Asia

Cambodian History in the Making

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A little bit of history was made at World Mate Emergency Hospital in Battambang recently when Mark Lander, paper-maker extraordinaire from Amberley, arrived from New Zealand with one of his Hollander Critter machines for my use at the hospital. My project, “Twer Daoee Dai”  (Made by Hand) was born! Our machine, purchased with funds raised while back in New Zealand last year, is the 402nd one Mark has made over the last 15 years or so. He seldom gets the opportunity to travel to set up the machine as he did by coming to Cambodia and the presence of one of his machines in Battambang is a first for Cambodia.

The bulk of the machine was sent by courier, arriving safely a week or so before Mark did. It arrived in Phnom Penh, then completed its journey by bus to Battambang. Instead of travelling with ‘normal’ luggage, Mark came with a large aluminium vat on wheels, in which were other items for the paper-making process he knew would not be available in Cambodia. His personal belongings were limited to what he could carry in his hand luggage.

Mark flew into Siem Reap and we went up to meet him, then travelled back with him by bus to Battambang. What followed were seven days of frantic activity, during which Mark purchased wood and other materials to make accessories for use with the papermaking machine and proceeded to make, from scratch, 50 molds for paper, a box to mount the fabric cutter he brought with him. Anthony and I worked alongside him at times, Anthony sanding the frames of the molds, me cutting the special nylon wire which Mark then stretched over the frames, before attaching them with the help of his trusty thirty year old air-driven staple gun, brought along specially for this purpose.

Making the frames was a time-consuming and tiring activity, especially with the heat increasing daily. It was at the end of the week, with all the preparation done, that we were ready to make our first batch of paper.

I had been saving scraps of what I thought was cotton fabric to be the basis of our first batch – however, when Mark cast his experienced eye over it, it was declared unsuitable as it wasn’t pure cotton. Man-made fabrics don’t break down in the machine, so cannot be used. In the absence of any other suitable material, two cotton sheets I had covering equipment in my workspace were quickly appropriated for the job. It was a case of “goodbye cotton sheets” as Mark showed me how to run them through the fabric cutter safely to turn them into small squares ready to go into the machine. Some scrap paper was torn up to start off the batch, the cotton fabric added and the machine filled with water.

We then plugged the Hollander in and, bingo, after much anticipation and preparation, we were finally underway with making paper! The machine graunched and groaned as it started up and what had gone in as cotton fabric was quite soon turned into pulp. I poked and prodded the pulp with a long stick to keep the mix moving around the tub of the machine. It soon became apparent that there was a lot of soap residue from the many times the sheets had been washed, so we had to ditch the water to get rid of it and start over with a new lot of clean water! Approximately three and a half hours later, Mark declared the pulp to be the right consistency and it was time to transfer it to the molds.

The vat was half filled with water, several bowls full of pulp were added and we were ready to dip the molds into the mix, shake them gently – there is an art to this which I have yet to perfect! – roll them with a paint roller over felt attached to a suction box (in the absence of a wet/dry vacuum cleaner to do this part of the job), then stand them carefully against the fence in the sun to dry. Several hours later, we peeled the paper off. What we produced from our white sheets with sprigs of blue flowers on them was nice pale mauve, reasonably thick, textured paper.

Now it was time to experiment with some locally available natural products. We set off to find a sugarcane juicing machine on the roadside and asked the man operating it if we could have his discarded husks. He readily agreed and we grabbed several armfuls, purchased sugarcane drinks from him as a thank you, and headed back to the hospital to try our luck with another batch of paper.

The process for making paper from natural products is similar to that using cotton fabric, however, there is no need to assist the drying of the pulp once on the molds. Mark showed me how to break up the husks ready for boiling them in caustic soda and water to soften them prior to putting them into the machine. We were both amazed and delighted to discover that this process took only about 45 minutes – a considerably shorter time than when Mark makes paper from flax which has to be boiled for around 5 hours!

Once the husks were soft enough, they were rinsed in water and placed in the Hollander. Keeping the pulp mix moving around the machine is more of a challenge as the long fibers get tangled around the spindle quite easily. Once they were broken down enough to move freely, we left them and returned a few hours later to find the pulp ready to put onto the molds. The dipping of the molds into the pulp and water mix in the big vat happened again and they were put out to dry. We left them overnight and returned the next morning to find fifty sheets of lovely thin, opaque, golden coloured paper.

With two successful batches of paper made already (thanks more to Mark’s expertise than any skill on my part!), Mark disappeared off into the bushes at the end of our street before we went to the hospital one morning, emerging triumphantly with a trunk from a banana tree in his arms. This was to be the basis of another batch of paper. Mark showed me how to strip the coating from the trunk to expose the fibers inside. We then processed the fiber in the same way as for the paper made from sugarcane husks. This time, the result was thin, opaque beige paper with quite a sheen to it.

