“So often when you do something like engineering, it seems abstract, it seems far away from those lives. But it’s not.
This building, when it is built, will be a safe home. It will be a haven; it will be a shelter from the storm, in so many ways, of this society. And the fact that it is well-designed for them - not only in terms of function but in terms of how they perceive the building, their sense of safety within it - has direct impact on their psychology, their understanding of who God is. Because this is provided by God for them. A safe place to sort of re-align their lives, put things together.
So the role of eMi in creating that space is not abstract for those lives, it is absolutely central in terms of recreating normal and appropriate life for them.”
As Brian explained, it is called the Ratanak Achievement Program because... "...we want to celebrate the girls as soon as they arrive. It's an achievement even to survive and to have gotten here."Brian is a storyteller. Many of our meals during the week were spent listening to Brian’s tales of Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge and the issue of sexual exploitation. His stories were fascinating – some were terrifying, some were uplifting and some were, unfortunately, disheartening.
By the end of our first full day in Cambodia, our team had heard many of the sad stories. Brian felt, and we agreed, that before designing a building for Khmer people, we needed to understand more of their history. We spent our Friday learning about the genocide perpetuated by the Khmer Rouge communists in the 70’s, when the entire country was converted to a concentration camp and over 2 million Cambodians were executed or starved to death.
Next, we visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum - known during the revolution as S-21. The school-turned-prison is one of the darkest places I’ve been in my life. As many as 20,000 prisoners had been cruelly tortured in what were formerly classrooms, until they finally confessed (or fabricated confessions) to being involved in anti-revolution activities. In the end, only 7 survived. The victims included women, young children and even babies (the Khmer Rouge saying was, “to dig up the grass you have to remove the roots.”)
|Brian showing our team around the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum|
The museum contains large boards of the prisoners’ documented photos:
The photos are even more haunting when you focus on one at a time and realize that each was a real human being;
|photo by Taylor Norris|
a person with hopes and aspirations;
a person God loved as unconditionally as He loves me.
That afternoon, we visited Choeung Ek just south of Phnom Penh. Also known as “The Killing Fields”, Choeung Ek was the place S-21 prisoners were taken for execution. Even though it has been only partially excavated, almost 9,000 bodies have been found amoung the mass graves. Many of the victims’ bones and clothing still litter the site. The skulls have been preserved in the Buddhist stupa at the centre of the site – over 5,000 catalogued by age and gender.
|photo by Chris Hardrick|
|photo by Chris Hardrick|
As a Canadian, it’s really difficult to understand the enormity of the tragedy of the Killing Fields. Even standing there, it was hard to believe anything on the scale of the Cambodian genocide could have ever happened. Brian reminded us that the “children of the Killing Fields” – the survivors – are the parents of today. As many as 80% may still suffer from PTSD, and the country continues to experience high rates of depression, domestic violence and sexual abuse.
We had the chance to visit the current RAP home on Sunday and had a good meeting with Brian, Lisa (Ratanak’s in-country director) and Nary (the RAP home director) about some of the challenges associated with their current space and their vision for the new building. It was exciting to hear not only about the difference that RAP makes in the lives of these women, but also the dreams that Lisa and Nary had to make an even larger impact. To accomplish their goals, it was clear that the program needed a space much more tailored to the needs of the residents, as well as the program’s administrative requirements.
I always love seeing how the design evolves throughout the week. It’s almost unbelievable to see what gets done on an eMi project between the start of the design process and the final presentation. It’s been estimated that each day in-country accomplishes what would often take a month to accomplish back home. As we went through the week, more and more of the design was worked out based additional information we gathered and further meetings with Lisa and Nary.
“It feels like that’s what [eMi] is doing here. You start out with this blank slate, and the spirit of God breathes on it. God has given shape and form to this project based on the giftings and skills that the team have.”
Following our final presentation on Friday, we casually chatted with Brian, Lisa and Nary about the future of the project over a very pink, flowery cake (it was Greg’s 50th birthday). While the concept of fundraising for a brand new building seemed daunting to them, it was clear that they fully believed that God would provide. I was encouraged by my conversation with Nary, who is a native Cambodian and the staff member most directly involved with the RAP home and its residents. Her confidence that God will provide for them was inspiring, not only with regards to the project but to myself in my own life.
"And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work."
- 2 Corinthians 9:8
|photo by Taylor Norris|
Finally, we visited Place of Rescue – a ministry eMi has served before. PoR is a safe haven for families living with AIDS, orphan children, orphan grannies and young unmarried pregnant women. We had visited their “House of New Dreams” earlier in the week (an eMi-designed transition house for their kids to live in when they go off to University). It was an amazing time of seeing another ministry making a huge impact in Cambodia. Of course, it was also fun having cute little kids literally hanging off of us for a couple of hours.
This trip taught me a lot. I’m not sure I have it all sorted out in my head yet. I got to be a part of some amazing conversations and experiences that I can’t even relay to others, certainly not well enough to do them justice. It’s amazing how God can speak to us through the people he puts in our lives, even if it’s just for 11 days.
“Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshipping him with holy fear and awe.”- Hebrews 12:28