MCC Cambodia Welcomes Newest Service Worker, Vince Stange

By Rachel Bergen, SALT participant and Writer/Editor for Interfaith Cooperation Forum

Vince and Maly

Vince Stange new MCC Service Worker and Chourn Maly, Education Advisers working together in Prey Veng Province

The staff at Mennonite Central Committee Cambodia would like to extend a warm, heartfelt welcome to Vince Stange, our newest service worker.

Vince, 28, is working as an Education Program Facilitator in Prey Veng province for MCC’s Global Families program.

He’s working with four education partners in three districts in the province, including two public schools, a literacy and numeracy program for children out of a Buddhist wat, and an occupational training program.

Vince, comes from Batesville, Indiana. Prior to coming to Cambodia he worked as a special education teacher in New York City for five years.

Although he isn’t teaching anymore, he is excited about his new role with MCC.

“It’s mostly facilitating, which is a strange for me. Building a collaborative environment so that other people feel empowered to lead and bring about change on their own,” he explains.

Vince says he hopes others will come to see their own potential and use that potential to create the change the community, students, and leaders at the school want to see.

“I think I’m most excited that I still get to work in education, and I can facilitate an environment where teachers, students, and staff can hopefully thrive here in Prey Veng, but of their own doing,” he says.

Vince just recently moved to Prey Veng town to begin work. For the last three months he was living in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh learning Khmer and living with married couple, Pheakday and Kunthea.

He is grateful to have had the opportunity to learn about the culture, a bit of the Khmer language, and to have made so many good friends.

We at MCC Cambodia are so glad Vince has joined our team. We are excited about his education background and are hopeful that he will, indeed, become an agent of empowerment in Prey Veng province. Blessings to you, Vince!

“A Fight for Survival” 

“A Fight for Survival” 

MCC partner helps Cambodian refugees deported after many years in U.S.

Written by Rachel Bergen, Editor of ICF and SALT participant


Villa Kem (in back) sits with Chhaiya Chhamm, a new returnee from Denver, Colorado.

Not long ago 26-year-old Chhaiya Chhamm moved from Denver, Colorado to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

It wasn’t by choice, though.

Chhamm was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and evading arrest when he was just a teenager. The young man spent three years behind bars, did another three years of probation, and nine months later was deported to a country he never called home.

Chhamm is technically a citizen of Cambodia. His mother is Khmer and gave birth to him in a Thai refugee camp after the killing fields era of the Khmer Rouge. The family received sponsorship from an American church to move to Denver in the early 1990s. The United States is all Chhamm has known for his whole life. He considers himself American, even though he never became a full citizen.

The same is true for many Cambodian refugees who moved to the United States to escape the violence, according to RISC.

Refugees left Cambodia traumatized and arrived in the United States to live impoverished lives in ghettos. Many didn’t realize they weren’t true citizens.

A U.S. law allows non-citizens to be expelled if they commit a felony, three misdemeanours, or any crime for which the sentence is more than one year in prison. There are 477 so-called “returnees” in Cambodia, according to the Returnee Integration Support Centre (RISC) in Phnom Penh, and that number is growing.

Chhamm is one of ten returnees who arrived in October, and the transition hasn’t been easy. He has no family in Cambodia and feels very isolated and depressed.

“It’s been a fight for survival as soon as they dropped me off here.” – Chhaiya Chhamm

“It’s been a fight for survival as soon as they dropped me off here,” Chhamm says.

RISC, a partner organization of MCC, is the only organization in the country that supports vulnerable men and women like Chhamm.

Supporting the vulnerable

Villa Kem is the co-director of RISC and says the organization will help another ten returnees set to arrive this month, and approximately 20 more after that during the year. Most of the returnees are men.

Kem says the integration process is challenging for everyone.

“Some returnees have wives and kids in the States. When they come here they’re by themselves. Some of them are the main financial supporters of the family. It affects the returnee and their family in the U.S. too,” he explains.

The Cambodian community also plays a role in the isolation returnees sometimes feel.

