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Reflections on my time in Cambodia

So I’m finally over the jet lag, the swelling on my leg has gone down and I’m (nearly) unpacked. It’s hard to sum up in a post all of my reflections on the amazing things I’ve experienced over the past 10 days. Cambodia is a country full of contradictions, a land of immense beauty, friendly hospitality, incredible food and also pain, poverty and deep scars from a brutal past. I’m so thankful I got the opportunity to visit such an amazing place and I think it’s changed me.

My highlights definitely included getting off the beaten tourist track and meeting people in their own homes, glimpsing real life away from the stereotypes and my own preconceptions. It was incredible to see the way Tearfund is working to help communities stand on their own two feet, partnering with the local church who are already there and are in it for the long haul. I didn’t see anything that could be classed as a ‘handout’, rather many efforts to support local leaders to be able to equip those around them.

The challenges

Other than a couple of ‘interesting meals' and a dodgy ankle, the main challenges of the trip for me were:

Blogging on the move

I stepped off the plane with a bag full of gadgets, art equipment and high hopes. Being faced with an internet connection that was potentially powered by one guy on a bicycle soon made me realise that all the ‘systems’ I’d put in place might not work out quite as planned! However the real challenge was blogging on the move, there was so much to see and so many people to meet that finding the time to draw away and reflect, both through my paint brush and computer keyboard, was tough. Often I stayed up late after a packed day waiting for photos to upload, squatting on the floor by my hotel room door (the only wifi ’hotspot’ in the room. It was hot.). I wanted to be able to share more, particularly the artwork side of things, but I did the best I could with the energy I had.

Persuading people to give

This was my first experience as a charity fundraiser, and to be honest I’ve found it really hard. Together we had a challenge to raise sixty new supporters for Tearfund’s work in Cambodia and at this point I hoped we would have a lot more than thirteen. I’ve realised, it’s a really hard ’sell’. Firstly, during a week where heart-wrenching images filled peoples home via Sport Relief, my photos of smiling, joyful people didn’t exactly shout ‘we need your help’. And secondly it’s a lot harder to raise money for training than tangible things like chickens, wells, shelters or medicine. Meeting immediate needs is of course important, but I’m convinced that Tearfund’s approach of empowering local communities to help themselves will make a really big difference in the long term. 

Out of everything I’ve seen this week the thing that probably moved me the most was watching a little boy in Phnom Penh pick up litter by the riverbanks of the Mekong delta. He had no shoes and was probably only a year or so older than my daughter Sophie. When I saw him, I was gutted and was reminded of something Harry, a Tearfund worker said to us earlier in the week.

For several years Harry has been working with his wife in their spare time helping people on the streets, desperately poor, who come to the city because they can’t survive in their villages. And seeing these people has made him realise that it’s not enough to help kids on the street, something needs to be done to prevent them getting there in the first place.

What I witnessed this week was not just an organisation helping people out of poverty but an organisation preventing poverty. Tearfund’s work ensures that the next generation of Cambodians will not grow up in the abject poverty that their parents experienced. Tearfund’s work ensures that whole communities learn to work together, to look out for the least among them and to embody something of the Good News that Jesus brings.

Maybe it’s my Britishness, but I find asking people to give money to be a really hard thing to do. Giving £3 a month sounds small, but when you add it up it is a big sacrifice, especially when money is tight. It’s more than giving £10 to your friend who does that charity run one time. It’s a really big ask. 

But I’m asking. Would you give £3 a month towards Tearfund’s vital work with the poor in Cambodia?

I’m in the the process of making some artwork based on my experiences of the past two weeks. For every person who gives (up to 60), I’ll post a print to say thank you. 

There are two ways you can give to Tearfund:

Text HOPE TODAY to 70444Texting this number will subscribe you to give £3 a month to See For Yourself, Tearfund. It will be added to your mobile phone bill. Tearfund receives 100% of the money. This subscription service will cost £3.00 per month until you send STOP to 70080.

Give onlineYou can donate through Tearfund’s website here.

What will this money do?If 60 people signed up for just £3 a month that could mean 70 new families in Cambodia could have their lives transformed through the Umoja process. That means 70 families who can get a better education, learn new skills and lift themselves out of poverty once and for all.