Changing Lives With Friends-International


Maelle is our new Vocational Training Business Advisor at Friends-International. We’re sharing this piece she wrote for her own blog, about her early impressions of our work from her orientation week. The orientation is an intense introduction to Friends program activities that all new staff undertake in order to better understand the organization as a whole.

“At Friends International, every employee gets to spend a couple of days in the shoes of a Friends social worker to understand the needs of the population we strive to help everyday. This week, I had the great opportunity to follow these wonderful heroes on their journey to marginalized communities in and around Phnom Penh.

It is difficult to find the right words to describe the emotion that took over me as I was witnessing the overwhelming poverty, and the impressive strength and positiveness of the people we met throughout this journey. It was powerful. Eye opening. Sad. Beautiful. Overwhelming. Strong. And so much more…

As we walked into a dilapidated tiny grey house, at the end of a small dusty path – we met a family of four. We first saw the mother, who, sitting at the back of the house, was making rice on a small fire outside. She directed us towards a dark room, where a 40-45 year old man was sitting. He was sitting on the floor, covered by an orange blanket. He looked exhausted and had this deep sadness in his eyes. I later found out that he was injured a couple of months ago, and was unable to walk and could not work anymore. He used to be part of Friends Childsafe program, and has been helping his community for a very long time. He was one of the everyday heroes that change people’s lives here in Cambodia.

Despite the obvious struggles this family was going through, both the man and woman welcomed us with a beautiful smile and a warm “Sua s’day” (it means “Hello” in Khmer). I could see the relief and hope they felt as we walked in. They knew and trusted Friends social workers.

As we were talking, their son suddenly appeared from the left side of the house. A cute sixteen year old boy, who seemed very introvert at first. He greeted us with a shy smile. As he got closer, and walked in the room to sit next to his father, we saw hundreds of white spots on his skin. They were covering his entire body. A Friends social worker translated to me the heart breaking story of what happened to this boy Narith (name changed for the story), as his parents were explaining the dramatic event, their eyes filled with tears. Narith was kidnapped two weeks earlier by seven older boys. They tied him up in the lake close to Phnom Penh, and only left his face surface the water. Narith stayed there for 7 days. 7 days without any food to eat, and with only the dirty contaminated lake water to drink. He screamed for people to save him but was too far from the street for people to hear his voice. After a week of fear, hunger and despair, two people heard Narith’s voice. He was saved and found his way back home to his worried parents and sister. The Narith who got back was different from the one who left home to enjoy a nice bike ride in the countryside a week earlier.

When we asked why it all happened, his dad answered, “they just wanted to take my son’s bike and were upset he did not have any money on him”.

That day I heard about the evil we can find in this world, but what I truly remember, and what I will take back with me is the wonderful strength of these people, who never gave up and fought for their family to build a better life. I will take back with me the memory of these incredible social workers from Mith Samlan, who did not blink a second throughout that day and listened to every single word of every single child, parent, brother or sister we met on our path. Social workers who offered the most genuine support and care I had ever had the opportunity to witness. They broadcasted such a genuine desire to find a way to help the people they encountered, from kids in the street, to an adult laying on the side of a hallway, to drug addicts who could not find the strength to stop.

Friends would want to enroll Narith into one of the vocational training programs we offer for him to learn about a skill he is interested in, and later find a job in this field or launch his own business. As he now has to take care of his father, who is suffering, while his mother works long hours, Friends will try to identify options for Narith’s mum to work at Mith Samlan sewing shop, for shorter hours and a better pay. Narith’s sister already goes to school and they will ensure she continues to have this opportunity. But first, the social workers insisted on the fact that they need to come back and assess the situation further and talk with Narith’s family to find solutions together. Because every situation is different, and a good care starts with listening and understanding.

Yes, there are some bad people around us. But there are so many wonderful ones. So many people who care, who feel, who love.

Share a smile, give a hand to a friend in need, play a part in someone’s growth. All this matters.

May Narith’s tomorrow be a better day.”

(You can find Maelle’s original blog here)

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