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.

Years later – Gratefulness for MCC Efforts Continues On


MCC Service Worker Dawn Landes and Sothy Eng

Rarely do we have the opportunity to hear directly how MCC’s efforts impact individuals or communities over the course of time. We work by faith that God will take our efforts, which often feel small or insignificant, to grow and nurture them into something transformative; something much greater than what we alone contributed.

Recently, we had the pleasure of one of these rare occasions to hear directly how MCC’s work has helped transform an individual’s life in the long term. MCC Cambodia celebrates when stories of gratitude, such as this one highlighted below, float back our direction.

Dr. Sothy Eng, is a professor of the Practice in the Comparative and International Education Program at Lehigh University , as well as a writer and photographer. Dr. Eng was once a student at Royal University of Phnom Penh in MCC’s partner English language learning program.

The English language program at RUPP provides students the opportunity to further their studies in English, and thus find more sustainable careers in their field of study after graduation. The program, which is still in operation today, was in part initiated and developed by MCC volunteers Chris and Dawn Landes. Since then, additional MCC volunteers have given their time as teachers, teacher trainers, or as management staff  at the English program. Currently, there is a SALTer (one year volunteer) teaching courses. MCC’s partnership with the English language program since 1997 has been part of a support system providing better opportunities to Cambodian students; students that are often from rural areas and studying by way of scholarship.

Dr. Eng describes how instrumental MCC’s presence has been in his life, through Dawn and Chris at the English Program;

During my undergraduate degree at Royal University of Phnom Penh , I had an exceptional opportunity to study English with Dawn and Chris Landes. I had Dawn in writing class and Chris in general English class. Both of them were dedicated and inspiring teachers. They were willing to go above and beyond their role as teachers by helping their students utilize their English skills and achieve their academic and career goals. Chris was really good at encouraging students to speak up in class (as Cambodian students are typically quiet), while Dawn was so helpful in personally assisting me with my application for a graduate program at Texas Tech University. With her help I was accepted and came to Texas Tech for my Master’s in Human Development and Family Studies the following year, 2003. I graduated with my Ph.D. at the same university in 2009. Then in 2010, I moved to UCLA for my post-doctoral fellowship for one year there before starting my job at Lehigh University as a Professor of Practice in Comparative and International Education until now. Dawn and Chris are inspirational and I will always remember them and owe them my gratitude. 

Dr. Eng, though living and teaching in Pennsylvania, stays rooted and connected to Cambodia. He facilitates a partnership program between graduate students at Lehigh and a Cambodian NGO providing monitoring and evaluation support for various educational programs at the 21 schools supported by the NGO.

He recently wrote and published the story of his parents’ experience during the war. He writes in order to honor his family’s survival and to mark the 40th year since the Khmer Rouge took over the country. The story can be found on the Huffington Post titled: 40 Years After the Cambodian Genocide, One Thing My Parents Still Talk About.




YAMEN: Finding your Unique Gift to Share

Written by Keila Julissa Medina from Honduras and working/living in Sihanoukville with Partner Organization: Let us Create

When I knew that I was going to serve in Let Us Create, in Cambodia, my greatest desire was not to change things, but make my own small contributions – like planting a seed that would continue to grow into something special. During my first months, I spent a lot of time wondering about what my particular seed, what my contribution would be. Even though I was busy doing many things like cooking, cleaning, teaching English, assisting in art classes, and helping with the outreach program, I felt that I still had not found my own special contribution. I had thought teaching violin to the program’s children would be my special contribution – but it turned out that there was no way that LUC could purchase instruments.


Keila teaching at LUC



Half way through my term I came up with a new idea. I proposed to the LUC director my idea to teach Spanish to the teenagers of the program – and she accepted!

Since January, 12 high school students stay at the center after their art class to take Spanish class with me. In the first lesson, I taught very basic greetings like: “hola”, “¿cómo estás?”, “hasta pronto” (this means: Hi, how are you? see you soon!) Coincidentally on that very first day, Allison Montgomery (serving in Phnom Penh through MCC SALT program) was visiting Kompong Som province and came to see me and walked into my class. As soon as my students saw her, they said like in a choir: ¡HOLA! ¿CÓMO ESTAS? (Hi, how are you?)

