Tabitha Update - April 2011

Dear friends and partners,

Happy Khmer New Years. Yes, we are fortunate here in Cambodia, we get to celebrate several New Years but for us, this is the best one. Next week, we close for a whole week; everyone goes home to celebrate with family and friends the year that was and the year that is just beginning.

Of course with New Year approaching it is also traditional to clean your house in preparation for the celebrations at hand. Tabitha cleaned its house metaphorically. We changed to a new and better system of handling our finances – we went cashless. Now for those of you living in developed countries, this may sound rather ho hum but in a third world country – a cashless system brings about all kinds of emotions - from great fear to happiness.

Over the past two years, The ACELEDA Bank in Cambodia has opened branches in almost every district of the country. When we talked, they assured us that they can handle all our cash transactions. That was the easy part. Over a period two weeks, we opened almost five hundred accounts. It started at the office with staff and workers. My explanation of what was happening was met with disbelief until I explained that they no longer had to be afraid of where they kept their money. The next two days were filled with questions like; can my children get my money? Will the bank give my money to someone else by accident? Lots of assurances and explanations later, the banks arrived to enroll everyone – staff arrived from up country, workers milled around the office, weavers filled the corridors. Then the inevitable happened – the electricity went out – the generators went on but not with enough power to keep everyone cool. The bank employees sat in two different rooms, each group handling three people at a time. Of course, those awaiting their turn, crowded in to see what those who were being enrolled were doing. I was feeling a bit sorry for myself with all the mayhem but when I saw what was happening to the bank workers, my pity for myself got displaced very quickly to those who were handling the applications.

I restored a bit of order but mayhem quickly developed again as it became clear that most of our folks had an identity with a completely different name by which we knew them. This is a throwback to the Khmer Rouge regime where being known by your own name was never safe. Suddenly, none of us knew whom we are talking about. This took several days to clarify and make good.

The bank returned several days later with passbooks in hand but not all was well. We had several basically illiterate staff and workers – people who never signed their name before – people who didn’t understand that your signature had to be the same each time. One poor fellow had to return 4 days in a row to give his signature before everyone was happy. I just shuddered!

Once the immediate Tabitha people were taken care of – it was time to work with those who dug our wells, constructed our house frames, built our schools, merchants from who we purchased building supplies, etc. Mayhem reigned yet again – how these people kept such large sums of money safe before was a mystery to me – banks were a mystery to them.

Finally it was all in place and we tested the system. We did our first electronic payroll! The next day several hundred workers and staff descended on a small bank branch near the office. What a morning that was – thankfully, the bank staff were used to first time account holders – the noise decibels crept higher and higher and the laughter started. I looked at more bank books, laughed with more people and received more hugs in those few hours than I have in the past ten years together. Happiness reigns and I am ready to take a holiday!

Yesterday, I went back to Prey Veng – back to see the results of the challenge of the field wells. What a magic day it was. I arrived in time to see the last of the harvest watermelons. 36 farmers had harvested in the past week – their average earnings was over a $1000.00 US dollars for two months work. It was the men – the men who were all there – men who normally had to work far from home – their pride, their joy was indescribable. And the children, the children were home. They all wanted to give us watermelons and more melons – and then there were the cows and water buffalo – it was a big day for them as well – they got to eat the left over greenery – what a celebration! What a way to start the New Year.

We visited so many families, all with pride, and lots of children. The food sustainability – the income earned – none had made such money before. It is so good! Did they meet the challenge of 200 hectares – oh yes and a bit more. Then Pat and Cheoun turned to me and said, but we would like another 100 field wells – why not – 3 more villages waiting – let’s do it.

I am so privileged – I thank my God for the lives that touch mine and the lives that I touch – I am humbled by all of you who make this possible. Happy New years to each of you – thank you for making this New Year a happy one for so very many for whom New Years was formally a time of sadness. It is so very good!

Janne



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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