The time in Japan after Cambodia, this January, was special because it had been exactly three years since I had last visited family in Japan. Three years since I overloaded with rice, fish, Japanese snacks, and tasted all my favorite Japanese food in the short span of two and a half weeks. It had been three years since I used a fancy toilet.Read More
Visual Storytelling Album Pt. II
The #HCinCambodia project wrapped up a couple weeks ago. However, to paint a much clearer picture it is just getting started. The pictures and videos below only capture a fraction of the hope and joy that we pray this farm will yield in years to come for the rescued sex-trafficked girls and the community that it will host.
The initial investment in infrastructure is rigorous and demanding. Nonetheless, this is merely the first step and perhaps the easiest part. Laying a good foundation is paramount and this is the reason for the two-month commitment that we made to build and oversee development in Cambodia from November to early January. New cultural context, new management contacts, new soil, we needed this time to ensure our foundation was solid and that we really designed a system that considered both the cultural and ecological needs of the community.
We made an investment in the future. Unfortunately, we were not able to see a large majority of the fruit of our labor by the time we waved goodbye to our farm managers. We did see some eggs scrambled and egg drop soup sipped, but we realize much of the investment of a sustainability project like ours mimics most of the process of the hundreds of fruit trees and various crop varieties we planted on the farm. It takes years of maturation and care to grow its root structure and produce beautiful fruit.
I have never had kids, but I imagine the process we experienced in Cambodia is a similar process. You raise and train rigorously. You share laughs, swell with pride, and cry in heartbreak. You see a large amount of growth. You have a small window in the first 18 years or so of their lives (in our case two months), and then you have to trust that all the training, instruction, care, and love will yield a return. Yield a return for them and those they touch, their children, grandchildren, neighbors, workforce and many more.
Our sustainability community projects are only as successful as our farm managers and workers. They only truly become sustainable sources of food and microfinance once we leave their side and allow them the space to grow on their own. And that is the thing we are most excited about for this project in Cambodia, the farm managers we were able to cultivate. The trust built and relationships facilitated.
The most exciting relationship established while in country is the relationship between the local agriculture university through recent graduate, Pisal, and our now good friend Pastor Hong, who runs several local orphanages in the neighboring city and pastors a significant group of churches in Kampong Cham. Pisal and Pastor Hong, both key players, deliver an unfaltering commitment to excellence and developing their communities. They both show a selflessness and genuine "greater than themselves" care for the purpose of this project: to feed and empower the rescued girls. Pastor Hong already runs several orphanages and churches. His humility and hospitality on par with Mother Theresa and his zeal matching Bonhoeffer, we think all this makes for a sure recipe for success.
We look forward to sharing updates on the Cambodia project over the next year and coming years because they will tell us truly how successful we were with this project.
For more details on the Harvest Craft Cambodia Project or other sustainability projects. Click below.
A few things have happened in the last several weeks. I figured the easiest way to share them is through A VISUAL STORYTELLING ALBUM of sorts. (BELOW)
I know these last couple posts have not been ponderings per se, but the images are elements that have caused me to ponder. I hope these images cause you to ponder like they have for me.
We have experienced Cambodia in new ways and continue to be humbled every day by the new things we learn. It's funny how almost always when you are removed from the comfort of the familiar, learning is maximized 10x. Realistically, it's probably more than that. It’s probably 10x10x4x6, equaling, if my calculations are correct, 2400 learning moments. This is just a rough estimate, but sounds about right for learning moments on the trip thus far.
We learned up close and personal about the significance of the Mondul Kiri forest for the flourishing of the elephants and the health of the people of Cambodia. We learned that smiles, laughs, and good food make up for language barriers. We learned that when an estimate for an order delivery is a week, expect three weeks. We learned that Cambodia has the highest concentration of rabies in the world (ask Geoff how he knows that fact). We learned that an awesome tuk-tuk driver, like our man, Sokha is invaluable. We learned that countless locals want to get involved in the implementation of this sustainability project and the projects long-term impact looks bright because of these strong supporters. Last but not least, we learned again that we possess zero control over the weather.
