Monday, August 11, 2008

An open letter about health to the Vacation Church School children in Bakersfield, CA

From Katherine, a missionary from California to Cambodia, and Irene, a missionary from Zimbabwe to Cambodia,

To our sisters and brothers in Bakersfield who have received a faith as precious as ours through-your relationship to our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. We write to you today with the words of the Apostle Peter when we say: God's divine power has given us everything needed for life.

While we have been eagerly preparing to write to you about the faith we share, we have also been busy hosting a Medical Outreach Clinic this week.

We were visited by a team of volunteers from a Methodist church in Singapore who came to Cambodia this week to help us host a Medical Outreach Clinic. It was the first time for the people from Singapore to visit a Cambodian village and so they were shocked by the poor conditions of the people living there. But they were eager to share their skills and gifts with the people, just like you have been eagerly sharing your skills and gifts this week at your local mission site.

Cambodian pastors from two different villages worked with the local government officials to arrange for us to use a medical clinic building that has been all but abandoned because the government has only hired one midwife to serve the medical needs of the villages in a two mile radius. Many people came to help us host a free one-day clinic: one doctor from Singapore, one from the Philippines and 2 from Cambodia joined together with five Cambodian dentists and a big group of volunteers from Singapore to run a pharmacy. I worked to register people as they came and Irene coordinated the triage nurses and worked with people needing help to get further care in Phnom Penh. Over 320 people were able to visit with a doctor or a dentist!

After they see the doctor or dentist, people go the pharmacy where they receive free medicines. For the children, we also make sure that they get a de-worming pill and vitamins.

The pastors and members of the two churches are eager to help their community to improve its health. This next week they will continue to visit the sick and to teach the poorest people in their community how to continue to get frees health care through the government "equity program". It is a very slow process for the pastors and the people to become comfortable with the system and learn how to get care. Slowly, we hope to help the pastors advocate with the government to hire a full time doctor to work in this clinic.

Irene tells the story of how it took Rev. Bunny almost two years to learn how to advocate for health care for her community. One step before we can organize a free clinic in the province is to request permission from the Provincial Health Department. In 2007 Irene invited DS Rev Bunny to make this request of local government. Bunny replied "I cannot go there to ask permission; they don't like us (because we are Christian), and they are so difficult. If you want, you (Irene) can go alone." And with Rev. Bunny's kind permission, Irene went alone to the government offices and made all arrangements for the medical clinic, which successfully treated patients in two villages.

Irene has continued to work with Rev. Bunny and pastors from the villages to educate them about how to access government health services. Here is a conversation that Irene and Thy had about the challenges in this work.

Irene: Do you think pastors believe me when I say that the government will provide health services for the poor from their village if they bring them to the provincial hospital?

Thy: No, they never believe you, they think the government will do this for you because you are a foreigner, but they won't do this for a Khmer (Cambodian) person.

Last month, after many training workshops and visits with the pastors, Irene again invited Rev. Bunny to visit the Provincial Health Department. This time Rev. Bunny and her husband Pastor Sokchieng agreed to come.

Later in the day there was a monthly district meeting. Rev Bunny said "I have been to the Provincial Health Department this morning and learned that yes the government provides free services for poor people and that the church can help poor people understand and show them where to go. We have limited resources as the church, and so on our own, we cannot help all. We need to help people get what the government is providing."

How powerful it is to walk along side people and see the changes in attitudes, building relationships and trust so that we can partner to do the best work.

It is so excited that we get to work together to make a better world. The volunteers from Singapore are helping. Your missionaries in from California and Zimbabwe are helping. The people in Cambodia are helping. And you, in Bakersfield are helping. We are all working together to build relationships. And, bit by bit, everyone learns about God and grows in their ability to help each other.

An open letter about cows to the Vacation Church School children in Bakersfield, CA

From Katherine, a missionary from California to Cambodia, and Thy our brother in Christ Jesus here in Cambodia,

To the church in Bakersfield:

Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We write to you again with the words of the apostle Paul when we say that we give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters. And this is right to do, because we know that during this time together of Vacation Church Camp your faith is growing and the love of each one of you for one another is increasing.