It was such a surprise for me, but what impacted me most was that from that day on, my students greeted me in Spanish whenever they met me. I cannot describe how amazing it feels to share my life with them like this. Before, nobody could speak Spanish at LUC, and now some of them are able to keep a simple conversation with me. It’s amazing!

Now it is April and admittedly, almost all of them need my encouragement to continue attending the Spanish classes. The kids of LUC are very poor and I see that a frequent problem is that the kids suffer from poverty, but also having low expectations on themselves. Therefore, I feel like we need to keep teaching and work hard to help my students change that mentality.

I have a student that is really special for me, because I was able to see a real interest in her to learn Spanish since the first lesson we had. Her name is Nary, she’s 14 years old and she is a really smart girl. If you met her you will know the truth of how hard she works.

As a conclusion, I can say that the best thing about teaching Spanish to them is that I can not only speak my native language but practice my Khmer as well and LEARN TOGETHER! – which is what I believe life is all about. We should never try to be teachers about everything, we will always need to learn from people around us. It doesn’t matter who is more professional or experienced. Everyone has something to teach and to learn.

I’m so thankful with God and with the Mennonite Central Committee for this opportunity to serve in Cambodia. I’ve learned a lot and also, I’ve become a better person.
The best way to show the love of God is through the service to others, living the love that we profess. We need to show the light of Jesus wherever we go!

Monitoring and Evaluating Training Strengthens Food Security Projects

Contributed by Abtolors Mer, Partner Advisor for MCC Agriculture and Livelihood Programs in Cambodia since 2010.

CFGB conference
In order to build capacity and improve quality of the program, Canadian Food Grains Bank (CFBG) conducted a training course related to monitoring and evaluation. The training was called “Measuring CFGB” and was facilitated by CFGB staff from Canada. Currently, I work with 3 partner organizations who implement food security program in Takeo and Pre Veng provinces funded by Canadian Foodgrain Bank (CFGB) through MCC. I provide capacity building to partner’s staff to manage the program effectively and to grow their organization. Every month, I travel to visit and stay overnight at my partners to assist and work with them. At the training held in Kathmandu Nepal, there were more than 30 participants from CFGB partners from India, Nepal, Pakistan, Lao and Cambodia.cfgb 2
During the training, I learned more general information about CFGB’s program in the world. So far, CFGB is funding 3 main programs through their partners. The programs are: 1. Food security, 2. Food aid and 3. Nutrition. These 3 programs are all related, so partner work must address these issues in order to receive funding from CFGB. CFGB trainers teach that food security does not only mean having enough food to eat but also refers to having enough good and nutritious food to eat for everyone and each family.

An interesting topic from the training was Gender Mainstreaming in to projects. Men and women and children should have gender equality. This alerted me to using mainstream gender terms when writing a project logic model for my partners. I also learned to write a better logic model to fit in line with CFGB program which uses result based management in project design. The words long term impact or ultimate outcome, intermediate outcome, immediate outcome, output and activities were heard a lot during the session and us trainees were allowed time to do team discussions and practicing using these terms correctly. Finally, I learned more clearly about good performance measurement framework (PMF) and indicators used by CFGB such as Food Consumption Score (FCS), Household Dietary Diversity Scores (HDDS) and coping strategy. These tools are very useful in measuring food security related program achievements.
cfgb 3
I considered the course to be very fruitful and I am excited for trainings that bring together all people who work with food security project with MCC, CFGB or others NGOs. I also enjoyed making new friends and learning about the programs of other countries that were designed based on the different culture and geography. Since capacity building is always a need, I hope that MCC will continue to focus on developing staff and partners so they can implement projects more clearly and effectively.

