In Cambodia, those living with disabilities can struggle to earn a living. This group in Boeng Mealea has banded together to create an amazing new opportunity.
In July of 2016, my husband and I had the privilege of attending the first-ever meeting of the Savings and Loans group for people living with disabilities in Boeng Mealea, Cambodia.
And this past October (2017) I got to go back. What a difference 18 months can make!
At the heart of this transformation is relationship, trust, and education.
In the months between my visits, Cambodian Food for the Hungry (FH) staff came alongside group members, getting to know them and their desires. Staff encouraged dreaming and assisted in envisioning a hopeful future, something foreign to those living with disabilities.
This is no small feat in a country where having a disability often results in isolation, loneliness, and extreme material poverty.
Most people in Cambodia are Buddhist and believe in Karma—adopting an attitude that bad behaviour in a past life accounts for a disability in the present life. There is little room for empathy, understanding, or getting past the impairment. People are seen as their issue, not as valued human beings. People with disabilities are often seen as cursed and worthless, leaving them extremely vulnerable.
This worldview can also encourage discrimination and lack of regard for individuals living with disabilities and contributes to the ongoing cycle of despair and disparity.
Savings and Loans group meetings can happen in homes, under trees, or anywhere that is most convenient for the participants.
In Cambodia, education is extremely difficult to access for people living with disabilities. Cost is certainly a prohibitive factor, but practical realities of accessibility create insurmountable barriers. While the law states that buildings need to be readily reachable by all, little is done to ensure or enforce this, rendering those with physical limitations unable to get into educational facilities.
Access denied. Opportunities withheld. Vulnerability increased.
And it’s this exposure to risk that makes these people ideal candidates to work with Food for the Hungry, the organization who intentionally seeks to walk with the world’s most vulnerable through initiatives like Savings and Loans groups.
FH Savings and Loans groups are so much bigger than financial transactions. To lay the groundwork for their formation, FH staff worked with the community members living with disabilities to build trust and shared a vision for how working together, and keeping their money local, could benefit them.
Loan sharks are rampant in Cambodia, preying on vulnerable people in crisis, charging exorbitant interest rates, recalling loans on a whim, and adding stress and fear to those already experiencing extreme material poverty. And yet, many turn to these ill-motivated individuals because they see no alternative.
And that’s the power of a local Savings and Loans structure where neighbours pool resources, collectively make decisions on loans, hold each other accountable and, perhaps most meaningfully, support and cheer one another on.
Group meetings provide participants with a safe place to save money, take out loans, pitch ideas, troubleshoot difficulties, and receive support and encouragement from their peers.
Practically speaking, FH staff provided training in financial literacy, savings strategies, and small business management. The group received a secure lockbox, ledger, and accounting books with instruction on how to use them.
And the change began.
Each member contributed as much as they were able to the savings box—perhaps only a few cents at a time. Deposits were entered into the ledger by the designated bookkeeper, checked by another member, and witnessed by everyone sitting around on the mat at meetings.
While funds grew, brainstorming for how their collective savings would be leveraged continued.
Ideas shared, research conducted, a plan birthed. The Savings and Loans group for people living with disabilities was ready to put their learning, strategizing, and vision into practice.
Joy and pride washed over me as I met with the group again.
We shared time together discussing their road to becoming entrepreneurs. And then they gave me a tour of their store—the first of its kind.
So what happened between my visits? The Savings and Loan group met weekly with Food for the Hungry staff for learning, envisaging, and soon strategizing.
In the end, they decided on a grocery store and secured rental space for $25 a month. They sourced suppliers, stocked the shelves, and opened the doors. The business slowly grew but some of the stakeholders recognized an opportunity to reduce costs and therefore increase profit.
A piece of land on a busy highway located near a popular temple, right across from a school, became available for $35 per year. The lack of a building didn’t squelch their enthusiasm. The team banded together, contributing materials and labour as able, and constructed their own grocery store. Offering school supplies in addition to household necessities has been a stroke of marketing genius.
One hurdle the initiative needed to clear came with staffing.
Initially, the group hired someone from outside their cluster to run the store. It didn’t work out because “she didn’t smile.” So, they came together and assessed skills and abilities within their own.
Tok was voted in as the salesperson and since he’s taken over, sales have skyrocketed. He is warm, inviting, helpful, and perhaps most significant, invested. He takes pride and ownership of the store and his passion is contagious.
And what does Tok have to say about this opportunity? He told me he loves his job—the people he meets and being able to do purposeful work. He also said his wife has a new respect for him and “no longer fights him.” She is proud that he has a job and that people now look up to him.