What we were doing generated a considerable amount of interest and, throughout the week Mark worked at the hospital setting up the machine and making the molds, many staff visited my workspace and were intrigued by what we were doing. Several expressed interest in participating, and plans are afoot to make this a reality – I certainly can’t do the whole papermaking process, along with everything else I do, with just one pair of hands!

Mark’s time here went all too quickly and before long, it was time for him to head to Siem Reap for his flight back to his family at home. The time Mark spent here was the fulfilment of a long time of planning and fundraising for me. It was a fun time and I was blown away by the humility of Mark the paper craftsman who was so willing to share his expertise, learnt over many years of papermaking, with me. He is passionate about what he does and was genuinely excited to be in Cambodia.

Thank you, Mark, for sharing your life and skills so freely with me for the ultimate aim of providing a unique leisure activity for patients at the hospital, many of whom will derive much pleasure from their involvement in the craft of handmade paper. It will be exciting to see what we can make with the paper we produce! I aim to make saleable products to generate income so that the activity programme at the hospital is eventually self-sustaining.

If you, or someone you know, would like a holiday with a difference and would like to come to Cambodia to volunteer for a period at the hospital, assisting me with paper-making and other activities that are part of my programme, let me know!

To see more images from the above story, click here.

Easter in the Philippines

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The heat has been turned up in the last few days. We really are into summer here now – which means there are plenty of mangoes! There’s nothing quite like a Philippine mango!

For us, summer time means it’s Easter time. Easter is generally a very religious time here in the Philippines, especially in the Catholic Church – and around 85% of Filipinos are Catholic. Most people leave the city to visit their families in the provinces to celebrate together.

Last night our town, Baliuag, had a huge procession of 112 floats depicting Christ’s life and death. Many were highly ornate, they were all lit up, and were accompanied by various songs and prayers. The floats were taken up and down the streets of the town, followed by a procession of devotees with candles behind each float. The men were at the front, pulling the floats and pushing the generators for the lights! Stores were closed and owners sat outside with their families to watch or join in. Everyone from grandparents to babies watched in respect. It’s certainly a way to get a message across!

There are other Easter traditions here as well. Tomorrow is Good Friday, which is followed here by Black Saturday. The roads go quiet that day. Why? It’s believed that, because Jesus has died, if you have an accident no-one will hear your prayers! But on Easter Sunday morning, at the Anglican cathedral in Manila, the congregation knock on the church door which has been closed. The church is opened, the lights turned on and the covers taken off. Everyone enters in. Christ is risen.

Building Businesses

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The following is a story from a partner in Asia.

“If you’re rich it’s a comfortable life here” our neighbours were telling each other. “If you need anything, you just say the word, and you have it!” I know they were talking about us. It’s hard to hide our relative wealth, and living here makes us think twice before using it.

Like that time my wife was baking biscuits when our next-door neighbour barged into the kitchen and poured out all her money woes. It was an attempt to follow orders from home to “Eat more! You’re looking skinny!” but suddenly my wife was conscious of all the margarine, flour, sugar and oats laid out before her, while our friend wept about the cost of milk for her baby grandson. She was intending to add some of that whopping bar of Whittaker’s Chocolate recently brought over by a friend. We’d been saving it in the chilli bin, but she couldn’t bring herself to get it out of in front of our distraught neighbour. And so later we munched the dry, dull biscuits with a cup of tea, grumbling about the hardships we endure. In an almost comic rebuke of our ‘luxury,’ the remaining biscuits were eaten by rats and ants that night.

The neighbours’ descent into poverty began (so it appears) when their grandson was born. Paying around $8 every five days for baby formula slowly depleted the capital of their shop over the last six months, until it was barely operational. However they tell a different story. “We are being bewitched. An evil person is using magic against us, and inciting spirits to steal our money.” Our vocab isn’t quite up to this line of discussion so we’re still hazy on the details. “We’re like that: always trying to bring each other down to get ahead. Not like you Christians – you help each other.” Convinced their house is cursed, they are currently rebuilding in a different community.

Their financial woes motivated us to seek out a Christian NGO specialising in microfinance. Initial meetings have been very positive, and many of our neighbours are interested in their low interest rates (as opposed to 20%+ from the usual loan peddlers) with accompanying small-business training. In a fortuitous turn of events, the NGO discovered that our community was the ideal place to pilot their plans for a sewing business project, and that my wife would be the ideal trainer for a group of local women to make this happen. It helps that we can also connect them with the adjacent charity school that have several sewing machines already.

