Listening – Key to Understanding

How easy it is to ignore or dismiss those who are suffering around us. Taking time to hear and understand people’s stories extends to them dignity, and a recognition of their value as an image-bearer of their Creator. Listening with compassion saves us from the temptation of oversimplifying people’s situations in our minds or imagining that there is an easy solution. The following story illustrates with what speed and complexity a family can fall into desperate circumstances.

A Family in Crisis

Sotheary and her husband Arun started their life together with relative security – he worked as a carpenter, building cabinets for a local shop. They were landowners and had built a simple home on it for themselves and their eleven children. Their two oldest children, who are now aged 35 and 32, were married with children already; one child had moved to another province with her new family, while the other took his family to live in another district of Siem Reap province. But, for reasons we’ll never know, Arun had taken to drinking too much too often.

As he spent more time away from his family and more time at the local gambling establishment, Arun began losing his income at a disastrous pace. He developed alcohol and gambling addictions which eventually left him unable to cover the expenses of his family, and over time he stopped working completely. He chose to sell his land and his house to cover the debts he was accruing, and Sotheary took up odd jobs as a dish washer or cook’s helper. Arun was unable to cope with the direction his life was heading and became abusive with his wife and children. As a result of unstable income and a violent home life, the family was moving from location to location, continually being evicted by their landlords.

Alcohol – a Sure Reaper

In May of 2015, Arun passed away due to alcohol poisoning. Soon after, two of their boys, one with an intellectual disability, illegally entered Thailand to find construction jobs and began sending money back to their family in Cambodia. One boy dropped out of school and began work as a welder, while one daughter, now 17, stopped studying in order to work as a soup seller and moved in with the owner of the shop; both of these children pass on portions of their income. Another daughter, 18, was married off and has since had a child.

There is a Bridge of Hope

In a years time, Sotheary heard of the Bridge of Hope through neighbouring parents who had children studying with us. They enrolled two of their children in our school and began receiving a weekly sponsorship of rice, due to their extreme financial situation. We provided the family with a bicycle for the children to get to school on, as well as uniforms, school supplies, backpacks, and hygiene products. Access to basic medical care, haircuts, de-worming pills, and the twice daily meals provided to those children learning with us took a small burden off the shoulders of Sotheary. Their two youngest, aged 4 and 5, are now attending the kids club that we partner with. But despite great gains made, the family continues to face great difficulties.

Sotheary suffers from an illness in her chest that developed during her years of abuse. Anywhere between one and three days a month she coughs up blood and is unable to work, so paying the rent and putting food on the table is an ongoing challenge for this family. She wishes to purchase a cart so she can sell sugar cane juice as a more stable source of income; our social workers visit her regularly for support and accountability, and are working together on a plan for her.

Motivation for Living

One of our desires for caregivers and their children is that they recognise their dignity as God’s children. And so we wish to cooperate with the ideas and motivations of the caregivers rather than persuading them to accept a proposal of our own. Our social workers see the need for Sotheary’s health to improve before she sets out on a new business venture, so they plan to split the cost of her medicine with her and then work together on a business plan for the purchase of a sugar cane juice cart.

Every day we see that there is rarely a simple or straightforward reason behind the poverty that people face, and when we presume to understand without having first listened, we do both ourselves and those around us a disservice. We trust that taking time to walk alongside those we encounter, offering them the dignity of being heard, and choosing to serve them with understanding will go a long way towards their development as humans made in the image of their Creator. Please pray with us that God will bring our intentions to fruition.

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