Laos – Cambodia, MCC Teams Learn from One Another

Below are pictures and captions from the MCC Laos Learning Tour to Cambodia. A meaningful time for both country programs!

Photo Credits: Bee Keohavong


Half the Laos MCC team came to Cambodia, and the other half to visit the MCC program in Myanmar. Pictured here is the Laos team’s first night in Cambodia and sitting down for a delicious Cambodian meal.


MCC Cambodia Partner Building Community Voices, hosted the Laos team on a visit to one of their community projects in Kompong Chnang. Here BCV leaders shared about how this community is working together to protect against land grabbing and teaching community members about their rights.


IMG_0510 GSL Fellowship! Cambodia YALTers and Laos YALTers as well as some former Laos/Cambodian IVEPers having a good time together.


Exchange Coordinators from Laos Margaret and Bee, stay on after the rest of the Laos team returns to Laos in order to do extended exchange coordinator learning and planning sessions together.



Visiting Yui at ODOV and checking out some of the crop trials of tomatoes and peppers that she has been working on.


Sugar and Land Disputes in Cambodia

Written by SALTer Audrey Thill working as Advocacy Assistant at  MCC partner organization, Building Community Voices


The average person living in the United States will consume approximately 66 pounds (30 kg) of added sugar next year.[1] The global demand for sugar is being met, in part, by the rapid expansion of industrially grown sugarcane in Cambodia. Though sweet for business and investors, the mass production of sugar cane has bitter consequences for ordinary Cambodians.

In Cambodia, land is everything. Approximately 85% of the population live in rural areas, and 60% work in agriculture. Communal forests and farmland sustain many communities, and in some cases, forests and mountains hold religious significance for indigenous groups.[2]

Since the 1990s, the Cambodian government has been parceling out land to private investors. A steep increase in these Economic Land Concessions (ELCs) has resulted in the transfer of over two million hectares of land to private companies for development projects, industrial agriculture, or mining concessions. Sugarcane plantations are one of the many crops being grown on ELC land. According to government policy, ELCs must be issued in an “equitable, transparent, efficient, and sustainable manner,” and in consultation with the affected families.[3]

Nevertheless, national and international organizations are raising concerns about the lack of transparency in these deals and the adverse effects on Cambodian communities. Since 2007, a total of 14,247 households, or 66,960 people have been forcefully evicted from their homes because of ELCs.[4] Some of these families accept compensation from companies, though the sum is rarely enough to offset the cost of finding a new home. In addition to land, they potentially lose communal ties and their source of income, for example, a farm, stand of fruit trees, or job to which it is now too expensive to commute. Though the government issued a moratorium on new concessions in 2012, land disputes persist and many Cambodians remain at risk for eviction or are currently displaced.

Sugar companies are a major player in this divvying up of Cambodian land. Human rights monitors have documented instances of companies burning down homes and using violence against people who resist them. Sugar companies like Mitr Phol, Tate & Lyle Sugars, and many others are responsible for major land grabs and forced evictions.[5] Mitr Phol is one of Coca-Cola’s top three suppliers.[6] Tate & Lyle Sugars, now owned by American Sugar Group, sells under the brands Domino, C&H, Florida Crystals, and Redpath in the United States.[7]

The European Union’s “Everything but Arms” (EBA) initiative is another external factor driving the increase in sugar production. This trade agreement invites trade with Least Developed Countries like Cambodia by eliminating duties and quotas on all imports except arms and armaments.[8] Critics of this policy say it further enriches big business and tycoons rather than helping Cambodia’s poor. Though EBA contains provisions to protect human rights, some say it has led to the expansion of the companies linked to massive land grabs.[9]

One cannot lay sole responsibility for land grabbing on any single party. Everyone along the supply chain—sugar companies, intermediaries, and consumers—as well as governing bodies are all complicit at some level. Though this makes for a complicated situation, layers of responsibility provide many points of entry for mitigating the negative impact on Cambodians. Consumers have a voice—both in how we spend our money and what we communicate to companies. Sugar manufacturers and companies must ensure ethical practices are followed in the procurement of their sugarcane. Banks that fund these large projects must attach conditions to their loans, ensuring that the companies honor human rights. The government must protect its citizens and work for solutions to existing land conflicts. It takes effort at every level to ensure the rights of Cambodians are respected.