Mr. Thy and I heard that you will be visiting a farm in Bakersfield this week. You will get to see how we grow food to eat in the United States. What did you eat for breakfast this morning? We had rice noodle soup. What will you eat for lunch? How about dinner? We will have rice with some stir-fry vegetables and fish, the same as other people living here in Cambodia. In Bakersfield, most people probably eat cereal and bread and pasta, but in Cambodia we eat rice – LOTS of rice. So, the farmers have to grow the rice. About 85% of the people living in Cambodia are farmers.

When you visit a farm in Bakersfield, you will probably get to see a tractor. Tractors are very helpful for farmers. But, a tractor is very expensive (you can ask how much one costs). Most farmers in Cambodia cannot afford to buy a tractor. Actually, I have only seen one tractor since I came here. So, how can farmers prepare their land to plant rice? They use two cows to pull a plow! But even a cow is expensive. One local cow costs about $400, and most people in Cambodia earn less than $2 a day, so it can take a lot of time to save the money needed to buy a cow. But, even if you get one cow it is not enough, you need to have two cows to pull your plow. What can you do?

One of the activities of the church in Cambodia is to start a "cow raising group" in their local village. The community members form a group to help each other raise a cow. They choose one group member to be the caretaker of the cow. The CHAD project sometimes helps by giving the group a gift-loan to buy a cow or two. Then, the group can share with their neighbors and everyone can plow their field and do other farm chores. When a baby calf if born, they choose a new member to be the caretaker of the cow. After the caretaker has passed on two baby calves to other members of the group, the cow becomes the property of the caretaker. We call this "passing-on-the-gift". One church in Cambodia told me they now have 8 cows that their members share with each other!

Mr. Thy is one of the Cambodian staff members in my office. Here is a story that he told me about one cow raising group.

Living in Atsue village, Sombor Commune, Prasth Sombor District, Kompong Thom Province, Mrs. Morm Khy, a 55-year-old- widow is dreaming to own a cow one day to help her family farm the small plot of land that was left in her possession after a divorce in 1995. The divorce left her only with 1000 square meters of rice land and three young children. Since then, she became the breadwinner of the family and all the heavy burden of caring her children fell on her. To supplement the 72 kg of rice she harvested from her very small plot of land, Morm Khy has to work as farm laborer where she earns a meager wage of 5000 reils or $1.25 per day.

One year later, in 1996 her hope was restored when she joined a Christian community in her village. That group of people provides her a lot of support, even inviting her to be a member of the cow raising group project. Being one of the poorest families in the group, Morn Khy was chosen to be the one of first recipients of the cow gift loan from CHAD.

She said that since owning a cow her situation has changed significantly. First and foremost, she benefits from building a good relationship with her neighbors who help her feel that she is not alone and who stood by her side during times of troubles and difficulties. For Morn Khy, owning a cow means she only needs to borrow one cow from her neighbor in order plow her field and transport firewood from the forest to her house. In the same way, she told that owning a cow also gives her the ability and opportunity to help her neighbors by letting them borrow her cow. According to her, she saves 30,000 riels for transporting firewood and about 1,500 riels/day for vegetables she harvest from her garden that has been fertilized by manure from her cow.

Another benefit she mentioned from owning a cow is it affords her to be more productive or keep her busy at home. For instance, with cow manure she started doing compost, cleaning the area surrounding her house, and growing a vegetable gardening--watering, cultivating the soil, and fertilizing it. According to her these works help her overcome her boredom, and also help her to be industrious. She said, "these benefits also enable me to keep sending my 18-year-old youngest son to school till now." With her smile, she expresses her joy even though she is working hard, Morm Khy said that she would like to say thank you for all the support from my church and the cow raising group that chose me to be first person to receive the cow gift loan from CHAD.

An open letter about water to the Vacation Church School children in Bakersfield, CA

From Katherine Parker, United Methodist Missionary who has been sent from California to Phnom Penh in the Royal Kingdom of Cambodia in Southeast Asia.

