What’s the Environment Like for CIF Clients?
The Road and the Village
Children in Families’ provincial office is in Svay Rieng Province. It’s about two and half hours from Phnom Penh, and it used to be a heck of a drive to get there. But the Tsubasa bridge (or the Japanese bridge, as it’s more commonly known around the country) was completed in early 2015, and you can do the trip in under two hours now.
Well, it has that advantage, and the bridge itself is pretty cool. It’s a very Khmer thing to stop on it and admire the view, take a few pictures, and generally make the most of being out for a drive. So, why not?
The village itself is just a little way off National Highway 1, which runs from Phnom Penh right to the Vietnam border. You make a right and follow an elevated dirt road back into Cambodian farmlands, flanked by trees and rice-fields and isolated houses.
The Children in Families office is on your left a couple of kilometres up this road, but we’ll come back to that later. Lets start with some village photos – a quick tour. In some ways it’s unremarkable, if you’re familiar with Cambodian village life. There’s a local government office, an elementary school and a high-school. Cows tethered by the roadside, and vendors of petrol and other minor goods.
There is also the forest, as one resident proudly pointed out – it’s the only village in the area to have a forest, which makes the place feel greener and more alive than a lot of similar collections of homes. “There aren’t really any dangerous animals in there,” he said to me, “but still, don’t go in by yourself. You should take someone with you.” I stuck to admiring it from a bit of a distance.
The majority of people in Svay Rieng are still farmers, working the rice-fields as the season allows, using a mixture of traditional and more modern methods. Walking the rice fields is an opportunity to see how the work gets done, and get pointed at and laughed at a bit – this is a long way from Phnom Penh, and there aren’t many foreigners wandering around taking village photos, day to day.
As I walked, I kept a wary eye on some threatening clouds that were beginning to gather at the horizon. I wasn’t keen for a soaking, though Cambodian clouds make for excellent, dramatic skies. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t get rained on, but I did have to ride home on a wet motorbike, which is uncomfortable in it’s own special way.)
Back at the Office
The Children in Families office itself is a humble sort of building, fitting nicely into its local environment. Dogs and chickens roam around outside, and there is washing hanging on the fence. It can seem counter-intuitive at first, having a professional service in such a low-key place. But it speaks, among other things, to the way the staff live among and with the people they are supporting.
The kids Children in Families works with can be tough. They come from trauma, abuse and abandonment, and they need love, patience and time. The staff are committed both to providing those things to them, and growing in their own capacity to provide them in better and better ways. So as the rain began falling heavily outside, the Community Workers of Children in Families met together and spoke passionately about the needs of the children, the challenges they, as workers, face each day, and the reasons they persist, even in the face of those challenges.
But still, this is Cambodia, and one thing the Khmer people understand very clearly, it’s the value of sharing food to build and maintain community. So it was probably only natural that their meeting closed and moved into lunch, on the floor, around communal bowls of rice and meat.
And it was at this point, on my contentedly full stomach, that I realised it was time to head home… and found my soggy motorbike seat. Oh, and my gloves, forgotten, in a puddle by my front tire.
“Don’t worry,” one of our program coordinators told me. “Just wring them out and put them on. It’s like air-conditioning all the way back to Phnom Penh.”