and UN control, Cambodia’s big independent development think tank argued that, overall,

“the peacebuilding approach in Cambodia did not negotiate with (or even take notice of) the ‘local’ and the need for less violence and a higher degree of peace being more thoroughly grounded among broad segments of the population and reflected in the day-to-day life…”

“As long as the ‘local’ is not included and ‘everyday peace’ is not a common feature,” the report argued, “there will inevitably be something virtual about the peace.”

Virtual peace.

Everyday peace.

The idea of MCC Cambodia putting on a Peace Conference for its partners has a lot to do with this. How can peace be mainstreamed into the organizations with which MCC Cambodia work with and serves? How can we all together work toward a more everyday peace?

In general, a big part of MCC Cambodia’s way of serving with partner organizations is working together to develop the sort of “hard” skills necessary for organizations to grow, learn, adapt, raise funds, and evaluate over the long term. MCC has National Staff, Service Workers, YAMENers, and SALTers doing that sort of work in many great organizations doing important work and looking to grow. Marketing skills for a fair trade organization. Monitoring and evaluation skills for a peacebuilding organization. Administrative assistance for an organization helping to integrate returnees from the United States. Proposal writing assistance for an organization working against domestic violence. Financial guidance for an organization bringing Cambodian and Vietnamese youth together to discuss their prejudices of the other. Advisors with canal projects, community forestry organizations, primary schools, and traditional dance programs.

MCC Cambodia does this because we believe that a flourishing Cambodia in the long term requires strong organizations as agents of change.

But strong organizations cannot be strong without also possessing the sets of everyday “soft” skills, attitudes, and behaviors that let them flourish with everyday peace. Flourishing with everyday peace in the day to day life among staff. Flourishing with everyday peace with the people that the organization seeks to serve. Flourishing with everyday peace when conflicts within the organization arise.

This year’s event, spread over 3 days and including a follow up get-together in a few months, focused specifically on the last one of these: how to nonviolently respond to and transform conflicts in the organizational context.

Because no matter where you are in the world, if you are an organization which sets out to bring about change, relationships are at the heart of things. Change is about relationships. Development is about relationships. And an organization anywhere that crosses all the “T”s in their financial reports, develops successful proposals, and is at the cutting edge of development innovation… but doesn’t have thriving relationships of everyday peace…is not going to be a positive change agent for social change in the long term. In Cambodia, people say such groups or people are like គីង្គក់លក់ថ្នាំស្រែង (“toads selling skin-beautifying medicine”). Selling a change they themselves do not embody.

What was most impressive about this year’s peace conference with leaders from the various partners was how engaged everyone was in participation and discussion about the different topics. Why how we deal with conflict is important. Why we need to analyze the ways in which we speak to one another. What other people have experienced as good approaches. In what ways we have gone wrong. In what ways we can build better relationships.

A lot of material that the facilitators used came from the Alternatives to Violence trainings that started way back in U.S. prisons. In one exercise, teams had to put various cut-up pieces of paper together without communicating. A discussion followed about how important clarity and communication were in trying to solve a problem. Another group-game emphasized the need for communication about plans, goals, working together, and understanding others.

In another game, a scarf was passed around the circle and everyone had to give an example of how they have used that type of scarf in the past. Shielding one’s face from the sun while working the rice fields. Carrying a child. A makeshift doll for bored nieces. Some talked about how we had to respect everyone’s experience of how they used the scarf. Others discussed how as mediators of conflict, you must respect the experiences and interpretations of others. When someone in the circle passed because they could not think of something on the spot, someone else mentioned how it was good for a leader not to try to have all the answers. Sometimes, he said, it was best to back away, give the situation space, think for a bit, and approach from a different angle.

In another role play exercise, everyone split up into two groups and acted out a situation in which an employee had submitted a report late to one’s director. Afterwards, everyone discussed how the two parties would have been feeling and what the best ways to be sensitive to that were.

Personal stories were told. Racism was discussed. Family problems were brought up as examples. Hierarchy was talked about. Situations in which attendees responded to problems in nonviolent ways were analyzed. Everyone had at least 10 good belly laughs a day. And some cried at times.

