Today was our last day with Koy, Reny and the team at Cambodia Care. This experience has been so moving to all of us, that I feel compelled to tell you a little more about the story of how Cambodia Care came about.
Koy was working as the Executive Director for another NGO called Teen Challenge who helps drug addicted teens to clean up and put their life back together. It is painfully important work, and Koy was very good at it, however, he had bigger plans. He wanted to reach more kids and kept pushing the organization to grow. The board was not comfortable with moving so fast and finally Koy had enough and decided he needed to resign. He told the board and they were very dissapointed and asked him to stay. He had made his decision and remained committed to it. However, knowing how important the work was he stayed in his position for three months in order to provide Teen Challenge with enough time to find a new director.
Once he was done, he needed to figure out his path forward and needed to do so quickly. He had enough money to survive for three months before being completely broke. Being a deeply religious person he prayed and fasted for 10 days. After the fast he went into one of the poorest areas in Phnom Penh near the train tracks in order to minister to the drug addicted and the prostitutes. It was on this trip that his new journey began. He met a young child who’s mother had left him and who’s father was addicted and did not know how to care for a child. He had been feeding the baby condensed milk and as a result the child was extremely frail and bordering on death. Koy and Reny already had four children to take care of, but they agreed to take the baby in order to nurse him back to health and then return him to the family.
After that experience Koy decided to fast and pray again, this time for 15 days. When this period was over he had the answer - Cambodia Care. Cambodia Care is dedicated to opening schools in the poorest areas in Cambodia in order to provide education to the kids who are otherwise left to fend for themselves and will almost certainly end up on drugs, on the street and troubled for the rest of their lives. Koy and Reny believe so deeply in this mission that even with no money in the bank and no means to begin the made the commitment to make it happen. Shortly thereafter one of Koy’s former colleagues came through with a $5000 donation to the organization and they were off and running. Fast forward to today. They are now serving three communities - all of which we toured - have opened two schools and are working on their third. They provide food, healthcare, education and are working on a plan for sustainable development for each of the communities so they can self fund the programs. When they open school #3 they will have 450 students. Their goal is 200 schools all over the country.
This was our last night in Cambodia, and Koy and Reny invited us into their home for a wonderful dinner. During the dinner they continued to share their vision for the organization and it was so hard to to be swept up in the passion energy and unbridled enthusiasm they have for their mission. Reny shared with a huge smile on her face that she dreams one day of having one of her students become Prime Minister of Cambodia, and with these two working on the project I can imagine it happening.
The time we spent with Koy and Reny was easily the most impactful of the trip and probably of our lives. The poverty we witnessed was staggering - well beyond anything I could ever imagine. I did not take photos of the worst of it because it was too uncomfortable, but the images are burned into my brain forever. To see these two bring such energy and passion to these people who the rest of the world has forgotten was one of the most touching things I have ever been in the presence of. We were so lucky to be able to give back in our small way, but in reality what we received was far more than we ever could have given.
On this day we visited the tomb village. This area is literally a cemetery which people moved into when they were displaced by a new development across the river. The village is built in and around the tombs of the Chinese and Cambodian people in Phnom Penh. When we arrived we were greeted again by all the children of the village who were thrilled to see Koy, Reny and us.
Koy showed us around the building they want to use for the school. Unfortunately we learned the day before while we were painting that the government (who owns the building) had changed their mind and would not allow Cambodia Care to lease the building. This was a big blow to Koy and we could feel his disappointment as he showed us around.
He then gave us a tour of the village. As we wandered through the area we were once again devastated by the conditions these people are living in and at the same time mesmerized by the smiles and “hello’s” coming from every direction.
When we reached the middle of the village we stopped and Koy jumped up on to a table and gave a speech. He told the village the government would not let them lease the building but reassured the villagers that they were staying and would be opening a school. When Koy announced that the people cheered and clapped and you could tell they were relieved.
Then we passed out the food we brought along with us and received many thanks for our kindness.
Koy then showed us around the rest of the village as we went door to door to pass out the remaining food. There is not much more to say, other than it was heartbreaking.
After the village we had our Tuk Tuk driver drive us around to the Palace and to the central market because we were close and were not going to have another time to see these sights. We bought a couple gifts at the central market and picked up some flowers for Koy and Reny and then went back to the hotel emotionally drained.
Our dinner with Reny and Koy was wonderful. We are so lucky to have been introduced to them and can call them friends after the three days we have spent with them. We will miss them but hope to stay connected and helpful even when we are back in Boise.