Or so I thought. Yesterday, I was supposed to leave Cambodia. Due to the Corona pandemic life seems to be postponed for about a month or two, the outreach is canceled. Not even 24h before my flight would have taken off, the borders of the Republic of the Philippines were closed for foreigners with immediate effect. Closing the chapter of my beautiful story in Cambodia was, therefore, put off, too.
Let’s start at the beginning: Almost six years ago I had moved to Cambodia, wanting to taste life in Asia and work as a volunteer at ICF Cambodia for a year. I was up for the challenge of learning a new language, getting to know another culture, and of course hoping to be able to impact other people’s lives. Little did I know that I would be learning heaps, fall in love with a people, a nation, a oh so foreign culture – simply គួរអោយស្រឡាញ់ – literally translated “you gotta love it”. I wanted to fit in and realized how inspiring the Cambodian culture is. A culture with values that I love, based on community rather than individualism. Quality time with people has become my favorite thing to do. I guess I had always been a people person, however, I really discovered this passion here.
Most of my favorite memories are really all those moments with people; when I was having an after-work-party with my construction vehicle drivers. Or a road-trip to a near city. A sleepover at my or their place. Rice harvest. All those bonfires. Nights in the hammocks, talking till we would fall asleep. Visiting a boxing event. Cruising on those tiny wooden boats through the floating villages. Hanging out on the couch or on the tiles. Camping, discovering, sharing stories, killing chickens, cooking, eating, traveling, talking, laughing, and so much more.
Obviously, all of the above would happen during our free time. Much more time I spent working. Mostly building the ICF Community Campus and a team to take care of it. And all those events that I was organizing, communications, hosting mission teams, …….. -> some other blog entries – to keep it short; I loved it. I loved my job, I loved being entrusted to build physically and to build up teams. I loved leading, coaching, inspiring – and more importantly, I learnt so, so much. Not coming from a background in the area of construction, I always saw it as a huge advantage and necessity to involve the team of locals and to be dependent on their ideas and push them to think with me.
It took a sudden turn last November when my leader told me that there was no more work for me. By that time, I had already passed on most of my tasks and responsibilities to local leaders or other expats. I was ready to take on new tasks. I was told that now that the organisation had moved on from the pioneering stage they didn’t find a perfect fit for me and my gifts anymore. Unexpected as it came, it hit me hard, my self-confidence suffered, my joy level dropped.
Within lots of sessions with my coach in Switzerland, calls with supportive people and an amazing amount of quality time with my local friends, I drew plans after plans. It wasn’t easy, we all knew that the chances were for me to leave Cambodia if I couldn’t find a new job here. What still blows my mind up to this day is the insane love that my local friends poured over me. Some shared their testimonies of dealing with a difficult situation themselves. Encouragement came from all sides, often also from people I hadn’t talked to a lot before. Everyone seemed to know that I needed the embrace. Very often, my close friends and I would process what we couldn’t put into words by spending time together. There were so many beautiful moments. Many friendships went to a deeper level, many talks became even more personal.
Loving someone when he is at his lowest // Embracing people when they are at their highest vulnerability // Staying loyal even when they fail – these are some of the most powerful things to do. ~ THANK YOU.
In the end, due to the complicated circumstances I decided to take a great volunteering job offer in the Philippines. The NGO YWAM Ships Philippines is at its very beginning, pure pioneering work with a vision that I love – bringing medical care to the unreached. Plus, very importantly, only a short flight from my home in Siem Reap. I couldn’t bear the thought of being far away from there.
The plan was to go on outreach on such a medical ship in Papua New Guinea to observe what the new NGO was aiming at. Following that I would start in Manila with the new job which is also full-time volunteering. Everything was booked, sorted out, I was in the midst of packing my stuff and then the bomb dropped. The borders of the Philippines were closed only a few hours before I was due to jump on the bus which would bring me to the capital where I would hop on the plane. I left my uber messy room and drove immediately to tell one of my closest friends. The news spread fast.
The last few days of saying “bye” had been exhausting and tough. I am bad at it to say the least. Sometimes, I cried for hours.
Now, leaving is postponed for about a month and I am happy to spend more time in Cambodia. Due to lack of time I hadn’t seen everyone I wanted, I got the opportunity now – what amazing grace. I want to be a hope carrier especially in these times when there is so much uncertainty, and I believe that the depth of our conversations will continue to increase. Besides that, I have started online courses from Bethel about leadership in which I want to invest some serious time. And I still need to write some more blog entries about the life story of some Cambodians – a thing on my to-do-list since … oh let’s not talk about details 😉
UPDATE ON “CORONA?” – “គោខ្ញុំ”
“Corona?” – “My cow!” That’s one of many running gags. If you say that word with a Khmer accent, it sounds like “Whose cow is it?”.
We all are well aware though of the seriousness topic. When fear grows in the soil of not being educated well, mixed with fake news, fertilized by lots of talking, it explodes quickly. I am seeing a lot of terrible consequences of Corona in Siem Reap – people that I know are seriously struggling financially and emotionally. I heard lots of bad news from other parts of Asia and the world, and I am truly sorry and mourning for all the loss that’s happening right now. Fear makes it only worse.
Our prime minister has shut schools, banned any religious gatherings, events with over 50 people. And we all are trying our best to implement hygiene standards. I guess more is yet to come.
Let’s stand together. Let’s pray together for a supernatural end to Corona. For wise decisions by those with authority. For financial restoration especially for those who fight for survival even when there is no Corona, those that lost their job – and those that lost their hope.