Advocacy is also happening on the ground from those who are closest to the land. Nongovernmental organizations and affected communities are collaborating to raise awareness of what they are calling “blood sugar.” The Clean Sugar Campaign is one example of a joint effort to promote the interests of local farmers and communities, document and end abuses, and seek justice for those involved in land disputes. With the experiences and capacity of Cambodians at its core, this kind of grassroots organizing amplifies the voices of impacted communities.

Finally, Cambodians are not silent. A growing number are mobilizing to protect their land, forests, and livelihoods. Community representatives are signing petitions and meeting with companies to voice their concerns. They are traveling long distances—sometimes by foot—to protest in the capitol. Building Community Voices, a current MCC partner, facilitates exchanges between communities who are involved in similar situations. Exchanges provide communities with the opportunity to form relationships, share and learn about advocacy techniques, and see the bigger picture of land disputes in Cambodia.

Community-based advocacy is not always successful and there are risks for those who speak up. It seems the playing field is tipped drastically against the communities who lose land and livelihoods for the sake of sugar production. Nonetheless, they continue to speak up, demanding recognition from those who are complicit in their losses. Now it is up to others to listen and prevent Cambodians from paying such a high price for sugar.

[Update: The European Union launched an investigation into cases of forced evictions and violence perpetrated by companies that benefit from the EU’s trade deal. Coca-Cola and Pepsi recently adopted zero tolerance policies for land-grabbing, and Coke is supposedly conducting an investigation in Cambodia. We’ll see if any of this translates into changes on the ground.]

[1] University of California San Francisco, “How Much is Too Much?” Sugarscience, http://goo.gl/krDdFE.

[2] Open Development Cambodia, “Economic Land Concessions,” last modified August 20, 2014, http://goo.gl/cHX4Ik.

[3] Royal Cambodian Government, “Declaration of the Royal Government on Land Policy,” No. 27, July 1, 2009.

[4] The NGO Forum on Cambodia, Statistical Analysis of Land Disputes in Cambodia, 2013 (Phnom Penh: The NGO Forum on Cambodia, 2014), 22.

[5] Open Development Cambodia, “Company Profiles,” http://goo.gl/fBl1su.; Clean Sugar Campaign, “The European Union and the Everything But Arms Initiative,” http://goo.gl/vxY8gK; Kevin Ponniah and May Titthara, “Coca-Cola auditors visit sugar suppliers,”The Phnom Penh Post, February 27, 2014, http://goo.gl/Q0P7oZ.

[6] Ponniah and Titthara, “Coca-Cola auditors.”

Colors, Curry, and Justpeace in Bangladesh

 by Sara Klassen, MCC SALT volunteer at ICF (Interfaith Cooperation Forum). Sara witnesses, gathers, writes, and edits in order to help share stories of peacemaking across Asia. 


The 3rd through the 13th of November I travelled to Bangladesh with Max Ediger, my supervisor/colleague on behalf of ICF. Our first purpose was to attend and participate in the Festival of Justpeace which was planned by the ICF National Forum of Bangladesh, many of whom work with Shanti Mitra, a local peace school. MCC Bangladesh and Mati, a local environmental justice group also sponsored the event. An ICF friend suggested that I write about the things I saw, tasted, heard, listened to and felt. This was a practice Lisa Bade, a former MCC Cambodia service worker and an art resource person for the School of Peace, taught in one of her sessions with SOP. Thanks, Lisa, I’ll try it.

I saw…

so many colors. 

