Friday, August 22, 2014

Phnom Penh, Cambodia.....Hearts Opened Wide

Arriving in Phnom Penh, Cambodia after 48 hours of travel and no sleep can be a shock to the system, especially when one has left British Columbia, Canada on a balmy summer day of about 20 degrees Celsius. The heat ( about 35 degrees) and humidity (about 90%) struck us the minute we strode onto the jet way at the airport.

The first stroll down to the river from our hotel was also a jolt to the senses. We encountered more filth and poverty than we have seen elsewhere in South East Asia. Maybe we were tired, maybe jet lag had caught us early, but our hearts were immediately smacked with the vast differences in the lives that we lead in North America to the lives led by the people of Cambodia.

The street cleaner's is 5:30am and she is already working. 

Some of this garbage will disappear during the day....but not all

This driver spends the night in his tuk tuk...he is one of hundreds that do.

We had come to Phnom Penh with several purposes:

  • to do research for Bruce's book in progress...this time a novel
  • to visit some social enterprises to do bench marking for Reaching Out, where we volunteer in Hoi An, Vietnam
  • to learn about the culture of this nation struggling to recover and rebuild after years of war and a devastating genocide
As always we have learned more than we anticipated. We have met wonderfully welcoming people, dedicated advocates for young women, children, the disabled, courageous survivors of unfathomable atrocities, hungry vulnerable children, crumbling infrastructure, stunning architecture, delicately flavoured food artistically presented, teeming streets of tuk tuks, bicycles, carts and markets overflowing with flowers.

Lotus flowers at the morning market

National Museum

On their way to class at the National Buddhist University

One of the most difficult problems in Cambodia is that of child sex trafficking. We connected with AIM ( who graciously invited us to the village of Svay Pak, a notorious centre for child trafficking. There to gather information for the book that Bruce is now writing, we witnessed the work that AIM is doing to prevent trafficking, to rescue girls who are enslaved and to restore their lives through intense therapy, education and employment.

We toured former brothels which now house their outreach programs, an employment education centre, a garment factory and a safe house for rescued girls. AIM has worked with and through the community to build a new society.

Picture taking is discouraged, but we were able to take pictures of structures and the environment. We wish that we could show you the faces of the happy families and young women and girls who are taking advantage of these programs.

Playing in the street is a mucky affair after a torrential downpour, but it is now safe.

Still a place of severe poverty, but now there is hope

Where job and life skills are being learned

Our host Chad ..a young man dedicated through his faith to eradicate the trafficking of children in this village.

Journeys of the Heart was able to leave $1000.00 with Chad's  organization to help in a small way to alleviate the crushing pain of a community in recovery. Children are still being sold throughout the region and across the country, girls to China and boys to Gulf of Thailand, but there are no longer brothels in this town.

Phnom Penh was also a place to get to know Friends International an organization based in Paris whose mission is to protect vulnerable children. We were able to visit the "commercial" arms of this social enterprise; a gift shop and restaurant where the talents of street children are featured in crafts and food service. Their website is In Phnom Penh the Friends have taken over a city block and whilst shopping in the craft shop or eating lunch one is surrounded by the happy shouts of the day care centre next door.

One of their initiatives that grabbed our attention was an awareness campaign about the misguided practice of "orphanage tourism" and the demeaning and damaging effect it has on children.

We would like you to know also about the organization that we visited today to do some benchmarking for Reaching Out.  Craft Peace Cafe also serves the disabled by providing training in Bateay Prieb. the crafts are sold on-line and in their retail store, which also features a small cafe.

Carvings and needle work nicely displayed

A photo of the workshop 

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum was almost too much to bear. Being present in the former high school which had been used by the Khmer Rouge to imprison, torture and kill thousands of those Cambodians whom the regime deemed unfit for the new society envisioned by Pol Pot, was painful.

The stark, barren rooms are lined with photographs of victims, torturing devices were on display. We met Chum Mey, a survivor of the horror who has penned a small book about his experiences.  His purpose now in life is to tell as many people as he can, before he dies, about the atrocities that he suffered, so that it will not happen again. We were honoured to meet Chum Mey and grateful to have the opportunity to bear witness to the sacrifices of his prison mates.

It has been a deeply meaningful four days in Phnom Penh.

Thanks to the home team....your thoughts, e-mails, blessings and of course your monetary donations keep us going!!!!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Goodbye Salt Spring Island......Hello Hoi An

Just six more big sleeps and then we are off again to Vietnam, with a quick visit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, before we reach our other home, Hoi An.

This is last night's Super Moon as seen from our upper deck. We will, as always, miss the tranquility of our island, our walks in the forest and by the sea, the sailing on Mahalo Nui and special times with family and friends.

But, there are many people that we are anxious to see again and some new contacts whom we have met on-line who are also there in Hoi An doing good works. We are really looking forward to being involved with our favourite projects and organizations.

Meetings are scheduled with Linda at Children's Education Foundation and at least one trip planned to visit the homes of some of the girls in the CEF education sponsorship program. So many of our faithful donors to Journeys of the Heart have designated their funds to keeping girls in school, providing library books, bicycles or medicines. As always we will be thrilled to deliver these gifts on your behalf and see the appreciative girls in their homes with their families.

This sweet family are very appreciative of the help that they receive from CEF

The growing mobile library, funded in large measure by Journeys of the Heart supporters adds depth to the education provided in the district schools and opens the girls' eyes to a bigger world.

We are in awe when we see the conditions under which these girls study. Many finish high school and some go on to university thanks to the ongoing support from CEF.

Of course we will also be involved with Reaching Out the social enterprise which we have served for the last six years. Just look at the size and strength of the team now! As the organization prospers and its reputation for the level of skill training and meaningful employment spreads, more people of disability are applying. Training scholarships and equipment purchases are the only ways ( other than volunteering as mentors as we do) that one can contribute to this organization and JOTH has consistently provided funds so that more young people can be trained to join this family.

These high intensity lamps were also a gift from Journeys of the Heart a few years ago.

The new venture for Reaching Out is the opening of a traditional Tea House where the speech and hearing impaired staff are earning rave reviews on Trip Advisor. The gracious and silent service has delighted our customers.

In addition we will see our friends at VAVA (Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange) to check on the progress of the micro-loan endeavours and to cheer them on.

So Long for can keep tabs on us through this blog and Face Book. Thanks for all your good wishes and little envelopes which have come to our door over the last few weeks

Bruce and Elaine