“They tend to look at the returnees as outsiders because they don’t fit in with the traditional culture and they don’t speak the language,” Kem says.

Chhamm says he’s experienced this persecution first-hand. One of the biggest challenges he’s faced thus far has been trying to fit in with the locals.

“They look down on us. They look at us in a different way.”

Still, Kem says he and the RISC team are committed to helping returnees integrate.

RISC helps sponsor returnees if they don’t have family to do so. It also provides country orientation, temporary housing and a food stipend, education grants, and help to acquire the necessary paperwork for government-issued identification. After the returnees set off on their own, RISC staff do follow up visits all over the country, even in drug rehabilitation centres and prisons.

A few of the returnees are mentally disabled or suffer from mental health problems and are homeless. RISC helps these people access food and shelter.

Harsh punishment

Kem believes deportation is a harsh punishment on top of punishment, and it places returnees in a more vulnerable place.

The returnees are deported after their prison term is over. Kem says some of the returnees wait as long as 10 years after their sentence before they’re deported. During this time they often build a new life and a family. Then it’s all taken away.

“It’s harsh. It’s a harsh situation for an individual to go through.” – Villa Kem, RISC

“It’s harsh. It’s a harsh situation for an individual to go through,” Kem says.

Chhamm says the punishment fails to look past the crime to see the person and their background.

Life in Denver wasn’t easy for Chhamm. He says he was physically abused as a child by several men his mother dated, and his mother sometimes hit him, too. He was caught up in the cycle of alcoholism early on — something that plagues many in his family.

“The only way I could deal with the abuse was to drink,” he explains. “I put on a mask as soon as I walked out the door. There was a lot that went on, but I didn’t want to talk about it so I turned to drinking.”

When he ended up in prison and learned he would be deported, he was shocked.

“It’s kind of messed, though. I felt like they don’t really care. They didn’t really look at my situation,” Chhamm says.

He’s resigned himself to his new life in Cambodia, though, and has much to be thankful for.

Hope for the future

Chhamm says he’s grateful for the work RISC does. He is living in the RISC offices with six other returnees until he gets on his feet.

“It helps to be around other returnees,” he says. “We’re all here together for the same reason, so we can help each other.”

Kem says RISC was founded on the belief that every individual deserves a second chance and a new life.

In spite of their vulnerability and the real struggles they face to integrate, many returnees are success stories, he says.

RISC offers educational grants so returnees can go back to school and start a career here.

Some go on to work in the trades or in the private sector, but the great majority work as English teachers.

Chhamm hopes to be a success story, too. He started work as a security guard at a nearby club recently and wants to teach English, too.

“I just hope to be successful here, that I can pick up this language, and learn how to communicate with people here.”


Cambodia Exchange Groups 2015-2016!

For more information about MCC Exchange Programs, visit the web pages of SALTYAMEN!, and IVEP or visit the contact page and send questions to Connecting Cambodia.

YAMEN! and IVEP participants 2015.

Serving and Learning in Colombia, Guatemala, Canada, and the US.

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From left to Right: Choun Pirun, Sim Chhengty, Lok Chanmakara, Lim Solida, Da Sothea, Touch David, Mam Samon (missing from picture)


SALT and YAMEN Participants Serving and Learning in Cambodia.

Coming from Nepal, India, Canada, and the US.


From left to right: Rachel Bergen, Mojesh Marandi, Binu Rai, Madeleine Yoder, Jessica Sosa, and Tyler Lowen.

What I Learned from my YAMEN Year in Colombia

By Hut Phealy







Meeting New People and Making Friends

As I have decided to go with YAMEN program, I have met many new things such as new places, new language, new cultures and new faces. I have learned to live independently and to live inter-culturally and to be the ambassador of Christ and represented the country where I came from. Sharing the way of the people living in Asia, how we communicate, the food we eat, and the clothes we wear.  The communities where I have lived understand and get some ideas about people who are living in Asian continent. After they knew more about my country. I also have taught English to Spanish-speaking students. I was a real example for the students there, because English is my second language as well. English is an international language and they can travel anywhere, as long as they know English.