Deadly blast in Lahore

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Bombers have attacked two churches in Lahore, Pakistan, resulting in the loss of at least 14 lives and injury to more than 70 others. The policemen guarding the two churches and a child are among the dead. The two churches, Christ Church (Church of Pakistan) and St John’s (Catholic) are close together in the Youhanabad district of the city. The banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan splinter group Jamatul Ahrar immediately claimed responsibility for both attacks which were timed to coincide with Sunday services. Following the attack an angry mob captured two suspects from the local community and beat them to death. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has condemned the Youhanabad bomb blasts in the strongest terms and directed the provincial governments to ensure the security of the public and to provide the best medical treatment to the injured.

 

Commotion in Cambodia

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One Monday morning I met a Vietnamese lady when doing the rounds with activities for the children. She seemed rather agitated, so I decided to try finding out why. With the help of one of the Curtin interns who was Vietnamese, I discovered the cause of her agitation – her husband had died the night before in the village a long way away and she needed to be seen by a doctor in order to be discharged to arrange and attend his funeral. I spoke to the right people to facilitate this, then returned to her bedside to hold her hand and try to show some comfort. She was discharged later that morning, and, before she left, she asked the Vietnamese student to find me to say how much she appreciated the concern I had shown for her – which was such a simple thing for me to do.

And then there was the elderly, bald lady in C ward who had no caregiver present when I was passing. I noticed she wanted a drink but couldn’t move enough to reach the cup. Of course, I helped her and she beamed a toothless smile at me.

Outside the hospital, in our daily lives, we often have opportunities to be a blessing to others less fortunate than ourselves. One Friday morning while I was on the balcony of our house (pictured above) doing my usual daily Bible reading, I heard a commotion below and realised that the rubbish truck was doing the rounds. As I watched, I was surprised to see that one of the workers on the truck was a woman and that her two children were accompanying her on the rounds. What a life for these poor children, who looked so bedraggled in their torn, dirty clothes with no shoes. I determined immediately to do something to help them and, next time they appeared, took some food to them which was devoured eagerly – obviously they had not had anything to eat so far that day. A mere drop in the bucket in terms of their need, but at least I did what I could.

And they all, hospital patients and others, without exception, said “arkoon tom tom” – thank you very much. I had the words of Jesus from Matthew 25:40 resonating in my brain for quite some time. “When you do it for the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do it for me.”

Although the needs here can sometimes feel overwhelming, as virtually all the hospital patients have a sad story, the grateful thanks I receive for the small encouragements I am able to bring them make my role worthwhile and very rewarding.

What a privilege it is to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this dark and needy place where many are overcome by helplessness and hopelessness.  My prayer is that God will continue to give me a heart of compassion and resolve to make a small difference in the lives of the poor and needy in the best way I can.

 

For more from Anne and Anthony McCormick, visit anneandanthony.wordpress.com

Anne and the Cambodian Hospital

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It’s been a while since I’ve been able to sit down and write. It’s not that there has been nothing of interest to report – if anything there has been rather too much going on. By the time of day that I am available to consider writing a blog, I am typically exhausted and much more likely to fall asleep in the chair than to venture to the laptop to write a blog entry.

Yet, while there has been such a long silence from this end, things have been gathering momentum and it is time to take stock and be encouraged that I have actually made a difference in at least some lives at World Mate Emergency Hospital in Battambang, as well as in the lives of others outside the hospital. Let me tell you about some of them.

I started in my role of Activities Coordinator on October 6 last year. My first few encounters with patients involved taking games and activities into the wards to help occupy some very bored children. This became the main activity every afternoon and I was received with enthusiasm.

One of the first adult patients in whose life I was able to make a difference was Sam In (pictured above). Like so many others here, she is a victim of a serious motorbike accident. Having seen her bright smile (despite the tragedy of having lost a leg), I approached her to see if she would like to meet up with me regularly to learn some form of handcraft. As we talked, she told me she knew how to “knit with one needle” (i.e. crochet) but would like to learn to knit with two needles. I knew I could help with that request, so, armed with some wool and knitting needles given by the Care for Cambodians group in Melbourne, I went and sat at her bedside every morning and taught her to knit. It wasn’t long before other patients and caregivers joined us and I was soon supplying quite a few ladies with wool and knitting needles so they could knit as well. Once I had taught them how to cast on and off and do some basic stitches, I found their creative brains kicked in and they were working out, without any pattern to follow or input from me, how to make hats, scarves and bags.

The day before Sam In was discharged from hospital, she shared a bit more of her story with me. I was saddened to learn that the motorcycle accident which took her leg also took the life of her 14 year old daughter. Sam In’s husband and another daughter were also in the accident but had already been discharged from hospital. I felt incredibly privileged – and humbled – to have been able to brighten the life of this special lady, whose life was changed forever on the day of the accident. When she left hospital, she took with her a large bag of wool so she could keep on knitting at home. As she left I said goodbye to her at the hospital gate. She looked a different person, beautiful and radiant, no longer dressed in hospital clothing, but in a new dress which cleverly hid her stump.