It has been raining incessantly so the building of the project has been delayed more than we would have liked the last couple weeks. However, that has allowed for more opportunities to experience the culture and do some important cultural research and relationship building in the community. One particular relationship that we are excited about is the one between the local agriculture university and the future farm manager for the project site. This will prove beneficial for the long-term effectiveness of the project and true sustainability for the rehab center.
Captured below is everything from views from tuk-tuk cabs to elephant & forest reserves to epic action shots of us moving solid concrete rings to house the lemon trees being planted on the property.
Coming soon to a theater or farm near you! (But really, we are working on a short recap film so stay tuned).
Updates from Cambodia:
We are working hard and creatively. A few new discoveries and project site delays came up, but thanks to our Auburn friends, Amanda and Evie (AKA the agriculture genius think tank), we have tackled and conquered the speed bumps, more details on the labors of international project planning to come in a future post.
Fruit trees are about to be delivered from the nursery this Thursday. We have a few truckloads of compost about to be delivered in the next couple days. Concrete should be poured in the next week for the chicken coop and the fish tank. Things are happening here. Thank you again for all the support and prayers.
We have been at the project site for 7 days now. I know this sounds like one of those melodramatic opening lines to a survival story of a man trapped on an island with a beach volleyball as a friend, but don’t worry this post is not that at all. However, the post will be a rather blunt recounting of the last several days to give a flavor of what’s been happening in Cambodia.
Day 1: Market day. We ran all around Kampong Cham gathering supplies for our new home on the site. Pastor Poline, pictured above, was a blessing from above. If we didn't have him translating and negotiating prices, we might still be at the market. Kampong Cham is the third largest city in Cambodia so Poline was invaluable to our success on day one. We tracked the prices of the local produce in the Kampong Cham market to gain a better knowledge of the most profitable crops to grow. It was a full day of filling our tuk tuk, the Cambodian Uber, full with sleeping mats, fans, rice cookers, mosquito netting, and much more. Other activities of the day included being splattered with chicken blood from a local butcher in the market and learning how to properly make Cambodian rice. We christened the house with our first dinner on the floor with rice and vegetables.
Day 2: Project site evaluation day. We mapped the terrain and layout of the property for the project site. It sounds fancier than it was, but we did a walk around on the property and examined the soil structure and confirmed the need for an excavator to remove large amounts of volcanic rock. The soil was rich and seemed to be good for the agro-forest element of our project. Pastor Hong gathered an estimate for the grading of the site. We picked up Craig’s custom-made machete from the local blacksmith. Every team in a foreign country needs a machete, especially if you are surrounded by dense bamboo forest. I also sweeped the house fifteen times to remove our bug friends and that is a lower estimate on the daily sweep count. Geoff and I also Bear Grylls-style killed a poisonous spider that was trying to sleep with me. No exaggeration it was the size of a fist. Lots of bug guts that we still can’t get off the wall. Craig also rescued a scorpion because he thought he could eat it, but Pastor Hong advised Craig not to, don’t worry I would have stopped him too.
Day 3: Geo-terracing and grading of the project site day. We worked on deciding the layout for the setup. We worked for more than 3 hours debating and deciding design for the aquaponics system and then of course having to convert all dimensions to the metric scale because America for some reason chose to make their scale different. It was a good day overall. I managed to squeeze in some good pleasure reading to finish up the day, which doesn’t happen enough back home when I have cell service. In fact, I was able to finish an excellent book called, “In Defense of Food,” by Michael Pollan. I would definitely recommend the read. The book provided a comprehensive evaluation of the Western diet, the good and the bad, and on top of that delivered practical information and action steps for evaluating your own diet and how it might be improved. Something that I have been reflecting on lately because if I preach sustainability, then I would like to practice it in all aspects of my life. Each time we eat is a vote for some sort of sustainability or non-sustainability practice. I will stop this rant before it goes too far and simply right another pondering about this later so stay tuned!
Day 4: More geo-terracing and grading with a mix of final project planning. We worked again on finalizing project plans. We are looking to source all materials in country to make our sustainability systems truly sustainable and capable of outlasting our physical presence. The thinking is this way if any parts of the system break down, we can quickly point the farm manager to where we sourced the pieces. It takes a little more creativity of substituting different materials for what we might typically use in America. Also this day we got a table and became 20x more productive. Pastor Hong's cousin realized Geoff was trying to make a table out of bamboo. He laughed and disappeared. Somehow thirty minutes later a table appeared in our house. We still don't know quite how he achieved this feat with only his small scooter. We continue to be amazed by Khemer people and their scooter skills.