Participants in our workshop "Moving to Justpeace" transformed a frozen scene of conflict into their image of peace.

children's activities included the classic rainbow parachute game


Colors burst out at me and stuck in my memory. Colors are what I mention first when people ask me about my time there. Vibrant pink, red, blue, green, magenta… I guess you know your colors I don’t have to list them, but there were so many, all brighter than what seems possible. They popped from different yet matching patterns in women’s clothing in either the draping sari form (similar to India), or the shalwar kamiz three-piece shirt, pants, and scarf combo. Each outfit sports different, brightly colored patterns, no one looks the same, and rarely did I see a monotone fabric (except on MCCers, ha.). But fabric was not the only bright thing. I was surprised that even industrial dump trucks flashed colorful flowers, designs, and sometimes even lush countryside scenes. Rickshaws also could hold their own in a parade. They reminded me of an elementary arts and crafts project, but the teacher’s version—with each colored shape precisely cut and glued on the interior and exterior in a symmetrical layout, the occasional gold or silver shape glinting to attract potential customers like crows. Flashy ornaments dangle from the back of some and ribbons flutter from the handlebars of others.

the arts. DSCN3582DSCN3590Each night of the festival held cultural performances. The first night a theater group from a local university performed traditional drama and dances from several indigenous groups. I was delighted to see young people interested in and devoted to preserving their own and minority groups’ traditions. The next night reminded me of a talent show, but two to three times longer and so much more skill and ability than just a “talent” whipped out at the last minute. There was a slew of soloists accompanied by drumming, dramatic recitation of poetry, many dances and a few more dramas including the classic, no-one-planned-on-this act after the final thank yous, this one unusual in that it was portraying transgender struggles and advocating for rights. While I sat eating peanuts from a small newspaper cone, lost in the whirl of dancersnot only did I feel like I was in a movie or a dream, but also a grand celebration of a culture so rich with traditional arts and youth so excited to carry them on. The cultural performances were only one example of this. Shanti Mitra, the main planning organization of the festival is also encouraging the arts as a way to learn about and act for peace. This organization was started by the Taize brothers thirty some years ago and now functions predominantly on its own with leadership by national staff and volunteers. Shanti Mitra believes creative activities are essential in peacebuilding work. I encourage you to read their insightful ideas about creative activities and more about their  and peace classes here.

beautiful countryside, rivers, and a pink water lilly pond.DSCN3763DSCN3678DSCN3778DSCN3727DSCN3741I tasted…

curry spices right off my fingers. 


Bangladesh used to be part of India, so many cultural aspects are similar. We ate with our hands and rice and dal were basic components of just about every meal often supplemented with grilled chicken or beef and a curried vegetable dish. I drooled over thick butter nan blanketed in biscuit crumbles and enjoyed the comfort of basic bread, ruti (similar to japati), used to pinch up fried eggs for breakfast. I also ate twice as much at every meal than I would normally. I have grinch images in mind: Her stomach grew three sizes that day… There is no doubt we had thorough hosts.

sweet milk tea in tiny cups. 

DSCN3877 DSCN3872


Tea is a morning and afternoon—or really any time of the day—ritual, a great way to show hospitality. Little tea shacks nestle between other street vendors and provide thick shade like good old trees on small lane intersections. These joints are definitely a man’s world (as are most public spaces. I won’t get into gender observations but inequality felt blatant at times), so I felt super awkward and on display when I stopped for tea. To ignore the stares I focused on my own observing. I was enthralled by the habitual ease of each tea sellers’ ritual as they rinsed, flipped and scalded miniature cups, poured tea from on high, stirred in milk and plenty of sugar and swooshed out to serve from a tray in one smooth routine.

I heard…

people sing in the afternoon.

At any time of the day people broke into quiet self serenades. Our many friends at MCC, Taize brothers, and Shanti Mitra explained that Bangali culture especially loves song. After those comments my ears were heightened to hear it.

honking. traffic, imagine the honkingTraffic felt crazy, but it worked, so I’m sure there’s a system and set of social agreements in place that I could not figure out in just ten days. What I did notice is that you just go until you get stuck then you find a way around and swerve if someone’s coming at you. And you honk. Honking is everyone’s way of saying “I’m here! I’m coming! Don’t hit me!” Beep! beep-beeeep! beeeep beeeeeeeeeeeeeep!