The new store isn’t just a livelihood to these people living with disabilities.
This is a life-changing opportunity to hold their heads high and know that they are contributing to society, providing for their families, building friendships in community, and having fun in the process.
For more stories like this one, visit: http://blog.fhcanada.org
If you click on the link below, you'll find an article I wrote recently for Hope Notes, Food for the Hungry's magazine.
With love and gratitude,
I Saw it In His Smile
Clip 1. His little legs teeter and wobble as he makes his way across the grass. He pauses, regains balance, and resumes his mission toward the gravel. He loves rocks.
As he approaches the edge of the lawn, he stops but keeps looking at his goal. His left arm shoots up, palm open. He wants me to hold his hand while he transitions to the pavement.
Clip 2. This week I had day-surgery to remove two large kidney stones. As the general anesthetic wore off, the nurse kindly stated, “Okay, it’s time to get you up walking” and then proceeded to give me instructions on how to do so.
“Scoot your bottom to the side of the bed and drop your legs over the edge. Now sit there for a few minutes until you get your bearings.”
I followed orders. When the spinning room slowed to an agreeable pace, I told her I was ready to carry on. “Okay. Stand slowly and hold my arm. When you’re upright, hold onto the IV pole for balance. I’ll walk right beside you to the bathroom. Let me know if you’re feeling dizzy or light-headed.”
And off we went at a blistering snail’s pace, with me relearning how to walk again, after 50 years.
Clip 3. Our grandson is not quite 18-months old and explores his ever-increasing world, eager to try new things, and makes clear when he can do it all. by. himself. I admire his tenacity to keep getting up after lawn divots trip him, to persist with poking the squirming noodle until it’s on his fork, and climbing into the dry tub fully dressed to remind me of his love for baths. He’s becoming his own little person.
And, he also knows when to ask for –and receive – help.
My spirit is wired toward independence and toughing it out alone. Thankfully, God and life have continued to teach me the power of giving and receiving help. There is healing in community where one assists another by providing meals, phoning to encourage, praying faithfully.
But it’s difficult to support one another if we aren’t willing to be open and vulnerable about our need.
How might you reach your hand out today to negotiate a bumpy lawn’s edge, or post-anesthetic daze?
With love and gratitude,
We missed her birthday.
For the last ten years, I have met fairly consistently with a small group of women for book studies, prayer support and social outings.
In February, I set up a coffee date for the three of us to meet on the 19th. We sat around the table, shared our hearts, laughed and left knowing better how to pray for one another.
A few hours later I got a text from one of the women sharing that she’d just been reminded that it was the other woman’s birthday. On the 19th. That day.
We didn’t just miss her birthday. We were together and we didn’t acknowledge it at all! We blew it.
It feels like there was plenty of room for our friend to be offended.
I now know that she did not leave our February date brewing and pouting over our misfire. Rather, she said she chose to accept things as they were and give thanks for the chance to be with us on her special day!
When we recognized the error of our ways and apologized profusely, she admitted that she was surprised during lunch that we weren’t acknowledging her birthday (a new version of “surprise party,” I guess), which I appreciated. She didn’t deny her feelings and sugar coat the reality, and she also didn’t attempt to “make” us feel worse. Just honesty, authenticity and grace.
The experience reminded me of a sermon our pastor recently preached on giving up our right to be offended.
Pastor Craig shared an illustration from Andy Stanley by placing three music stands on the stage. The left one held a sign saying, “Expectations,” the right, “Experience,” and the middle a placard with “Believe the best” on one side and “Assume the worst” on the other.
He explained that when our experiences with others don’t line up with our expectations, we have a critical choice to make. When your friends don’t even say happy birthday, a decision is required.
Will I believe the best or assume the worst? (I do appreciate Stanley’s proviso that we continue to believe the best until it’s unwise or unsafe to do so.)
Fortunately for us, our friend chose to believe the best. She knows that we love her, that we had no ill intent, and that we simply forgot her birthday. We’ve apologized, talked it through, laughed heartily and… set reminders in our phones for next year.
It’s been a bold reminder how every day I get to choose: to be offended, or not to be (and extend grace). Having so recently been a recipient of extravagant grace, I hope I can offer the same to others.
With love and gratitude,
Take good care of yourself.
I wonder how many times I heard that phrase as I hacked and coughed my way into 2018.
I suspect people were hoping I would rest, drink lots of fluids, slow the pace of life, and maybe eat some homemade chicken noodle soup, all reasonable responses to being sick. All ways to take good care.
But what about when I’m not sick? Is there room for this sentiment in everyday life?
