TABITHA CAMBODJA ANNIVERSARY REPORT

20 th Anniversary Directors Report, 

I remember our first office – my goodness – when it rained it flooded – toilets overflowed and it always seem to rain at night – now we have been in our current location for the past ten years – I slept in one of the office rooms then and now I live in a lovely home – every night there was gunfire and grenade blasts and now I just hear endless dogs barking through the night.

My first staff was so frightened of everything – now they are my assistants and managers. Cottage industry was such a challenge – we have no skills they said, we have no resources – buying silk and cotton was beyond their grasp – using it to make our very first product – Christmas stockings – almost closed down the program as the staff didn’t know about Christmas or stockings – they just believed I had crossed the line of being ridiculous – they were not far off – they believed that people would laugh me out of the country if I wore those stockings on the street – now, they design and produce not only Christmas items but all kinds of products.

I remember our first families in loans and savings – loans because my staff could not possibly comprehend how poor people could save – give them a loan and all the problems of the poor will be gone – as my staff came from such poverty -it was difficult to show them different -   yet within two years – loans were the last thing they wanted to do – savings gave power – loans caused destitution – one little family problem and they were unable to repay what they were loaned. Loaners became fugitives – my staff became despondent - now they will not even talk about loans – savings is everything.  

I remember inheriting an orphanage – thinking how in the world can I do an orphanage when  buying pencils for Tabitha required a full blown staff meeting – prioritizing what we could and could not afford– each week a new set of struggles – yet in the process of placing these children with families from all over the world – Tabitha became strong – several of the parents developed Tabitha foundations in their home countries which eventually would bring us out of constant penury to being free to help so very many. Lesson learned – help whenever you can – it will come back in ways we could not imagine.

I remember our relationship with Singapore volunteers beginning with Margret Cormack – wife of the pastor of one of the churches – carrying huge black bags full of our first products – her husband Don rather skeptical – convinced we were sending drugs rather than toys – Margret knocking on our gate one late night when I could no longer figure out how to pay salaries the next morning – the cupboard was bare – Margret’s appearance as the usual fuselage of bullets and grenades was going on – terrified both of us – yet what a comfort to being able to pay staff – today Tabitha Singapore has grown with so many volunteers and so many sales – all those years and all those volunteers – they built Tabitha – they are Tabitha.

I remember our very first house building team – a group of young students sent because they had behavioral problems – my challenging them to take on a different role – how hard they worked and how good it was – James – a troubled teen – expelled from three schools was team leader – I remember sitting in my office 6 months later when James’s parents came in – after house building James had written to all three schools and apologized for his behavior – he asked for forgiveness and a second chance – all three schools gave him that chance – James did this without his parents or friends knowing – the power of house building began to sink into my addled mind – thousands of people have come and built over the years – thousands have been touched and changed – today we build 1100 houses each year –house builders have changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people with their presence and with their donations.

I remember when Dara – one of our most passionate staff developed liver problems that eventually took his life – how he would drag me to families so poor they were starving and how both of us emptied our pockets to buy food – we couldn’t use Tabitha money for then we had to feed everyone – so it was our own money – how sad we were when a little one died despite our efforts – how ecstatic we were to see those who lived because he cared. On his death bed we talked and Dara kept saying give them wells Janne, give them water. It was his death – his passion for the families we worked with that started the wells program. An amazing gift drummed into my thick skull by a man whom I loved and could not save – yet his life gave life to literally hundreds of thousands of people.

I remember when we were so surrounded by poverty – when we collected clothes and food to share with those who had so little – I remember one little boy with shining eyes stood marveling at a bottle of fish sauce – all my life, he said, I have wanted to know what fish sauce (a staple in Cambodia) tasted like – he held that bottle as if it was gold – I remember feeling sick to my stomach when there was not enough to go around – to see young children look with such envy at those who received and thought – this is not right – today we do not distribute such gifts because we will never have enough – instead we work harder each day to bring people into our programs.

I remember when I was approached by women from PACE to build schools – oh how I resisted – my staff were elated – and so we built our first school – and as I came to see I remembered seeing several sixteen year olds sitting with the little ones – desperately trying to learn how to hold a pencil – how to make the letters right – never once being embarrassed to be with 6 year olds – the passion to learn – another lesson taught – today we build 12-15 schools each year – thousands of children given the gift of education – literally hundreds of thousands more will pass through those doors.

I remember my saddest and my best moments were related and integrated with my family – my clan. I remember the lunch my brother John and I had as I explained my vision of Tabitha and how he said, go do it – I will start a foundation in Canada to support you. And so 2 sisters, a niece, a brother and several friends started what eventually would become foundations in a number of countries. I remember and give thanks that Tabitha Canada - without any family members now – is still the Foundation that does its best to make sure my personal needs are taken care of.

 I remember the best moment of my life – the greatest gift of all – my daughter Miriam Rose – 1.2 kilos – born HIV positive – lactose intolerant – a scrap of humanity crying with pain and discomfort – changing my life into fulfillment. I had no money to raise a child and yet – I never had to buy her anything for the first two years of her life because of the gifts from others. Miriam has touched so many lives without even knowing it – her life made possible the lives of thousands of HIV children – living in homes of compassion and care – teaching all of us that just because someone has an illness – that is not the whole person.

My family and clan adopted her and she is surrounded by love and compassion. She shared the saddest moment of my life with the passing of my mother – Tabitha Cambodia too poor and too busy to allow me to go home and say goodbye. Miriam cried – grandma was gone -sadness that for three brothers and my sister – never a chance to say goodbye. Sadness that I missed so many events – births, deaths, anniversaries – sad my family missed so many events that happened here. They finally met our girl when she was three.

I remember the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer – a strange business as there was no pain and I did not feel sick. Within an hour all was set for treatment but my second reaction to the diagnosis – my first reaction was how truly inconvenient this is – was that if I was an ordinary Cambodian like the women we work with – this would be a death sentence and a painful one. Build a cancer hospital – modified by my co-founders Phavi and Sieng to build Nokor Tep Women’s hospital so that we would not be overwhelmed - has become our current project – a project like all our projects heralded by some – not accepted by others. It is good and right – but like all facets of our work it involves struggles – struggles that make us strong – struggles that make us good.

20 years – a lifetime – 20 years so short and still so much to do. I thank my God for my life – for His sustaining grace – I thank my God for all of you, for all my staff, for the families we work with, for the Royal Government of Cambodia to allow us this privilege. It cannot get any better.

Janne Ritskes

 

 


20 years – a lifetime – 20 years so short and still so much to do

Janne’s blog

Janne Ritskes, de van oorsprong Nederlandse oprichtster van Tabitha Foundation, bericht regelmatig vanuit Cambodja (Engelstalig).

> Zie ook de Blogspot Janne’s Journey (opent in nieuw venster).

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