Faces of poverty: my Cambodia DEEP experience
Simon Miller was one of the participants on our Cambodia DEEP trip in January 2017 and shares some reflections about the people he met and the stories of poverty and injustice that shaped his experience.
My DEEP Cambodia experience gave poverty and injustice both faces and stories. These faces, and the stories of the people we met and connected with, embodied hardship, longing, resilience and hope.
The hardship of not receiving a fair price for their crops. The longing for their families to have a brighter future. The resilience of communities when their people leave to seek jobs elsewhere. The hope that emerges from access to clean water.
Collectively, these people and their stories taught me that the lived experience of poverty can’t be trivialised nor romanticised. It’s real, makes communities vulnerable and often chooses innocent victims.
Towards the end of our DEEP, we were taken by staff of TEAR's partner, the Cambodian Hope Organisation, to villages some distance from Poipet, a particularly poor rural area in the north-west, near the Thai border. Poipet is known for gambling and child trafficking. In one of these villages, we saw the School on the Mat in action, an outdoor classroom set up to educate children whose families can’t afford more formal education. In addition to reading and writing, the school seeks to equip children with life skills such as health, sanitation and anti-trafficking awareness.
Positioned in the middle of a dry, dusty field surrounded by farming land, we observed a teacher instructing children in numbers and words, a canopy their only protection from the heat and humidity of the early afternoon sun. As we looked on, we spoke with one of the community representatives who told us of the challenges the school faces in attracting teachers and the reality of children having to leave school at times to assist their families on the land.
At that moment, I thought about the access to and quality of educational opportunities available to Australian children, whether in rural or urban communities. I wondered whether the children at the School on the Mat could be denied potential and possibilities simply because of circumstances far beyond their control.
Reflecting on the School on the Mat, other communities we met in Cambodia, and what the Bible says about poverty, I was confronted by the extent to which the face and story of Jesus Christ is shaped by poverty. He comes into this world in circumstances of poverty, and identifies His mission as bringing good news to the poor. He entrusts his kingdom to those who are poor in spirit and to those this world considers least. He chooses to work through the lowly - and, for our sake - trades in his wealth to make himself poor.
Having now returned to Australia, my prayer is that the people I encountered and stories I heard in Cambodia will weave their way into my every day, prompting me, challenging me, making me uncomfortable and inviting action. In recognising and responding to these prompts, challenges, discomfort and invitations to action, my prayer is that Christ’s face and story of poverty would ever so more shape my journey with him.
TEAR’s DEEP (Development Education Exposure Program) trips help our supporters go deeper in their journey of faith and understanding of community development, poverty and justice. TEAR is currently planning two 2-3 week DEEP trips in January 2018 to Cambodia and Nepal. There is also an opportunity to travel with TEAR in 2019 to India for a special 7-week trip. Find out more and register your interest. www.tear.org.au/act/deeps