I heard Muslim call to prayer in the morning. We got to participate in the Taize noon prayer services on both the first and last day of our time there. The chanted repetition of tunes I already knew created a spiritful, meditative space to both prepare for and then reflect on this cultural experience.

stories of struggle.

While the first part of our time there was focused around the festival, the second half we spent visiting our ICF friend’s homes and work places and communities facing social justice issues. We traveled by CNG (stands for compressed natural gas) to Birisiri, an area composed of smaller villages, where we stayed on the beautiful campus of the YMCA which our friend Biplob directs. We were to stay with his family, but his wife had just given birth to their first son (whom they named after Max) but a few days before we arrived.


The first evening we visited a YMCA volunteer worksite where they were rebuilding the river embankment to prevent flooding. Biplob showed us photos of a  rescue effort he participated in right after the most recent bad flood. He explained that flooding affects these villages every year, but when it’s really bad people stand in water up to their armpits awaiting rescue because the flood washed their livestock away, they have no means to cook, and no place to sleep. The next day we visited the YMCA’s rural clinic and school and sat with Garo people (an indigenous group) who have lived on their land for generations but do not have rights to it. They said they walk 12 miles into the mountains to harvest wood and twelve miles carrying it back on their head to sell at the market. Because they do not have land rights they cannot cut the trees they have planted on their land or even harvest the trees’ fruits lest they risk  government trouble.

Biplob was a wonderful guide, showing genuine interest in people wherever he took us, explaining to them that we just want to visit and learn about life in their place, asking questions, and  translating for us.

Taking tea

Our last day in Birisiri we drove through the countryside to see the site where clay is harvested and shipped out to produce china dishes. Here too indigenous people have been living for generations but without formal rights to the land. Now big companies slice out chunks of hillside by their homes. One grandmother we visited said 11 children have died already this year from falling from these new cliffs by their homes.

We hiked up to this house on a hill. The hillside has been chopped out to harvest china clay.

This woman told us that 11 children have died already this year from falling off new cliffs near their homes.

The workers' agent says they make the equivalent of about $1.50 for this labor.

Women carry the harvested clay uphill, transferring it to a new carrier near the top.

DSCN3954mid-throwBack in Mymensingh for our last day of visiting, we went to Biplob/Mijanu’s family home and visited the national park forest. The government wants to make an ecopark there to preserve the land, but to do this they would force indigenous people off of their ancestral land.

Unfortunately land rights have become a point of conflict all over this dear globe. But that is not the only story of this place, I also heard

someone playing flute across the road at night.

I felt…

cool air and shivery cold showers.

I didn’t have to use a fan at night and wanted a heavy blanket!

uncomfortable as people stared and would not stop staring even when I made eye contact. According to our friends there, Bangali people are known for their curiosity. Friends said it is expected that any stranger on the street may come up to you ask what you’re doing and tell you how to do it better. The staring made me uncomfortable, but it triggered important thoughts about how tourism promotes a kind of consumerism with our eyes. I am a part of this whether I like it or not. As much as I try to live alongside a culture, whenever I travel, even inside the country and observe new sites and people I am the one staring. Being stared at was a helpful reminder of how important it is to engage with people when possible rather than just take pictures or stare.

incredibly thankful.

It’s just about thanksgiving and I have a lot of gratitude to express. I am thankful to travel to other countries and learn from experiences like the ones I am having this year. That I get to do this with MCC and ICF who emphasize building relationships as first priority is an extra treat. I am so grateful to the people who donated to help me do SALT, all the coordinators and staff that make the SALT program run smoothly, to ICF for giving me this placement that requires I travel to meet even more incredible people, and to so many loved ones who are sending e-mails, making Skype calls, and praying to encourage and support me.

encouraged (water of the heart rising) and inspired by young people working for peace and well-being in so many ways in so many parts of this world.