Planting Seeds of Hope in Rural Cambodia
Ten years ago, a friend of ours talked with her hair stylist about her village in Cambodia that she had fled in the 1970’s. Nancy asked what the village might need. Her hair stylist said they needed one bicycle for the village. A shared bicycle would help take them to school, the temple, the clinic and the market. When friends heard the story, they donated funds for more bicycles. Over the next few years and trips to the village, the Cambodian Village Fund was founded providing school uniforms, English classes, a school and scholarships for girls to encourage them to continue their education. Like the parable of the mustard seed, a simple conversation led to a mission that continues to grow and thrive.
My husband and I had the opportunity to be part of a 15-person team to visit Cambodia. In the village we spent time with the families and at the school. My first career before becoming a minister was as a Kindergarten teacher. I brought a large suitcase of toys and art supplies and organized activities to help our group interact with these delightful children.
Cambodia is a country that has suffered greatly from U.S. bombs dropped during the Vietnam War but especially from the genocide at the hands of the Khmer Rouge from 1975-1979. So many people were killed that much of the Cambodian population is under age 35. The persons who survived the horrors of the “killing fields” mostly do not talk about their experiences.
Many survivors suffer from “Baksbat” which is translated as “broken courage.” While some symptoms are similar to PTS, Baksbat is a unique cultural response to trauma that includes avoidance and the inability to speak out.
Cambodia is primarily a Buddhist county. We had the opportunity to work with a wonderful monk who helps oversee the Cambodian Village Project. We learned much about the Buddhist faith. Some of the tenants of Buddhism are the acceptance of suffering, compassion for others, living in the present moment and a commitment to peace and a love of all people.
One thing that surprised me was how happy the people were even though they lacked so much of what we take for granted. The extended family lives together or nearby. They help and support each other. We visited the family of one of the scholarship girls whose father lost a leg from a land mine and is unable to work in the rice fields. The feeling of community and the acceptance of each person just as they are provides the villagers with a sense of belonging and connection. Isn’t this something that we all long for? I came away feeling that in many ways these wonderful people were “richer” than many of us in what really counts.
We visited several places where the older generation is teaching the lost Khmer arts such as music, dance, weaving, carving and pottery. One of the places we visited had a room of girls learning enamel painting. All the girls were deaf. The room was silent as all the girls communicated in sign language. They had their own sense of community.
Stan and I also had the opportunity to visit the many ancient sites in Cambodia. We learned the rich Khmer history that incorporated early Hinduism and Buddhism in harmony depicted in the many beautiful temple carvings. We saw the sunrise at Angkor Wat.
I learned much about the Buddhist traditions and realize how much we have to learn from each other when we treat all people with love and respect. We all experience difficult times or suffering in our lives. Hopefully we can find a way to connect to other caring, accepting and compassionate people. One of the monks who was very influential in negotiating peace in Cambodia and with the surrounding countries lived by the motto that “Peace is possible!” This peace is also something to be nurtured deep in one’s heart. Maha Ghosananda wrote:
The suffering of Cambodia has been deep.
From this suffering comes Great Compassion.
Great Compassion makes a peaceful Heart.
A Peaceful Heart makes a Peaceful Person.
A Peaceful Person makes a Peaceful Family.
A Peaceful Family makes a Peaceful Community.
A Peaceful Community makes a Peaceful Nation.
A Peaceful Nation makes a Peaceful World.
May all beings live in Happiness and Peace.