As some of you have noticed I’ve been a bit quiet lately on my blog, emails, and even Facebook. It’s not that I’m not doing anything and it’s definitely not like nothing is going on. I have been learning and processing and reprocessing things for months now. I have a feeling over time things will flow from me better. In an effort to touch base and do a little external processing here are the sounds of my silence…
I’ve been struggling with what corruption really looks like and how deep it goes. I see it in: bribes making cases go away, court clerks demanding payment to do simple tasks to move a case forward, police being bought by the highest bidder, kids barred from classrooms because they didn’t pay the “tutoring fee” to the teacher, broken roads throughout the country because a $10,000 project was done for $1,000, land taken right out from under people, natural resources being wiped out so a handful of people can make even more money, and no one to go to for any of these things because all roads lead to corruption at the highest levels. Is it poverty that breeds corruption? Is it opportunism? Is it impunity? Is it a simple lack of moral ethics? I think it’s all of these to a degree, but what do you do about it? Simply put: I’ve been working on a few corruption cases here and to say it feels like I’m yelling into the wind is an understatement.
Development in the Developing World:
In the year since I moved to Cambodia I’ve seen Phnom Penh explode with new restaurants, fancy imports at the grocery store, the ground break on a Rolls-Royce dealership (interesting considering only about 4 percent of the population has a car) and the opening of a massive brand new modern mall (Aeon). I’m so torn about all this. It’s exciting to see development, but development too fast means an increased divide between rich and poor. I see the cost of many things rising (food/housing), but I don’t see a correlating increase in Cambodian incomes. I walk through the mall and think about the words of excitement from my Cambodian friend that a mall like this opened in her country “I never thought I’d see something like this in my country.” But I also think of all the small mom & pop businesses being affected by these foreign owned stores at the mall. I see the growing desire and obsession with brand names and luxury goods. Development is good. It’s why I and a million other people/organizations are here, but what does good development look like? How is a solid economic structure built when there’s a false economy buoyed on foreign aid and black market incomes? Is this exciting or scary?
I’ve said this before several times but I’m continually in awe of my co-workers. I get to know each one a little better with each passing week and every time I want to write a blog about them I learn more…it may be best to come out as an ode later once I’ve left or maybe even a series. I’m generally the kind of person who is fascinated by people’s personal stories. Where they’ve been and where they are and the journey in between is so different for each person and so telling of the person sitting in front of you. I love the connection between the story and the story teller. I love how as different as all our journeys are, there are still common struggles we all share and ways to connect. Everyone has a story. Hearing about one co-worker’s stories of loves lost during times of war and poverty made the story of his current marriage and love all the richer and more powerful. Hearing the story of how a co-worker named her daughter Theresa to remember to serve others the way Mother Theresa did was moving. Hearing how a young female co-worker left her rural home, family, and everything she knew to work in Phnom Penh and help fight for her country, while also financially support her family was inspiring. Seeing the lingering pain in a co-worker’s eyes from a lifetime of witnessing war and brutal exploitation of the vulnerable, while he finds hope in the goodness of God has encouraged my own faith. And these are just a few examples of what I’ve learned. Again I repeat: I stand in awe.
About 6 months ago this ache in my heart formed and I realized I felt a bit of God’s grief for His sons. The men He created and ordained for such great things have become capable of so much destruction. His young sons are abused, ignored, trained to be soldiers and no one cares for them. They grow and become abusers and they are vilified. They rape, bomb, beat, shoot, oppress, ridicule. When they show love and tenderness they’re mocked. I look around at so many of my fellow sisters and see them wonder where all the good guys went. I can’t help but brush aside this thought when it crosses my mind and feel the deeper grief God has for his fallen sons. For every 100 organizations reaching out to women and girls I see 10 for boys…even less for men. Who will reach out to them? Who will fight for them? Who will meet them in their darkness and show them love? Empowering women is very necessary. Protecting women is a non-negotiable. But what about getting the boys who will one day become abusers before they’re little hands become weapons? What about a movement bold enough to go to these men and revive them instead of revile them?
I’ve been starting to learn to step into what it is God has for me and not be scared that owning it is prideful. I’m a leader and I’m ok with it. It doesn’t make me bossy. It doesn’t make me better than anyone. It’s a skill and natural part of the way I’m made and to shrink back from it does no good for anyone. A friend’s tattoo (oddly enough) keeps flashing before eyes: “you’re playing small does not serve the world.” What or who I’m leading I’ll leave to God. But the first step is accepting the role He wants me to play. Powerful leaders have entered my life and I’ve been learning from them. I’ve also learned I need to develop leadership skills beyond the conventional like: continually seeking God for wisdom, guidance and humility.
Learning my place:
As much as I have enjoyed and learned during my time here with IJM & Hagar working with clients, I’ve realized client focused work is not for me. That’s a weird one for me to wrap my head around since I’m a “people person,” but I realized that is in my personal life. In many ways my personal self and professional self are different. When it comes to work, I’m much more big-picture and systems oriented (good thing I didn’t go to med school as originally planned!). I have to accept the surprise that this revelation is to me (not sure how many of you out there are not surprised by this revelation) and move forward in what I’m good at. We can all do “good” in different ways and in different sectors. I’ve gained a lot of skills and insights during my time in Cambodia. For example this experience has taught me on a deeper level how organizational ideas, structures, and policy making effect employees and clients. I’ve first hand seen how strong management and engaged leadership can be the difference between the success or failure of an entire organization. I’m grateful for this, and have to accept I am not the person holding hands one on one with clients…and that doesn’t make me a bad person.
So there you have it friends. I’ve got more questions than answers, but the conversations have begun. Feel free to enlighten me on anything I’ve shared. Feel free to explore in yourself any of these things. The one nugget I can share with you from all this, is don’t be afraid to dig deeper when these kinds of internal dialogues pop up in you. There aren’t really any answers and it’s definitely a Pandora’s Box of questions and heart pulls, but it’s cultivating for the mind, soul, and spirit. This process creates the fertile ground for something beautiful to grow.