I believe it’s now called self-care and it is actually big business. Do a Google search of the term and you’ll be flooded with sites like: “45 Simple Self-Care Practices for a Healthy Body, Mind, and Soul”; “Coping and Self-care” and a roster of products designed to pamper oneself beyond comprehension.
I suspect there are many good tips to be found in such a search and I’m certainly not opposed to a hot, relaxing bath on a cold winter night. But is that the answer to self-care? Is it really about pampering, treating, and escaping?
Recently I bumped into an article by Brianna Wiest with a fresh take on this topic. She proposes:
Self-care is often a very unbeautiful thing …. It is often doing the ugliest thing that you have to do, like sweat through another workout or tell a toxic friend you don’t want to see them anymore or get a second job so you can have a savings account or figure out a way to accept yourself so that you’re not constantly exhausted from trying to be everything, all the time and then needing to take deliberate, mandated breaks from living to do basic things like drop some oil into a bath and read Marie Claire and turn your phone off for the day.”
She continues with a definition that resonates deeply with me. “True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.”
Building a life you don’t need to regularly escape from. Making the choice to build that life.
Perhaps this sentiment strikes a chord with me because of my passion for living with healthy boundaries. There is similarity between self-care and living a life with boundaries in that both include choices I have: to say yes or no; to speak the truth in love or avoid conflict; to build quiet space into each day or run wildly from dawn to dusk.
I do get to choose. Not everything, of course, because “life happens,” but I have to take responsibility for who I am and how I live.
So I ask, am I building a life with enough margin to accommodate the daily “unexpecteds” or will a surprise meeting derail me? Do I intentionally set aside time for quiet reflection, prayer, and reading or is the treadmill moving too quickly?
Is the treadmill moving at all? Have I built regular exercise into my routine along with healthy eating habits? Do I foster meaningful relationships, cultivate community and share joys and burdens with others? Are play and fun a habit?
As I generated this list of self check-in questions, I recognize how six weeks of sickness has thrown me off course in some areas which, in the name of “taking good care of myself,” is reasonable. However, the choice to get back on track is now mine.
And it’s hard work!
But it’s worth establishing that life from which I didn’t need or want to escape. My sore muscles, from the gym, remind me that strength can, and will return. Re-connecting with friends – now that fear of spreading “the plague” is gone – nourishes my soul.
I’m grateful that the author of this blog took time to sit and write. It’s been a timely reminder for me to take up my life and, by God’s grace, live it fully.
With love and gratitude,
My apologies for disappearing without warning or explanation.
If I had to pick one word to account for my absence it would be January. If I could have two words, I'd add February.
These two months have been full of sickness, including a cough that rearranged ribs and threatened to expel a lung. While it's not completely gone, it is far less violent now, for which I am thankful.
Perhaps the cough rattled my brain and killed off some creative cells. Whatever the case, I felt dry and unable to write anything that resembled content worthy of a readership.
Today I sit at my desk watching snow softly accumulate. Our grandson is napping down the hall and I realize that I'm ready to be back. The world is beginning to share analogies again and the longing to sit quietly and create returns.
So, thanks for your patience through the silent void. I hope to see you here again next week.
With love and gratitude,
It began much like any other day in grade nine.
I grabbed a piece of toast on my way out the door and walked the mile to school. I went to history, math, English and then, at the end of the academic day, bolted out to the ball field for practice. The best part of my day.
And, the moment that permanently altered my life.
The faces looming over me are familiar, each with a knotted expression. Their lips are moving but they appear mute. Blackness. My eyelids press hard against the weight of unconsciousness. I am shaded from the shocking blue Arizona sky by the circle of tall bodies towering above. Where am I?
My left hand can’t clench. It just sweats in my baseball glove, limp by my side. My right hand claws at hot sand, grasping, dropping. I am on the ground. But where? The answer must be beyond the shins surrounding me. I turn my head. Aaahh. Searing hot jolts fire up my jawline, bursting through the joints, igniting my temples. I can only hear pain. Talk louder, people. Tell me how this happened!
This excerpt from But Pain Crept In reminds me that I began that particular day oblivious to what was to come in a few hours and echo for over forty years. For that I am grateful.
I have no desire to foresee the future. I could have agonized for years, worrying and anticipating pain, had I known at the time the implications that ball-to-jaw moment would have over the course of my life.
But I didn't know all that lay ahead. And when the days of intense pain arrived, I was buoyed to know the One who would walk through it with me.
People sometimes joke about me being a "famous author" or they will say "I guess you can retire soon now that you're published." Both are far from true.