Then there was Phai, whom I discovered had no clothes to wear home when it came time for her to be discharged. This is a common scenario, as the clothing in which they arrive at the hospital is often ruined in the accident which caused them to come here. If they are from a long way away, they don’t have family members visiting to provide clothes – and often the family is too poor anyway. I was able to provide clothes for her to wear home, as the Curtin University interns left me with some clothing they didn’t want to carry back to Australia.

 

For more from Anthony and Anne, visit anneandanthony.wordpress.com

Social work takes patience… and funds

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Anthony McCormick has the exciting opportunity to set up a new Social Work department in the World Mate Hospital in Battambang, Cambodia. He is in need of a full time translator to get the programme up and running. Here’s what he writes:

As I have been given the task of establishing a Social Work Department at World Mate Emergency Hospital in Battambang there is a need for a full time translator for one year starting ASAP in order to assist getting the programme running on a good foundation. The Hospital does not have the resources to employ a full time translator for this role, but it is necessary for me to be able to develop materials needed to mentor and coach my new team to a high professional level.

The translator would translate Social Work and Pastoral Care books into the Khami language and also help develop the appropriate forms used in Social Work. They would also help at meetings and training sessions as well as assist when required in the community.

This will cost approximately $300 USD a month ($3600 USD total).

 

If you’re interested in helping to support this project please email office@nzcms.org.nz

VJ’s Daughters

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Here’s a short story from a partner in Asia that captures the simple truth: mission is all about building real relationships with real people. 

 

I’ve recently moved into a new place… and it needed a little sprucing up. The paint was peeling and a counter top was rotting. I employed a man named VJ to do the painting and to oversee the small amount plumbing and electrical work. Like many people, VJ finds it difficult to get regular work, so two weeks of pay was a windfall for him.

A friend of VJs later told me about a time she visited his daughters at their boarding school. She bought with her some cloth for clothes. When they saw this simple gift, the girls broke into tears. It had been a couple of years since they had new clothes. How many teenagers would be that grateful for new clothes? I tried putting myself in their shoes – most likely I would have resented not being able to choose the fabric, but here they were, overjoyed by a simple gift. That’s one of the great things about mission. Not only do we help people change, but they challenge us and change us, showing us more of what it means to be human.

Bonding over rats and rain

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Some stories from a partner in Asia.

When my big toe was bitten by a rat in the middle of the night (and through the mosquito net too, cheeky thing!) I wasn’t thinking of how it could help us bond with our neighbours. I woke with a jump, and the rat, equally as shocked, scuttled into the darkness to join its colleagues on our ceiling. In my spare time I make it my mission to find and patch all slits and cracks, trying to keep up with the new holes they crunch out every night.

A few weeks later, my daughter asked me what the words for bite and night were. It turns out she was telling the story to her best friend. “You know,” she told me later, “the rats also come into my friend’s house every night. And they climb the stairs, and he is scared because he doesn’t have a net and sleeps on the floor, so he goes onto his mummy’s bed. And they bite his mummy and daddy, and sometimes him too.”

“Is that why you told him about our rats?” I asked. “Yes”, she said, “But I didn’t know they could climb stairs.”

 

Another thing we bond over is leaks. The when it rains, leaks are inevitable. Luckily our roof is fairly strong, so it’s just a matter of using recycled banners to patch up the top where the wind blows the rain in.

Everyone else is trying to patch things where they can, and in the lower areas, build up their floors with rubble to reduce inundation. In fact, one enthusiastic family had a truckload of crumbled asbestos concrete roofing brought in to raise their floors. We saw this during a three year old’s birthday party, at which I counted fifty children sitting in a room little more by 2 x 2 metres to sing happy birthday and cut the cake.  We could see over the densely packed heads of the children into the adjoining room, where the neighbours were stamping and crushing asbestos into the voids. It’s slow-moving disasters like this that we feel so helpless to stop. When I tell men that asbestos is very bad for your lungs, they give me an amused smile through a haze of cigarette smoke. (A third of men smoke in this country, and in fact I’ve yet to meet the other third who apparently don’t.)

Emboldened by that birthday party, we decided to plan a smaller version for one of our own. We restricted invites to a small group of her closest friends – 25 of them – with less than one day’s notice. She then fell ill and we had to cancel. By the time we revisited the invitees for the third time to confirm a new date, everybody knew we were having a party! Thankfully they must have taken pity on us and only those invited attended. We ran a couple of simple games in our (relatively copious) living room and publicly thanked God for our new family here.