I am a Buddhist lay partner. My generation is the first generation that has not been physically affected by the Pol Pot regime which began in 1975 and ended in 1979. It was a genocide and about 3 million people died.
I was born in 1986 and although my generation is the first generation that has not been physically affected by the atrocities of the regime – many of us find the horrors recounted by our parents and elders hard to believe! I know that my parents were extremely poor and suffered greatly under the Pol Pot regime and I can see the effects on their lives and in the way they have brought me up.
When I had graduated from the Don Bosco Secretarial School, I and three other students were offered jobs at the Fountain of Life Center, an NGO that responds to the needs of disadvantaged and marginalized women, girls and children. This was our first encounter with the Good Shepherd sisters. Now I am 30 years old and I have been working with the Fountain of Life Center for approximately 9 years. Sister Michelle Lopez was the former Province Leader of East Asia who began the Good Shepherd work in Cambodia. I and my 3 friends feel deeply honoured to be part of the team working with Michelle to develop the Good Shepherd Mission in Cambodia.
When we started our work at this NGO one of my friends asked Sister Michelle: ‘Sister-grandmother, where is our office?’ She took us to the roadside and said: ‘This is your office, my child!’
Good Shepherd values and Buddhist values are a guiding light. My beloved country Cambodia is very poor and we have many challenges, but our ancestors have passed on to us a wisdom that is priceless. Many of them have sacrificed their lives for us and now it is our turn to sacrifice our lives for the next generation.
While working at this NGO – I realized that my life had been profoundly influenced by two of the principal values of Good Shepherd:
Firstly: “One person is of more value than the whole world” and
Secondly: We are “United with all people in their struggle with sin and in their need for reconciliation.”
Buddhism puts a lot of emphasis on individual salvation and therefore it is commonly seen as a quietist religion that excludes social action. This view of Buddhism is not true. We Buddhist seek to cure ourselves of suffering by gaining enlightenment and to attain enlightenment we must also help cure all other human beings – therefore we must be actively engaged in their daily ‘struggles with sin’. It is along this road that we Buddhist believe that we will discover how to build a just society and what a just society would look like.
We need to understand how Reconciliation is lived in daily life. This is indeed a great challenge for us, since our parents and ancestors have suffered greatly. We must believe that our future will be better than our past therefore we need to continually remind ourselves that we must be fully attentive and engaged with our present because it is our best guarantee of a better future.
In Cambodia we have programmes designed to protect victims of human trafficking and programmes to respond to the increasing social needs faced by the people in the villages. Our staff teach vocational skills such as hairdressing, sewing, cooking. We get regular sewing orders from the Good Shepherd Fatima Self-Help Center in Bangkok. The women are able to practise their skills and also earn some money for the work they do.
Every evening we offer English classes for adults and children. About 150 people make use of this opportunity.
Our staff teach Khmer to the many Vietnamese children with Cambodian Citizenship who are unable to read and write in Khmer.
Every day we go out to teach the women and teenage girls who work in the bars.
We also work with women prisoners. We teach them sewing, Thai and English.
Responding to the needs of the people in the villages we do community development work. We run a day care for children in difficult circumstances such as children whose parents are in prison or whose mothers work in the Bars and we provide assistance to single mothers who have been abandoned and have nowhere to go.
The values of this NGO have been a great source of energy for us. I am nourished by the Christian principles and I see the great harmony of all religions. We believe in justice and peace but once it is achieved it is not the end because for us Buddhist – our ultimate concern is personal enlightenment which we bring ‘to the market place’. After working in this NGO as a Lay Partner, I am convinced that balancing the necessity for personal salvation and social involvement continues to be the challenge for all of us Buddhists and Christians – I dare to say this because I have seen and experienced it in the lives of all the Good Shepherd sisters I have so far encountered in this NGO in Cambodia.
Click here - A key value expressed in Khmer and English
Comprehensive overview from the GSAPP team - how Good Shepherd Partnership for Mission is developing in this region