Throughout it all, it was impressive to see how personal it all was for people and how much people were encouraged by the facilitators to consider their own initiative and responsibility to bringing about change. Impressive with how much they seemed interested in “owning” the change.

It was impressive because so many of the people who attended deal daily with the ugly problems, doing their work right down in the dirt, in the belly of the beast. They see the racism. The corruption. The people who don’t care. The directors who are more concerned about power than change. The beautiful forests turning into bland plantations of the rich. The injustice of the courts………….

In many cases, it is not exaggeration to say that our partners and the people they seek to serve have been oppressed and treated with injustice. They have been excluded and cheated. And one could understand why they would ignore the planks in their own eyes and get the urge to do something rash and kick out “those people.” And conversely, I could understand how the people from our partner organizations could get sucked under, assimilate, and become just like “those people.”

The opposite seemed to be happening through their time together this year. They were looking inward. Self-evaluating. Analyzing. Talking about how to change. Getting the opinions of others. Talking about taking the initiative to change themselves at the same time as they also continued to work against evil in its various forms and bring about social change. Building something new.

The Christian theologian Miroslav Volf, in his book Exclusion and Embrace, says that

“the dominant values and practices can be transformed only if their hold on the hearts of those who suffer under them is broken. This is where repentance comes in. To repent means to resist the seductiveness of the sinful values and practices and to let the new order of God’s reign be established in one’s heart…Far from being a sign of acquiescence to the dominant order, repentance creates a haven of God’s new world in the midst of the old and so makes the transformation of the old possible.”

A haven of God’s new world in the midst of the old…. That sounds pretty dramatic and spiritual for a 3 day conference on conflict management….. and no one talked about the word repentance.

But that sounds a lot like what was going on. People were being creative and brave. Talking openly. They were talking about how to get more opinions from others during conflict. In an NGO atmosphere of position and power, they were talking about how staff under them may feel. Challenging the dominant values and practices of their own culture in order to find better ways to solve conflicts in their organizations.

Nobody who attended was a saint. None of us change overnight. The deep interwoven factors-in many cases reaching back into the horrors of war-that shape the way people behave with those around them are only unwoven in creative and gradual processes.

But that is exactly why this year’s peace conference, where people can come together to rest, to be creative, to talk with each other, to think about change, to challenge themselves and each other, and to apply lessons in order to make their organizations stronger over the long term, was a significant step. One step among many. A space to challenge. To analyze. To unweave. To reweave.

In the years to come, as it happens again, hopefully it is more of the same. Hopefully, the space can allow our partners to reflect, to challenge, and to apply. And to build. To gather the lumber and materials in order to keep building

the new house, little by little. Keep building as the old house-with its decaying parts-becomes more and more obsolete, unnatural, old news, out of place.

A haven of God’s new world in the midst of the old.

Making the transformation of the old possible.

Sharing,Learning, and Playing Together

MCC Program staff and their families learned, shared, played, ate, and spent many long hours on the bus together during this year’s Staff Retreat. View the pictures and their captions below to get a sense of this meangingful and encouraging time together. A special thanks to Pisit Heng for the beautiful photography.

At Rajana: Village Tradition and City Business Practice Mutually Respected

written by  Michael Bass (Rajana Marketing Advisory and MCC SALT participant)

Rajana Crafts Association is a fair trade crafts producer, distributor, and retailer.  This organization does it all.  Going up the steps, to the floor above the Phnom Penh retail store, you see a strange mix of handmade pottery, greeting cards, and excel docs.  Stepping into the accompanying room you see Nimul, Rajana’s manager, either discussing a design, meeting with a potential export buyer, or typing away as she manages relationships with partners across the globe.  There is always something happening within the Rajana office’s four brick walls.P1070981 04

30 artisans work in the head office, and another 120 artisans produce for Rajana  throughout Cambodia.  I had the honor of accompanying Rajana on a recent site-visit to one of the communities supplying traditional scarves for Rajana, 2-3 hours outside Phnom Penh  We met with the area coordinator, who manages sales for the people in the community, and he led us on a visit to the homes of the artisans producing for Rajana.  We walked from home to home, visiting with families as they sat together while working on their latest project from right within their home.  After hearing the horror stories of the Cambodian garment factories, it was refreshing to see a family enjoying a meal together, then to step 2 meters over to begin work.