To the community of God that is in Bakersfield, to the children and youth and adults who gather this week for study and prayer and work and celebration, together with people from around the world who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and Jesus the Christ.

I want to say hi to you with this formal greeting in the style of St.Paul's letters to the churches throughout the Mediterranean, to remind us that the church has always been more than a group of people in our own town with which we get together on Sunday. Rather, it is a community of people around the world who believe that we are called to love God and to love our neighbor. And, whether we see each other every day or every few years or we never get to meet, we are still a family, a community that supports each other to be the best that we can be.

I grew up in a town in California very similar to yours, participated in Vacation Church School in the summer like you, and then went to college to study biology. Now I live in Cambodia where I work as a missionary for our church.

And, one of my jobs now is to teach both children and adults about clean water.

Do you know what bacteria are? This is part of what I teach in Cambodia. Bacteria are very, very, VERY small creatures. Some bacteria can live in the water; and some bacteria can make us sick if they are in the water we drink. But we can't easily see bacteria because they are so small! So, how do we know if water has harmful bacteria in it?

In America, we have scientists who help us. They test the water, and if there are any bacteria in it, they kill them, and send us fresh, clean water through the pipes into our homes. But this is not the case everywhere; most people in Cambodia don't have water that comes into their homes through a pipe.

Right now, it is the rainy season in Cambodia. Every other day in the afternoon, the wind starts to blow and the clouds creep in and we have a fantastic rain storm with thunder and lightning. Many people here in the countryside have roofs made of leaves. They try hard to save their money to buy a metal roof. A metal roof makes a lot of noise when the rain comes and it is hot in the sun, but if your roof is metal rather than made of leaves, you can collect the water that comes off the top into a jar! If you keep the jar clean, this is very good water to drink.

How do you stay clean and prevent the spread of diseases? One part that is very important is to wash your hands, especially after you go to the bathroom or play with an animal. One of the games we play is about how to wash your hands. We practice washing our hands for 20
seconds to kill all of the bacteria. One way for the children to learn how long they need to wash their hands is to learn a song they can can sing while washing. But, let's get back to the water.

In the dry season, it doesn't rain for weeks and weeks, so then you want to have a well where you can get water to drink and to wash. Most wells are "open"; this is not so good, because then
leaves and dead frogs and other things can get into the well and then more bacteria that can make you sick also get in. Some wells have a cover on them; this is much better, but sometimes the bacteria can still get in . Just like in America, if we know that the bacteria are in the water, then we can treat the water to kill the bacteria.

One way we kill the bacteria is by boiling the water. But, families in rural Cambodia don't have a nice gas stove or electric tea kettle; they have to collect wood to heat the water. Whose job do you think it is to collect the wood? The kids! Can you imagine if you had to go outside and look for wood for an hour everyday before you went to play with your friends? Not much fun. So, it is good to know which water has bacteria and which water doesn't.

I work with people here in Cambodia to test all of the water sources that they have. We test the rain water in the jars, the deep well water, the shallow well water, the pond water, the water in the rice fields and the water that people filter or boil. Then we can count the bacteria from the different sources. Here are some pictures of the water we tested. Can you tell which is best to drink?

From Rice-banks in Banteay Meanchey and Battambong

There are many people in Cambodia who are teaching about clean water. What we are doing is important for two reasons. First, it helps people to see, often for the first time, that there are actually bacteria in water that looks clear and beautiful. Second, it gives people here a tool so that they can monitor their water supply the same way that scientists in America monitor our water supply. This way, if the community knows that its water is clean, then the children can spend their time going to school and playing with their friends, rather than collecting fire-wood.

And you are part of this too. Every time you drink a glass of clean water from your kitchen sink you can remember how wonderful it is to have good water come right into your house. We know that it will be great when everyone in the world has clean water just like we do, but how is that going to happen? It will happen because we learn together and work together. And that is what the church is. We are a group of people who support each other all over the world to work together to help our neighbors. You help your next-door-neighbors right there in Bakersfield and you help your neighbors in Cambodia to have clean water through your prayers and learning and gifts.

I am strengthened each day with the knowledge of your faith and the ways you show caring compassion to each other and to your neighbors.