The Least of These

Our work here in Cambodia has been an experience this week of witnessing some of the extreme poverty in Phnom Penh. We read a very revealing book while we were home this past summer. Cambodia’s Curse, it is written to describe the history of Cambodia and its troubled past. We also read a true story called ‘The Rent Collector’. It detailed the life of a poor woman who was raising a family and earning her living on Trash Mountain. It is a moving story that describes what life is like scavenging what precious little there is on the giant mountain of garbage being dumped daily.

An birds eye view of Trash Mountain. One can see the trash, and surrounding it is the green overgrowth of the rest of the dump. Now surrounded by development. The very poor are crowded together in its shadow. Rain water filters through the pile and drains out into the communities.
The edge of trash mountain. To the right is a woman who is picking bottles and items to sell, she is doing what others in the neighborhood have done for decades to survive. Making pennies a day, they buy food each day on what they have earned.
The homes at trash mountain. Claudia working with CCF, who is from the UK, helped us understand the needs of these people, and how we might help them. Cambodia Children’s Fund is a wonderful organization helping families, and children in the area. Scott Nelson founded the organization, retiring from Hollywood, he sunk nearly everything he owns into this remarkable project.

We visited Trash Mountain, no longer the site of dumping, but it sits there as a voice from the past, probably 30 acres of trash in an enclosure, moldering away, not covered with soil but open and exposed. During the rainy season, a small stream flowed from its base, down the side of a dirt street, where little children played in the mud. Much fewer people are now picking there, their livelihood is mostly gone. We visited a site where over 400 homes have been built. They are on 8 ft stilts so that when it floods, they can sleep without getting wet. The homes measure about 8 ft square. One room which is where a family of perhaps 4 or 5 sleep and eat. The homes are crowded together, with an outdoor common latrine and water station. These homes are managed by an NGO that rents the home to the family for $20 per month. It is low so that the family can begin to get on their own and live somewhere better suited for their children. Prior to these, they might have lived under a tarp, or a piece of tin that they had found, with no privacy, no protection.

Visiting with Sombret. When we arrived he was wrapped in a Khmer robe, having just bathed. He got us chairs, sat us down and returned dressed in a white shirt and trousers. He knew how a priesthood holder should look. He has great respect for the Priesthood. He has stopped coming to church. We hope that the Branch President can help him to fix his Moto, so he can make the trip to church.
At the home of Sombret a long time member of the church. His dinner is cooking on the fire under the tin, the tin protects the fire from the morning rain. The member is nearly deaf, lives alone and is growing old.
The path ends at the water. We tried to visit the family in the far home on the right. We will be back after the rainy season. This stream is running high and fast, At any moment some of these homes could give way to the water tearing away at the stilts. Homes have been swept away with families inside this week.

Saturday and Sunday we visited members of the Sen Sok branch. We entered a neighborhood where there were small homes on narrow streets, and met a widowed sister who lived in an 8 x 8 home. Her bed rolled up along the wall. She earns a few dollars a week by making donuts and selling them on the street corner. Sunday we met a few more folks, very humble. Our hearts break when we remember how we have felt like we didn’t have enough of stuff, we see how people in our world barely survive.

This woman is living here temporarily, the home is for sale, they have no place to go. It is just a single room, no furniture, right over the running water.
Inside the home of Jettahn, a mother of 7. Her home is small, above a swampy mess, no mosquito netting, she hit it off today with another mother of 7. We love our visits to the people. They seem to love welcoming us into their homes.
A warm welcome into a modest home of a wonderful mother of 7.
A community affected by a swollen stream. Children playing near it, their homes perched precariously over it. The stream serves to remove the waste from the homes, and garbage that collects in the dry season.

We see the blessings that the Gospel can bring to rich and poor. The Lord loves each of His children. Even the least of these. We love these people. They are sweet and humble and kind. We gave blessings and prayed with them. The fast offerings here are truly needed and used on behalf of the members.

Our last visit of the day. Making our way to a members home, crowded between two warehouses.

We love our time here. We pray we are making a difference. We do humanitarian work for the country during the week. And we minister to the members on the weekend. We weary faster than we would like, but we love our work. All our love to our family. A mission is the very best! We love the Elders and Sisters here. We love our family at home. We pray each day and night for you! We love our friends at home. We pray for you. More to come…

Love, Elder and Sister Stone