Kids from the Mennonite Church that Phealy attended

Becoming Part of a New family

Of course at first I had a little strange feeling during the orientation because I thought what is this host family going to be like? How will I communicate with them? What foods they are going to eat? Will I have enough ability to communicate in Spanish with them? What if I make mistakes or do something that they don’t like will they scold me? There were so many questions come to my mind but I just sat down and talked to God. I said Lord, you have brought all the way here and you have been there before me please let everything will be done in your will and help me to go through all the process.

The Lord is faithful to me when I came to know my host family, and they were very nice and kind to me. They did a warm welcome and I still remember the first word they told me (make yourself like home and my house is your house)

I believe because the love of God in our hearts we could live and together even we have not known each other before. They love me so much and so do I.

I had a wonderful time with them. I could not thank God enough for his grace and mercy. Wherever I go the Lord’s present is with me, I was not alone.


Phealy’s Host Family: Pastor Rodrigo Preciado, Emilse Maria Bobadilla and Felipe Preciado

Got to know more about Mennonite church and be part of it:

Before I went to my host family’s church, Mennonite church of La Mesa, I thought only old people will go the church and they will worship God quietly. Because I never been to the Mennonite Church before and I thought all Mennonite churches were like that. But when I got there it has changed my thought, there were all kinds of people like children, youth, and adults. They used kind of same music to praise and worship God just like my home church in Cambodia. It made me feel like we worship the same God no matter where we come from. I have made brothers and sisters in Christ – they were so lovely and kind. Friends from church always invited me to eat, chatting about my country and Colombia they wanted to know more about my country my testimonies and Colombia after we prayed together. My host dad is the Pastor at the church; I learned more how the Pastor’s life like, and to serve just like what the Lord Jesus did. Working and serving God in all ministries such as: with children, youth and adult. Sharing the love of God to all the people. I love being part of the Mennonite church.


MCC Leadership Tour to Cambodia

Reported by Beth Landis

UntitledFour of us from the USA and Canada, regional MCC board members and staff, joined Jeanne Jantzi, Co-Director for MCC Southeast, for a week of learning in Cambodia.

What we did before arrival in Cambodia

Read from our assigned reading list including memoirs of Cambodia refugees to the US.

  1. Searched Facebook for my new best friends for the next week.
  2. Watched videos online of MCC partners.
  3. Packed modest clothes for hot humid weather.

 Partners we visited:

  1. Women Peacemakers, an organization focused on empowering women experiencing violence and illiteracy.HPIM2085-L
  1. RISC, Returnee Immigration Support Center, supporting Cambodians who immigrated to the US and returned because of legal difficulties. I was impressed with their support to 400+ men and women over the past decade.
  1. Angearhdei School in Prey Veng and we tasted the rice porridge that MCC supplies for the school for breakfast. I am thoughtful about the 70-80% of the students that have a parent away from home, searching for better work elsewhereHPIM1969-L
  2. ODOV – Organization to Develop Our Villages in Prey Veng, an influential organization working in 62 villages, impacting 3600 people with gardening, back yard fish ponds, after school programs for middle schoolers to teach tailoring and sewing, and more.HPIM2008-L

Additional Partner Information

The country celebrated three days of holiday, which meant that the streets were easier to navigate, but not all the offices were open.

  1. Peace Bridges. Executive director, Mony, visited us, and shared stories of conflict resolution and concepts of peace. It seemed like they touch hundreds of pastors and directors of NGOs, with issues ranging from human rights to land acquisition to church conflicts to family relations and everything in between.
  1. Precious Women Ministry, Royal University of Phnom Penh, and School of Peace. MCC staffers told us about their roles.

What we Shared with the Partners

  1. Where the MCC money comes from – relief sales and thrift shops. Jeanne started with photos from a thrift shop in Ohio where elderly folks volunteer at the store or scrub pots and pans at home. Then Denise followed with her story that her 90 year old mother still makes doll clothes for doll babies given to the local thrift shop.  I followed with a story of a 92-year-old cousin, a bit frail, but works with his partner, another friend, early 60s, fit and strong, who has Alzheimer’s disease.  Together they make a team, volunteering at the thrift store.
  1. The local Cambodians were amazed at our story and did not realize the money came from small amounts of time and donations made by a lot of folks, many of them, elderly. They said repeatedly to please thank each and every one of the volunteers. We agreed to take back their greetings.