What surprised me was that as much as it was a pleasure to see these artisans at work, it was even more special to see the Phnom Penh office staff off their computers and back into their “other” life.  You could see it in their faces, they felt back at home!  It appeared similar to the look you see in your parent’s faces when they return to the community they grew up in, after being away for 10 years.  I saw the staff, whom I’m used to discussing marketing strategies with, energetically be a part of the world they’re often separated from, but which they still love, and a world I could never fully understand.  It seemed as if they were so thankful for what the people in the village communities were providing for the larger Rajana.  While I would certainly expect them to be thankful, I was surprised by the extent of their thankfulness, and the sense of companionship shown between the office workers and the rural artisans.  I had always imagined that Rajana functioned with a “serve the others” mindset, and I had subconsciously placed the village artisans at a lower level, as the one’s being served, even though the Rajana office staff  rely entirely on the artisans’ skills for their own livlihood.  My subconscious placement may have been due to the way that that particular community’s population and buyers had been decreasing, but also due to the notions that commonly surround fair trade crafts (sympathy problematically being one).  Though those notions may have even been a concept that foreigners founded Rajana on, it is not what stands today.  The Rajana office staff are beyond that, and view their relationship with the village craftsman as a mutually beneficial one.  It’s not as if the city staff are slaving away in the office just to help “the poor people of the village”, no, they simply rely on each other.  They are working cooperatively.

I believe that it is more challenging for foreign workers and village artisans to develop level, cooperative relationships, relationships that are beyond the giving and receiving of sympathy and service. Now of course, the idea of employing village workers out of love or sympathy might not be an awful thing, but there is a higher chance that the village workers could find themselves challenging their own self-worth as artisans, and even as people.  This then shines light on the beauty of how MCC works and who MCC chooses to support.  Though there are many NGOs and social enterprises doing similar work to Rajana, Rajana is one of the few that is completely managed by Cambodian staff. DSC00505

After returning to the office, and getting back to our “market strategy” talks, I now feel provided with a stronger understanding of relationship between the office staff and village workers and it is less hierarchical than I may have imagined. I see know why it gets personal when the idea of trimming one product line and expanding another comes up.  Office staff are thinking of their “sisters” in the villages and what would happen to the worker’s children and rest of family if Rajana’s need for their art was lessened.  I admire that, and have learned a lot from those conversationsIn the end, Rajana is not just an organization providing services for artisans.  Rajana is a collaboration of societies, shaped and led by both village tradition and Phnom Penh business practices, and founded on mutual respect and dependence.

10 Things We Can All Do to Support Justice for Garment Factory Workers in Cambodia.

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If you have been following our blog, reading the news, or tracking with any of the MCCers in Cambodia you know, you will likely have read that garment factory workers in Cambodia have been holding massive strikes and demonstrations to ask for an increase to their minimum wage to $160/month.  These strikes and protests have been met with violence, that has left 5 dead, 39 injured, and numerous imprisoned. It’s easy for all of us to feel discouraged & paralyzed in the face of so much injustice and oppression.  This is not a problem unique to Cambodia, but sometimes it’s helpful to isolate one issue, and work out action steps from that.  In that context, the following is a list of:

10 Things We Can All Do to Support Justice for Garment Factory Workers in Cambodia.

1) Pray. Often, prayer is found last in action lists, as if prayer is left only to the resigned.  Yes, there are times when prayer without action is hollow, but there is also a time for Christians to say that we believe that the Kingdom of God is living & active & advancing in our world.  This means that miracles of all sorts can happen, including transformed lives, attitudes, behaviours, and relationships.  Join us in praying earnestly that leaders in Cambodia would have great compassion for the marginalized and those in poverty.  Pray that that compassion would combine with wisdom to create a positive way forward that combines long term policy change that benefits all of Cambodia.