Day 5: MORE geo-terracing and finalizing project plans with a splash of making our own homemade bamboo laundry drying rack. It was time to do some laundry on day five after wearing the same shirt for seven days straight. Clothes in the tropics have a funny way of staying perpetually damp with sweat. Sorry if that was TMI, let’s just stick with our clothes stunk a little. Also if you were wondering why we keep filling our days with geo-terracing and grading. It is because we contracted out the work and needed to supervise the work to make sure it was done correctly. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to rent the heavy construction equipment to do the work ourselves in Cambodia. Part of the international project process is patience and learning that workflow is a little different from expected in other countries. In our case, a two day estimate for the grading project turned into three full days of work. No worries they finished grading on day three and we were able to evaluate our project plans more critically during this time and make some important changes.
Day 6: Internet Café and meetings day. We went into town to meet with a missionary who had some connections to people involved in agriculture in Kampong Cham. She’s lived in Cambodia for 16 years. We worked at the internet Café. Free Wi-Fi is always a game-changer. We talked to a new friend Jack over FaceTime. He made several aquaponics and sustainable farm systems in neighboring Thailand and so he was a wealth of knowledge and help. We also worked on coordinating tuk tuks for an incoming group of Auburn friends, who specialize in horticulture and look to help us with system design and implementation. Next, was the small scavenger hunt to find a tree nursery for our agro-forest. The day wrapped up with some fresh coconuts on the porch and the jack of all fruits, jack fruit, courtesy of our missionary friends . A new fruit for all of us, it tasted like Melon Hi-Chew. I like melon Hi-Chew, in case, you didn’t put two and two together. We might have made that our dinner for the evening.
Day 7: Sabbath and writing this blog post day. Currently, as I write this post we are waiting along the Mekong river to eat an authentic French pizza dinner with a group of missionaries. We arrived 6 hours early because we needed to do some work with Wi-Fi. We might have already ordered one pizza and sampled some cold local beers. Right now, we are excited for tonight and making more contacts, but even more we are excited for the future and developments of this sustainability project to equip, empower, and educate the rehab center so they can serve the rescued sex-traffic victims.
Thanks again for continuous support and prayers!
Dearest Family and Friends,
The moment you have all been waiting for (drum roll please), a little more information on the nitty gritty *Nacho Libre voice* of this upcoming sustainable farm venture in Cambodia. We are currently waiting in the airport in Seoul for the jet to fuel up to fly to Singapore and then Cambodia! Can you believe that? I know I can’t. I’ve been running all over meeting with people, grabbing mosquito repellent, shopping construction tools, dusting off old travels bags, and much more but now we're actually on our way.
SUMMARY OF THE CAMBODIA PROJECT
The Cambodia Project will specifically focus on implementing an aquaponic system, nursery, kitchen gardens, a chicken coop to produce eggs and a variety of fruit trees for long-term production. Our project will be developed at a sex trafficking rehabilitation center, where girls have been rescued from the sex trade industry in Cambodia and will undergo therapy and vocational training. The goal of the project is to both educate and create economic sustainability for the center, staff, and the girls alike.
A BRIEF HISTORY
*courtesy of Grace Opens Doors
Cambodia, a country in mainland Southeast Asia bordering Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and the Gulf of Thailand, is home to 15.2 million people. Cambodia has yet to recover from the trauma caused by the rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Cambodia is a source and transit country for human trafficking and is known as one of the world’s largest human trafficking destinations while most of the population lives below the poverty line.
Cambodia is ranked 14th in the world for modern slavery. An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked every year. 22% of human trafficking occurs for commercial sexual exploitation, of whom 55% are women and girls. Rape is increasing in Cambodia, and most victims of rape in Cambodia are children. The median age of rape victims in 2010 was 12 years old, two years younger than it was in 2007. While the majority of child sex offenders are locals, the magnitude of Cambodia’s cases of child sex tourism makes it a popular destination for offenders.