Visits in Phnom Penh

  1. Restaurants – with the IVEPers, former exchange visitors to the US and Canada to hear their stories of how a year abroad changed their lives and ripples to family and businesses in Cambodia.



  2. Restaurants – with the SALTers and one YAMENer, young people finishing up a year in Cambodia, enthusiastic about their assignments. We went crazy and ordered “lots” of food, even splitting one dish of taro ice cream among six of us.
  1. Phnom Penh Mennonite church
  2. Royal Palace, Genocide Museum of Tous Sleng, Killing Fields of Cheoung Ek.
  3. The “spa” nearby, for our Thai massages, facial, or deep tissue massage, also a silent sacred time to reflect on the day.


Fooods we ate:

  1. Mangos.
  2. Mangosteens, the queen of tropical fruit
  3. Rice paired with everything, in restaurants and MCCers homes.

Conversation Topics

  1. Our life stories. If we had sat in the van in a parking lot for the week, I would have come back bursting with anecdotes. Denise served in the Middle East with MCC. Iliana was born in El Salvador and wound up in Alberta on MCC staff. Teng was born in Laos and crossed the Mekong River as a six year old and eventually found his way to a Hmong Mennonite church. Jeanne has served with MCC in Nigeria, Congo, and Indonesia. I live in Idaho. I felt a bit like white bread.
  1. We asked questions of each other and our hosts. We discussed, what salvation means in this context; what is MCC doing right; and what does partnership mean. Since Cambodia is primarily Buddhist with 2% Christians, many have never heard of Christianity. We agreed that as Christians, we are called to be faithful. The first part of any relationship is caring, reaching out, and friendship to all. The logo In the Name of Christ is part of the MCC identity.

What I’m telling folks about our visit

  1. As much as I can. My conference gave me “only” 90 minutes for my report.
  2. MCC has been described as a “non-anxious presence” and as an organization that does not have a rescue complex.
  3. MCC is fulfilling its mission for relief, development, and peace.HPIM2074-L


Remove your Glasses


Stanley W. Green, Executive Director of Mennonite Mission Network, recently visited MMN programs and MNN workers in Cambodia. He took the chance to visit Cheoung Ek, a famous killing field during the Khmer Rouge Regime where thousands of people were sent to be brutally killed. He visited Cheoung Ek on the same day that 9 members of Emmanual AME Church in South Caroline were shot and killed. He writes personally, reflecting on the depth of violence and suffering that has transpired and is transpiring. He writes;

I realize then that we must hasten the day when instead of “I forgive you,” we are able to say to each other, “I give you sight … eyes to see the vision of a world healed and made whole … I give you life.”

We implore you to read his full article found here on The Mennonite’s online edition, and to reflect on how we all can be agents of bringing new life out of violence by seeing clearly and banishing hatred.

A Field Trip to Kirirom

A Field Trip to Kirirom

Near the end of my second semester of teaching English, we were studying a unit on travel. Whenever a new topic is taught, I have to consider the framework that the students have to understand the topic, and concordantly, what experiences they can draw from to practice the new language that the topic incorporates.

Every one of my 60 students has traveled to some degree. Even if they had never traveled to Kep, Kampong Som or Siem Reap (all popular destinations in Cambodia), all the students are from the countryside, and had traveled between their homeland and Phnom Penh any number of times since beginning school at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. However, there were a number of students that had not had many opportunities to go on a trip for fun. Being as I had been with these students all year, I thought that we should take a field trip.

