Thinking And Learning – A Journey With Friends

We are sharing another guest post with you from new staff member Maelle, as she continues to experience more and learn more during her time with Friends…


“In the past four weeks, I have listened, observed, absorbed, and tried my best to keep an open mind and inquisitive attitude. I came to Cambodia and to Friends International with a drive to truly understand what real poverty was all about, what solutions could help make marginalized people’s lives better, and find ways to make a positive impact. As this new wonderful experience with Friends has been unfolding, my idea and definition of poverty, of international aid, and on effective re-mediating solutions has considerably evolved. I am not sure what my first introduction to poverty was. It was probably watching the international news when I was a kid, or seeing a homeless person on the street, or the time my grand mother sermonized my sister and I about how lucky we were and how we should know that other people struggle to survive, after we stole a box of bubble gum at the corner supermarket, and quickly panicked, and confessed with shame. We all hear, see, and think about poverty. Our world is interconnected and we are lucky to have access to information from all over the planet in just one click. We open the first page of an international newspaper and read about third world countries challenges to end hunger, violence, and build better futures for their population. We definitely are aware to a certain extent. Yet there was so much I did not know, so much I assumed or just simply could not fully comprehend because I was too remote from third world country poverty. Here are some of the things I have learned and would like to share with you. My view will very likely evolve as my adventure continues. There is still so much to learn!

1. Marginalized youth and adults are often trapped into systems of everyday violence, where abuse, drugs, and hunger make evolution extremely difficult. As I went to the communities with Friends Social Workers, I realized how so many of these people live outside the rule of law. Where children are abused and forced to hang in the streets to collect money from foreigners, and where justice is not really part of their everyday dictionary. The story of Panith, in my earlier post is a good example of criminals feeling untouchables. The UN recently issued a report that states that most poor people live outside the protection of law in third world countries. Ending abuse, and providing a safe environment for marginalized communities is a requisite to helping them build better futures. This is part of Friends’ approach – saving the children and families from abuse is the first step before helping them build a life they dream about.

2. The solution is in the people who need help. It is in building opportunities for those communities to support themselves, to create their own future. We just need to open the door that gives them the right opportunities and a credible hope for a better future, and they will feed the fire we lit up. Over the past three weeks I have seen mothers working 18-hour-days, to sustain their family. I have seen men work in padding fields for uncountable hours under the heat, and kids spend days and nights begging for money in the streets of Phnom Penh. These people tap into their resilience to wake up everyday, to go do an extremely difficult job, to feed their children and provide for their family. They hustle, fight, and keep on going despite the lack of hope for better days. The issue is not a lack of hard work, neither it is a lack of ambition, or intellectual capacity. The issue is the difficulty to project one self into a future that goes beyond tomorrow, because survival is about having enough to eat today. What we can do is provide the appropriate support to help these marginalized communities build their own life and provide for themselves. Offer opportunities to all kids – with no exceptions – to go to school, provide opportunities for young adults to find jobs in an area of interest, and support families launch and grow a business, Giving food, offering material things can help, but as the old saying says “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him how to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime” … With Friends,  it is all about supporting communities be independent. It is about teaching not simply giving, and I realized how it is the most effective way to really make an impact.

3. The world is a puzzle, each piece matters and “making an impact” does not have one definition. Think about what flows down to the bottom million. And everyone else. Businesses matter. NGO’s matter. Governments matter. And more than anything, citizens matter. Not one group can solve poverty, and making an impact does not have to involve working in an NGO or social enterprise. One example is the impact we have by giving money to a kid in the street. We may feel that it would help him eat today, and tomorrow. Yet these dollars are keeping him in the street away from schools. Some of them tell social workers here “I am making $20 a day from tourists, I don’t need to go to school”. And the cycle continues. It is all about thinking twice as individuals or organizations, what the impact of our actions can be on the rest of the population.”

(Read Maelle’s original blog here)

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