My heart for this book is not fame or royalties. I wrote it with the prayer that anyone immersed in pain - physical, emotional, social, relational, spiritual - will find hope to press on.
If that's you, be assured that even in the depths of agony, you are not alone. There is One who can transcend loneliness and darkness and meet you, be with you. I've been there.
If you would like a copy of But Pain Crept In and feel you can't afford it, please message me. We'll find a way to get it into your hands.
With love and gratitude,
This has been quite the week.
Our family gathered on Christmas Eve and enjoyed our first-ever matching pajama sleepover. By 4:00 a.m. Christmas Day, our sweet little Grayson was vomiting amidst smiles and confusion at his body’s involuntary behavior. By 7:00 a.m. he felt better.
Within 40 hours, all but one of the rest of us adults went down.
In my 52.5 years, I have never experienced such a violent stomach flu. As I crawled out of the bathroom toward bed, yet again, I realized I had lost count at my 20th trip during the night. Thankfully, by mid-morning, it was over.
Two days later Abbotsford experienced the harshest ice storm in our history. Our world began to glaze.
I was sitting on the couch reading when an unusual sound from the front yard caught my attention. It wasn’t a sharp crack or explosion-like noise, but something bigger than a passing car or pellets of freezing rain.
As I turned to investigate, I watched two branches from our 40+ foot red maple tree smash to the road. Out went our power.
“Bill, there goes part of our tree,” I announced calmly. I suspect he expected to see a limb or two on the snow-covered lawn. His shock was evident; the damage severe. I have cried all week.
This was the family tree we planted 27 years ago; the one with five branches thick enough to hug; the maple our boys climbed and swung on; the one that cooled us from summer heat and filled our street with autumn beauty.
Brokenness is raw.
Now two-fifths of our magnificent tree lay broken and splayed across the lawn and street, twisted and exploded. I wondered if the remaining trunk, with a four-foot gash, would ever support what remained. Seeing one so previously majestic grieved my heart.
Brokenness is vulnerable.
The timing of the crash – Friday of New Year’s weekend – gave me five days to gaze at our fallen friend. A flurry of calls to arborists and wood-wise friends provided solemn news: the rest of the tree was coming down. On Wednesday it did.
I knew it would be difficult to watch the end of an era.
Yes, it’s “just a tree” as some have noted. Yes, I am intensely grateful that no one was hurt and property damage was minimal. Yes, we can re-plant and enjoy a different look. All true.
Yet, this was our tree. Grandbabies won't climb it. We will no longer be able to tell new visitors, “When you turn onto our street, look for the huge maple tree in the front yard. That’s our house.”
It’s winter. Even if we wanted to act right away, we can’t replace the tree in this season. So I process this loss how God has taught me over and over. I will do my best to sit in the mess and wait – wait for Him to heal, for Him to direct, for Him to teach.
And, some day we will replant.
In the meantime, I will choose to give thanks for the 27 years we lived in the shade of such beauty.
With love and gratitude,
I am delighted to announce the release of my second book, But Pain Crept In.
As many of you know, my life took an unexpected turn in 2010 when a 30-year-old injury began to cause significant pain. My "jaw journey" became one of ever-increasing challenge as I sought to live above my circumstances in midst of excruciating pain, with losses mounting on every front.
But that isn't the whole story.
God gave hope in times of despair, strength when my body longed for relief, humor in dark days, and joy when it seemed ridiculous.
This book is an attempt to capture my story, God's story.
It is the longing of my heart that this book may, in even some small way, touch those living with chronic pain whether it be physical, emotional, spiritual or relational. I would so appreciate it if you would let others know about But Pain Crept In, particularly those suffering loss. My desire with this project has never been sales, but rather that this book find its way into the hands of those who need the kind of encouragement God gave me through the writing of others on similar sojourns. If cost is a factor, let me know. We'll work something out.
Copies of But Pain Crept In can be purchased on Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, at House of James in Abbotsford.
Thank you again for the love and support you continue to show me and my family.
With love and gratitude,
We're not big on roasting chestnuts.
Jack Frost is at work as temperatures drop below zero, a nose-nipping cold for us west-coasters.
This evening we'll hear the choirs singing carols and bundle up to keep warm.
One tiny tot - and several adults - with eyes aglow may find it hard to sleep tonight.
Tomorrow will be turkey and trimmings and family together. Much joy, laughter and love.
But as the angel of the Lord announced so many years ago, there's more, much more to celebrate...
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord." Luke 2: 10-11
As you contemplate Christmas and it's true meaning - the birth of Jesus - may the peace of God rest in your hearts and minds.
With love and gratitude,
In The Midst