Victims of sex trafficking are often girls from poor families, who are tricked into working as prostitutes. Many girls are also sold to brothels by their own parents, often to pay off debts. A majority of the children taken into prostitution were students at the time, although children are vulnerable regardless of their school attendance. Girls who are forced to work in brothels endure regular rape and abuse and may be tortured if caught attempting to escape. Some of the girls in the brothels are only 5 years old. Trade-in virgins are also another big market, with buyers paying from $500 - $4,000 to purchase a young girl’s virginity.
Working with local leaders and Grace Opens Doors, our main partner, we are developing a rescue ministry which includes housing, healing, educational, and vocational support for the rescued women.
ABOUT THE PROJECT
Last year Grace Opens Doors purchased nearly seven acres of land in Kangpong Cham, Cambodia to develop rehabilitation homes for trafficked girls where they would receive counseling, vocational training, and educational support in a safe and nurturing environment removed from the city. Phase One of the construction will provide housing for twenty-four girls in four homes of six girls each. Each home will have its own house mother. The site will include chicken coops, a crop field, and an aquaponics center to make the project self-sustaining.
In addition, the site will house a school, which will provide free education for the trafficked girls, as well as, provide another source of income for the center from the tuition of the local students. There is space to increase the size to house sixty girls. In addition to the individual girls’ homes and school, the site will include a common hall for dining and study, a prayer chapel, and other sustainability projects. The hall will also be used for recreation as well as educational and vocational training.
Harvest Craft’s Holistic Approach is…
Economy. Economic generation is at the heart of development, without it the cycle of poverty will progress. Our tactics involve a social entrepreneurship mindset. Bill Drayton encapsulates this the best when he says, "Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry." Our hopes are to truly empower people and to truly dignify them with a job.
Environment. Environmental degradation occurs out of desperation. It creates a susceptibility to natural disasters, food insecurity, and loss of marketable resources for those who live in rural areas. When treating the eco-systems with care, they will then provide necessities crucial for survival. These practices will provide for immediate needs with a long term sustainable perspective in mind.
Education. Ultimately, ignoring social injustices will result in the lack of knowledge in how to rectify them. We seek to train farmers in these underprivileged communities, along with educating humanity in how taking steps to heal the environment will break the poverty cycle. This education will result in job formation, food production, community engagement, and stewardship of the surrounding eco-systems.
Quick Facts about the fundraising:
We reached the goal of $4,000!
A total of 59 Donors and over 221 shares via social media.
And I’m guessing thousands of prayers :) So thank you!
The final bit of fundraising - So close! Only $630 to go till we reach the $4,000 mark. Humbled and unbelievably grateful for the support shown to date.
Final logistics - like various construction materials and equipment for the aquaponics system. Ask that God would provide a skillful native worker or two that we may contract for a few specialty tasks.
Health and safety - Lots of mosquitoes and mosquitoes like my blood, as well as, carry not so fun diseases like Malaria. Also I have a small hernia and so does one of my teammates. Pray that they stay put and don’t hinder our work. No problems to date and let’s pray it stays that way.
The future rescued girls attending the facility - Pray that they would not only experience physical care but deep spiritual care and life through encounters with God at the Center. Pray for the provision of excellent teachers and supervisors at the rehabilitation center once it opens in the next year.
Communication & collaboration - a underestimated but incredibly crucial part of any project. Pray that the team patience and grace would abound. We want to set aside pride and draw closer in the frustrating or difficult moments, rather than push each other away. We need unity to complete our work.
Diligence & creativity - We know things will not go exactly as planned but that is a natural part of international projects. We pray for creativity to solve problems and even divine appointments with locals who might be able to assist us on the construction of the project site. We need a concrete pourer and maybe a welder.
Thank you again for the overwhelming amount of support and prayers. I am continually humbled by the support and care you all show me. Thank you for always pushing me towards Christ and encouraging me to pursue the work He is doing in my life. I would, in all seriousness, not be where I am sitting in an airport in Seoul, South Korea on my way to Cambodia. I would not be doing the work that I am passionate about in sustainable agriculture and community development without the generous support you have shown me. I promise to be diligent and a good steward of what you have entrusted to me and look forward to sharing with each one of you when I get back whether over coffee or FaceTime!
All for His Glory,