Stung Mean Chey

There is no doubt in my mind that there are times when people just need immediate aid in the form of food, clean water, shelter and healthcare.  But this week I saw first hand that “aid” given over extended periods can be very ineffective unless it is also accompanied by a real change in the heart and life of the recipient. 

This week I was able to visit about 250 families living in a well established garbage dump community on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.  As I have worked several times in the health clinic there,  I had already met some of the people.  Plans are in place to “relocate” these families to vacant land about two and a half hours south of the city.  Once there they will have to start afresh to built homes, find food, a source of water and work.


As horrible as life is in the dump, the families there have created homes, some in permanent structures but many in structures made from wood and materials salvaged from the mountains of garbage heaped around them.  They make a very meager living from “recycling” and some have even set up small businesses suchas making clothing from discarded clothing and materials, shoe repairs and selling products to their neighbours.


Most of these families have recieved a water filter system in the past two years.  These are a unique system that is produced locally and consists of a large plastic pail with a spiggot on the bottom.  Into the top of this pail is inserted a specially designed clay pot.  The dirty water is poured into the top and is cleansed as it filters through the clay pot.  The system costs $10 but an Australian church pays $8 of that so the family needs to come of with $2.  My task was to ensure that each family had a working filter prior to their relocation.

Two of the Pastors of the church in the dump and a CHE worker went with me to translate and as they knew many of the families well, were able to tell me a bit about the people.  I saw a marked difference between those who had found hope and peace and those for whom life appeared so futile.  Many told me stories of how their clay pot broke so they recycled their plastic or used it for other purposes, it was too much trouble to use and to clean and really had no interest in having a new one.  I got a chuckle from one lady, almost literally lying in a pile of garbage, who said the filter was of too poor a quality for her liking.



Others told a very different story.  They appeared happy and hopeful that their circumstances could improve.  They understood the importance of clean water and staying healthy in order to better their lives.  They were so proud of how well they cared for their filter and their homes and wanted to show me how clean their filters were.  There was a real joy in their relationship with God that was evident in their lives and a motivation to make the best of the little they have.