Servants Laughing GirlCambodia has a tragic past with 25 years of war (through 70’s -90’s). The legacy of mistrust, fear of change and taking risks is still evident in the communities we live and work in. Yet as we live alongside those in poorer communities, we are constantly reminded of the resilience, the capacity and the potential for those within these communities to lead their people towards a more abundant life and future. In the midst of the rubbish, smell, darkness, exploitation and daily injustice, there is beauty, creativity, laughter, sacrificial care and love. The kingdom of God breaks through in unexpected places. Our current Servants team builds on the learnings and relationships of earlier workers and community people of peace who have been connected to Servants Cambodia over the last 20 years.

In 2013 it seems like Cambodia is literally “developing” in front of our eyes. Building, development, foreign investment, infrastructure projects and ambitious engineering feats are proudly announced from Billboards and Government departments. In Phnom Penh, everywhere you go, you can hear the sound of building. Half the population is under 25. There is a growing student population and access to education is increasing. Cambodia is a nation changing and seeking to make its name. However, the benefits of this change are not shared amongst all Cambodians. There is a growing middle class but the gap between rich and poor is widening. Cambodian prisons are amongst the most over-crowded in the world. Human rights defenders imprisoned last year doubled compared to the previous year. 150000 people have been evicted from their land in Phnom Penh city over the last 20 years with the rate of evictions growing exponentially in the past 5 years.

In amongst the many international and local NGO’s as well as  government programs that are seeking to support the development of Cambodia, Servants Cambodia team is seeking to live out our call to wholism, simplicity, servanthood, community and incarnation within the urban poor communities of the nation’s capital, Phnom Penh. We seek to follow Jesus here and join where God is working.

Living and working in urban poor communities also provides everyday encounters with injustice and the powerlessness that inequality brings. Servants Cambodia team members are active in Advocating for peace and social justice and supporting human rights, especially by facilitating a bridge between Christian communities and human rights communities.

Living in urban poor communities in Phnom Penh our neighbours face issues of injustice, low employment, barriers to accessing schooling, healthcare and legal information. In our journey alongside our neighbours, we see a large part of our role here as encouragers of the People of Peace: those within our communities who have a heart to serve those around them. Where there is a church we seek to build relationships and work alongside what God is leading them in.

Justees Website Photo SmallWe believe the greatest resource of a community is its people and so we seek to mobilise local church volunteers and community workers. We try to identify people with compassion and provide them with training, encouragement and seed resources so that they are empowered to bring Jesus’ love to their poor neighbours. Our involvement in our communities has shaped the projects our team is currently involved in.

In our work with the poorest of the poor, we recognise that they have much to offer towards their own development. Like the widow with her two mites and the boy with just a handful of loaves and fishes, the poor are not exempt from contributing – they have valuable and important resources to bring to the table as well. We ourselves also want to be learners and encouragers, rather than coming in with our own agenda for how to solve the issues. Because we want to maximise the impact of our limited resources, Servants’ development interventions start small within the slums rather than with institutions and big buildings.

While Servants Cambodia’s focus is on relationships rather than programs, through our mentoring of the people of peace, some grass roots projects have emerged within the communities within which we live. These come under the name of “Social Development Among the Poor”. These include Homework Clubs, family support for kids’ education, literacy & life skills development class, and a social enterprise called Justees. Each of these projects is strongly linked with the local church and is shaped by the Cambodian people involved.

Social Development Among the Poor Projects

Our communities are blessed with many capable and compassionate Cambodians who have a heart to see the lives of those around them transformed. Working with both youth and elders from our local church, some small initiatives have been birthed and multiplied. Together we would love to see a positive cycle within the local communities, where youth are empowered to be role models for the younger children, adults are actively involved in their children’s lives, and children grow up equipped to be leaders in their communities. We dream to see children and youth empowered to make good choices that impact their lives through a wholistic approach to education, including encouraging learning environment, role modeling, school support, home visits, and both formal and informal mentoring. We see working with families as really important, so teachers and advisors have regular contact with each family as well as the wider community networks. We encourage families to value education and inspire students to serve their community.

    The role of servant workers is to mentor and encourage the Cambodians leading these different activities. It’s really exciting for us to see the growing passion, skills and confidence of those emerging leaders.

    These clubs consist of groups of 10-15 children that gather daily to informally review their lessons learned that day at public school, read books together, and do other educational activities that promote positive peer-interaction, exposure to good role models, and a nurturing learning environment. These are led by young people from within the community that are positive role models, and they function as facilitators and are responsible for preparing different activities for the children.

      Teachers are responsible for communicating with the parents of the children regularly to encourage the family to participate in the children’s learning process, as well as liaising with the local schools.

        In 2013 we have around 70 kids involved in groups across 3 communities.

        This program seeks to support children who are really keen to study but raising the daily school fees is too difficult for their family. The target group is children whose families already have a commitment to their children’s education and already tangibly supporting the education of their child. For children that are behind on their school or need extra help, we hope to provide extra tutors within their community that can be a support to help boost their school grades. This program includes home visits and intends to liaise closely with the classroom teachers and families in monitoring and evaluating the child’s progress both within the classroom and the tutorial setting.

        This component focuses on both formal and informal mentoring youth in the community so that they will be adequately informed about their study and career options. This may include university and skills training information day, regular peer groups, internship/exposure programs, and volunteer opportunities to give back to their own community.

        Parents and community are two major players that influence a child’s development and learning experience. We hope to network with those that are already passionate about education and hold workshops to empower them to be active in the children’s lives. This may include book reading workshop, toy making workshop, community clean up activities and parenting seminars.

        Develop teaching resources and support for parents and teachers of children in Early Childhood (0-6 years). For example develop books, games and informal lesson plans which assist children’s learning. We work alongside 2 community preschools run by their local churches.

        These lessons including English, positive image and values, and issues of hygiene and health and other life-skills to help the students at school and in future work places.

        Living in poverty renders families vulnerable to many dangers. Yet these same families have many personal and social resources that can make them less vulnerable. Using the arts we are building skills of resilience such as self-esteem, altruism, curiosity and cognitive ability so as to help these young people have better opportunity to overcome their difficult circumstances.

        Justees is a t-shirt screen printing social enterprise. It began as a meeting point of 2 passions – promoting Justice and Working with Cambodian men. Men in Cambodia are a crucial target group as there are not many NGO’S working with men, even though many issues within families and communities in Cambodia often are caused by men, such as domestic violence, alcoholism, gambling, and unemployment. The program intends to work with the young men until they finish their study with the goal of empowering them to lift their families from the poverty cycle. Justees mainly works with men who have a past history of drug abuse, and all of our men are from urban poor families.

          The young men have training in skills of t-shirt printing and ongoing mentoring and informal teaching of business and other life skills. The youth produce t-shirts within a t-shirt printing social enterprise that provides work experience, training, and life skills for young Cambodian men. The money that they receive from employment is to be used to further their study at the public school. Our youth worker works with both the participating youth and their families, visiting them regularly in their communities.

            All money generated is used to fund this project “Social Development among the Urban Poor” or similar endeavors which empower Cambodian youth.