After telling my supervisors and fellow SALT program participants my plan (so that I would be accountable and not be able to back out), one of my exchange coordinators, Denise, suggested that I use a crowdfunding site to raise some money to help make the trip more affordable. I chose a location, Kirirom (literally, pleasant mountain), a national park about 100 km west of Phnom Penh. The same day as I posted the funding site, I told my students the plan, and they seemed to be happy about the idea. Even though we weren’t going to one of the more popular destinations, we would be going together, which counted for something.

Crowdfunding through Indiegogo.

Crowdfunding through Indiegogo.

A few weeks later, about $275 had been raised from members of my Church, family, and MCC – enough to pay for the bus there and back, and enough to buy soda (or pop, whatever) for all the students.  Several days before we left, I asked each student for 10000 riel (about $2.50) for food.  I asked for some help with planning lunch, and several students volunteered to take the money and buy food for the 55 people who were going.

Finally, the day of the trip arrived.  I took a motorcycle taxi to school, and when I got there, my students were all dressed up in their tourist clothes. The bus driver had gotten confused and wasn’t there yet, so one of my students spoke to him on the phone and guided him to where we were. We stowed the food and water in the storage under the bus, everybody got on, I read through the attendance list, and we were off.

The bus ride there was fairly quiet. We didn’t have enough seats on the bus, so I and a number of boys sat at the front next to the driver and talked in a mixture of Khmer and English about what we saw on the road. Words like brick, cement, plant, replant, and harvest were learned. After about three hours of driving and a bathroom break, we arrived at the national park and the bus started to climb the mountain. Unfortunately, the bus was only so strong, so while we were climbing the mountain, the air conditioner had to be shut off, which resulted in the bus becoming a sort of sticky toaster oven.  Even the Cambodians were sweating.

However, when we reached the top and got off the bus, we were greeted by some very nice, cool weather, and our spirits were lifted. We found a path going back into the forest, and everybody helped to carry the food and water. After about a kilometer or two, we arrived at a place that rented big tables for ~$5 each. I got three of them and we put our stuff down and spread out. We were in sort of a river valley, which was mostly dry because Cambodia had not entered the rainy season, and besides that it’s been a dry year. Some of us walked down the river bed until we found some shallow pools of water, and there we took maybe 500 pictures.

Carrying food in to the river.

Carrying food in to the river.

Bouavanh carried some water.

Bouavanh carried some water.

Leak and Tropin carried the vegetables using a stick they found.

Leak and Tropin carried the vegetables using a stick they found.

Back at the tables, we got out the food and everybody started eating. We had prahok k’ti (a type of fermented fish paste mixed with coconut milk, and before you form your opinions about it, it’s quite good), deep-fried fish, pan-fried chicken (not really sure how to translate that) and something with pork. It was a veritable feast, and everybody was full and we had food to spare, which we ended up taking back home.


After lunch, we sort of meandered around (taking pictures all the while, mind you) until it started to rain a little. When the rain had stopped, we assembled a group of about 20 students to climb the remaining distance up to the very top of the mountain.  On we went, and shortly, we arrived. It was so wonderful, I didn’t want to leave, and my students seemed to feel the same way.  Naturally, we did the only thing we could do, and took more pictures.

All of us who climbed to the top of the mountain.

All of us who climbed to the top of the mountain.

Sreymom, a biology major, collecting plants to take back and study.

Sreymom, a biology major, collecting plants to take back and study.

The view from the top.

The view from the top.

Finally, it was time to go back to bus, so we went down the mountain and met up with the rest of the students to take some more pictures all together. Back on the bus, we picked up two French teachers and took them down the mountain. I didn’t ask, but they paid $5, which was very considerate of them as they didn’t have actual seats. As soon as we were back on the main highway, someone broke out a microphone, we plugged it into the sound system, and students took turns singing different Khmer songs a capella. I sang ‘You Are My Sunshine”, which my students enjoyed.


All of us together, before boarding the bus and heading back down the mountain.


After a longer trip back (understandably, on Sunday evenings, the road into Phnom Penh is quite crowded) we arrived back at the university. I thanked everybody for coming and reminded them to bring their World English and Essential Reading books to class the next day. Everybody was happy and quite tired, and we had good memories and thousands of pictures to show for it.