Katie McCallum is in Cambodia for two weeks with Tearfund’s Transform programme. This is he first of her posts from the border town of Poipet.
After what feels like weeks and weeks of travelling to get here, I’ve finally made it. Poipet, Cambodia; home to Tearfund’s partner, Cambodia Hope Organisation (CHO), who I’ll be spending the next two weeks with.
The assault on my senses as I crossed the border was enough to make me regret eating everyone else’s meal on the plane as well as my own. The stench of the streets, the sticky heat and blaring traffic. But it was a small girl, about six or seven, who caught my eye. She was picking through a litter bin to find something to eat. In my mind’s eye I pictured my own God-daughter, who is seven years old and rarely goes hungry for more than five minutes. I was struck by a question: ‘How do I live in a world that accepts the fact that a child on one side of the world should never go hungry, while at the same time allowing the child on this side of the world pick through rubbish bins in the hope of feeding her hungry belly?’ This is certainly going to be a thought-provoking trip.
CHO is an incredible organisation. Poipet is home to approximately 150,000 Cambodian work-seekers, desperate to make enough money to feed their families. Many of these try to find work in Thailand, whose border is just a mile down the main road. Many fail, forcing them to live in slum-like conditions while their children to work long hours in manual labour jobs, begging and sometimes the sex trade. It is in the midst of the dusty, dirty streets that CHO stands, a haven of peace and restoration.
CHO works to free the local community from material and spiritual poverty, mainly by giving them the skills to work. They run a sewing school, bakery, salon, massage parlour, agricultural programmes, safe school, and much more – all the while loving those who are broken. Women who have worked all their lives prostituting themselves to feed their families are taught to sew, and are kept safe from those who would seek to hurt them. Children whose parents don’t have enough to feed them are taught to read and write and love the stories of Jesus. Like I said, CHO is an incredible organisation.
I left at the end of the day feeling massively overwhelmed. By the scale of the need here in Poipet; by the sheer number of children in the world picking through litter bins while I have more than I need. And I found myself asking: ‘What is God really asking of me?’. He wants my whole life, and that’s why I’m here. Because right here, right now, nothing else seems good enough.