By: Michelle Waite
These are the words that come to mind as I wrap up my week in Cambodia. I’ve been here with two other colleagues from Pandoo Foundation documenting through photos, video and written form the stories of over 50 women who received loans sponsored by Pandoo Foundation via HOPE International Organization.
These two words play out again and again, as we travel between remote countryside villages in the Pursat region of Cambodia to visit with these amazing women. Our long term goal is to bring their stories to the kids that will play Pandoo Nation to educate and inspire them, as well as help fund these types of causes and more through their game subscriptions.
Our guide in the field for the first two days is Ly, the amazing, yet humble woman who leads the efforts of HOPE to bring clean water and economic sustainability to the poorest of the poor in this region. She epitomizes both resilience and dignity. Remaining in Cambodia after losing her parents and two younger brothers during the Khmer Rouge regime, she survived atrocities most people can never imagine. Yet, “bitter” does not appear to exist in her vocabulary or on her outlook in life. In fact, her depth of care and love for people and especially the survivors of the Pol Pot regime and their next generations is palpable.
As we visit these women with Ly and others from HOPE, we discover a world of doorless thatched homes with wooden planked floors in various conditions, sitting amongst fields of cassava plants surrounded by chickens, ducks, pigs, water buffalo and cows (many of which were purchased via the Pandoo Foundation-supported low-to-no interest micro loans from HOPE.) Make no mistake, the people here have very little means, and their standard of living would be considered destitute in most developed nations. But, it is clear that they are improving their lives by building their businesses in agriculture, woodcarving, soap making and other commercial endeavors.
They are proud and excited, when we visit to take their picture and listen to their stories. They primp and smile for the camera. They cover their laundry hanging on the fence with a black cloth to tidy up, when they see us coming. They teach their children the proper way to greet new people coming to their homes. Very few speak English, so most is translated by our HOPE hosts. Even when there is no translation, however, there is communication of commonalities in unspoken words. Our facial expressions and hand gestures say so much about bonds with children, embarrassments at getting pictures taken, offerings of goodwill and so much more.
I will forever be affected by these resilient and dignified women of Cambodia.