Dear friends, This past week saw the flooding in Cambodia finally receding and highways open so that I could travel. A few weeks ago was the beginning of the new school year here in Cambodia. Like all things, education for the children is an education for all of us at Tabitha. When we started building schools in our communities several years ago, we were not aware of how few of our children actually attend school. For primary school children, about 20% attend at least two years of primary school – sometimes three in their lifetime – at secondary level this drops to less than 8%.
Dear friends and partners, This week is Pchum Ban Festival in Cambodia. Pchum Ban is equivalent to the Christian holiday of Christmas in significance for the people here. It is the time that Cambodians have to honor and remember their parents and grandparents who have passed away. There are very specific ceremonies that need to be completed in the 15 days prior to the actual Pchum Ban day itself. The belief is that people must honor their parents/grandparents by going to seven different pagodas and bringing gifts of food to the monks. On Pchum Ban day itself, everyone must bring a variety of cooked foods plus a variety of dry foods to the pagoda before 11 o’clock in the morning. At that time, all offerings must be completed and the monks sit down to eat.
Dear friends and partners, This month marks the end of another program year. It’s been a phenomenal year thanks to each of you. This year we were privileged to be able to work with 33,466 families with 267,728 dependents in community development as well as 641 families with 5,128 dependents in cottage industry. Let me share just a few highlights if I may.
Dear friends and partners, It’s a bit of a hard newsletter this morning - I have been diagnosed with early stage breast cancer - prognosis is excellent - but the process is a bit daunting. What it all means is that over the next 3 months - my life will have its moments - it also means that the Tabitha staff are stepping up to the plate and carrying out all the work with renewed vigor - I do have excellent support from Dr Doug and Jude, Tabitha Australia and from AnLee and Valerie, Tabitha Singapore, my family in Canada and my doctor, Laura here. In short, I am very blessed with excellent medical care and support.
Dear friends and partners, Happy Khmer New Years everyone. You know Khmer New Years is one of the big holidays here, a time when all Cambodians travel home to be with family and friends. A time when those who came before and have passed on our remembered and honored. It’s a time for festivities, eating and dancing and buying new clothes. Khmer New Years is a very important time of the year for all Cambodians.
Dear friends and partners, Every so often we have one of those moments in Tabitha. Yesterday, I had several of those moments. Srei and I traveled to Banteay Meanchaey to see the progress in the new areas. The visit was anticipated by Kameak, Long and Touk, our staff there. They had gone through several frustrating years of working with families who had been slow to respond – primarily because the areas were next to the Thai border and troubles kept flaring over the disputed temples. A sense of fear and insecurity kept the families away.
Dear friends and partners, Happy New Years everyone. May this year be a blessing for each of you. I started the New Years in Bangkok, celebrating with my daughter Miriam – who is now 11 years old. Like most people, a new year signifies for me new beginnings – some not so smart. Miriam wanted so much to go to the Siam Water Park and so off we went. Silly me agreed to go down the biggest waterslide which had all kinds of loops – at first Miriam hung on but with my weight – I started to go much faster than either one of us thought was fun - I went so fast I thought I would flip over the side – so I did what any sensible person would do, I closed my eyes and promised my God all kinds of things if I survived –I went through water spots which went up my nose – and I slid with abandon from side to side – would this ride never end - I landed in the pool at the end - which I thought was not the end - so I actually sat underwater for about 20 seconds which got the life guard down from his chair and screaming - my little mind finally said to my little body - its over - you better stand - which I did - much to everyone’s, including me - relief. A New Year’s resolution – never again a water slide!
Dear friends and partners, This week marks the end of the first UN held Khmer Rouge trial of Duch – the infamous head of Toul Sleng – a torture and death chamber of more than 14,000 Khmers. Duch has said he is guilty and he has said he is sorry, but these words have little meaning for the survivors for he also says “I was just following orders”. There is no remorse.
Dear friends and partners, Yesterday was a day to remember. I received some snail mail – a booklet of thoughts about a Tabitha Housebuilding Trip – it was compiled by fifty grade 8 students who had come to build 20 houses this year. I had just finished orientation with two teams who are building this week and I felt a bit drained. I started to read this booklet and my spirits rose. I decided to take this booklet home with me – last night, my daughter Miriam and I read the entries- we hadn’t gotten very far before tears flowed silently down her cheeks. She snuggled closer against me and together we had a magical hour – both of us realizing how very fortunate we are to live the life we live. I would like to share an excerpt from this booklet – it is my way of honoring each and every one of you who have come and built houses for so many.
Dear friends and partners, I am sitting here in my office listening to the patter of rain – rain and more rain – this summer has been the summer of rain. First, our time in Canada this summer left us 7 days of sunshine in one of the coldest, rainiest of summers in a long time but we enjoyed all that Canada had to offer. It was very good.