Cambodia is a country scarred by a brutal, deadly recent past. The rule of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge in the 1970s and 80s resulted in a genocide which left more than 2 million people dead through work, starvation and torture. The regime ended in the early 1990s and, while the country is continuing to recover, many people still suffer the daily struggles of poverty.
Despite being rich in natural resources, decades of war and conflict have left Cambodia one of the world’s poorest countries. Tonle Batie is a small rural village 30km south of the capital Phnom Penh. The nearby lake is a popular tourist destination for local Cambodians.
The depth of poverty that villagers in Tonle Batie face varies – everyone is poor but some are much poorer than others, some surviving on as little as 20p a day. Most households have no running water (they harvest rainwater in clay pots), and very few have sanitation – they go to the toilet in the fields nearby. This lack of sanitation leaves people prone to water-borne diseases, and women and children left vulnerable to attack in the fields alone.
Most adults either have no regular employment (they may collect crabs to sell to tourists at the lake) or earn very low wages in the local textile factory. Despite working tirelessly to provide, many families live hand-to-mouth and, if they don’t have enough money, they go without food.
There is a small New Life Ministries church and community development centre in the heart of Tonle Batie. Most of the church members are recent converts and come from some of the poorest neighbourhoods in the village. The local volunteer pastor Ke Pich says, ‘I know how to meet people’s spiritual needs, but I want to help with their physical needs too.’
Tearfund’s partner International Cooperation for Cambodia (ICC) have recently started to work with the church to help them unlock the potential in the community. Through a Bible-based programme of training, Navy from ICC has started to encourage Pastor Ke Pich and his congregation to work together, support each other and find solutions to the problems they face.
The result is that 21 people are now starting to use the resources they have – raising pigs and chickens and growing vegetables. They have also set up a savings group to build up finds that they can draw on and, ultimately, to pool resources to deal with the wider problems of health care, water and sanitation.
Over the next year, the community plans to offer the same support and training to people from the whole community – most of whom are not Christians. There are exciting times ahead in Tonle Batie and you can join them on their journey...
Follow this community and you will see this transformation to continue. In the months and years to come you will be part of this exciting journey and will see for yourself the power of the local church to bring material and spiritual transformation.