Thursday, 3 March 2016

Cambodia




“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.”

Brian McConaghy, the Founding Director of Ratanak International, said the above words to me as I interviewed him at the end of our week in Phnom Penh. I appreciated his words. I really do believe God is and will continue using us to change lives in a very direct and intentional way.

Image result for ratanak internationalRatanak International has been working in Cambodia since the borders re-opened in 1989 and have since provided aid in many areas of poverty alleviation. Most recently, they began working to help end sexual exploitation. One aspect of this is their program ‘RAP’ (Ratanak Achievement Program). RAP is a re-integration home for young women who were rescued out of exploitation.  The program aims to build on the women’s previous rehabilitation by providing counselling, life skills training (such as cooking and going to the market) and vocational training. 
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. 

After breakfast, Brian gave us a brief historical overview of the effects of French colonialism, the Vietnam War and the genocide in Cambodia. The facts of these events were surprising and often difficult to hear (for example, the fact that the US dropped more tons of explosives on Cambodia than the entire Allies dropped in the Second World War – killing thousands of innocent Cambodians, adding fuel to the Khmer Rouge’s anti-western ideologies and encouraging many to join the revolution.)


















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