2) Be Informed. Learn more about where your clothes come from!  The issues surrounding the garment industry is causing great harm in Cambodia.  Did you know that the garment sector accounts for more than 80% of Cambodia’s exports?  That in 2013 the average Cambodian garment factory worker earned a minimum monthly wage of $75, plus a $5 health bonus.  That the minimum wage in Cambodia is just 21% of what the Asia Floor Wage calculate to be a living wage for the country?   Check out this page for more information. Image

3) Encourage the Cambodian Church. Do you know any Cambodian Christians?  Do you know any Christians working in Cambodia?  Write to them.  Call them.  Facebook them.  Ask them how the Church in Cambodia is responding to these injustices, how they are being the hands and feet of Jesus to those suffering around them.

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4) Consider Your Own Consumption Habits. We, in the West, are the demand side to this equation.  The more clothes we demand, and the lower prices we ask for, the greater the pressure for garment factories to produce more and pay less.  There are a lot of other factors involved here, including middlemen, local owners, corruption and local government policies.  But the factor that you can mostly directly change is YOU.  Are there ways you can curb your consumption in this area?  Are there ways you can change your lifestyle so that you buy these products less frequently?  Can you be creative with second-hand options?

5) ACT. Obviously, you will not be able to buy absolutely everything you need at a thrift store and the garment industry is not going away, nor should necessarily be advocating that they should be.  (There is a solid case to be made for the economic development these international companies can bring to a developing country, particularly as an avenue to employ young people looking for a skilled trade.)  The current model does help many people in Cambodia, but it needs to improve.  Garment workers are not currently paid a living wage and that is not healthy, sustainable, or ethical.  Therefore, we need to use our collective voices as consumers to tell both the international brands, the local factory owners, and the government that we find the status quo unacceptable. That as consumers, we want to buy clothing products with a clear conscience, and we would be willing to pay more if we knew that the modest increase in price was ensuring a living wage for the people making our clothing.  This pressure works!

Made in Cambodia

6) Write [Act Part 1]. The top five brands sourcing from Cambodia are H&M, GAP, Levi Strauss & Co, Adidas and Target.  Do you purchase clothes from these companies?   Take some time to write a letter to these brands.  Post to their facebook page.  Email their Corporate Responsibility staff.  Let them know that you are a customer and that you are concerned about what is happening in Cambodia. The Clean Clothes Campaign has a simple online petition you can sign here. Let us know if your comments below how you took action.1902992_664393833608148_1526127446_n

7) Join Up [Act Part 2]. There are people all over the world forming networks & trying to advocate for better labor standards in the garment industry.  Find them.  Follow them.  Support them. You can start with checking out the Clean Clothes Campaign & Labour Behind the Label, & Better Factories Cambodia.

8) Talk about It [Act Part 3]. Start a conversation about this topic.  Talk about it at your dinner table, church, bible study, local library, etc.  Find people who live near you & brainstorm ways you could work together encourage each other in your consumer habits and to take action steps to address the injustices you see.  To get you started, find a great lesson plan from the NYT with ideas for talking about this issue with youth here, & a video after the factory collapse in Bangledesh from PBS with discussions here.

9) Support Human Rights Researchers and Journalists. The garment industry and its partners would like to keep stories of insufficient wages, poor working conditions, and violence against garment factory workers trying to exercise their rights hidden.  We can thank local and international media, as well as human rights organizations for bringing these stories to light and for taking big risks to make sure this information is public.  But this kind of work is not free.  Consider how you can expand your giving to include human rights and other awareness raising groups.  Need ideas?  Cambodian Legal Education Center, LicadhoAmnesty International, Human Rights Watch, & Labour Behind the Label have all done good research in Cambodia.

10) Encourage a Human Rights Activist. Do you know someone who is working with human rights issues Cambodia?  If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely you know someone who is working with MCC in Cambodia.  Have you written to them lately?  Have you encouraged them in their work?  Have you prayed for them?  Work in the human rights sector can be discouraging and exhausting.  Encourage the people you know who are on the front lines of that promoting human rights. Let them know they are not alone.

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The Whole World is Watching by the Free the 15 Campaign

Pray [again!] #1 is important!  This kind of injustice and violence is real and can seem intractable, but we believe in a God who transforms and restores.  Pray for wisdom as you reflect, discern & decide how you will act.

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picture by Licadho Cambodia