Monday, June 9, 2014

Srey Mom: A Call to Serve and Bring Charity of Christ to the World

oleh Rudy Chandra SJ

Her childhood dream was to become a medical doctor. However, like the dreams of many Cambodian children of her generation, it was cut short by the brutality of the civil war which devastated much of the country. She and her family fled to neighbouring Thailand where in the refugee camp, she met Jesuits and lay people working for JRS.

Her longing for peace and freedom brought her to catechism class because rumour in the camp said that a Christian refugee would have better chances to get asylum in European countries. How wrong that has turned out to be! Indeed she got to know the faith but also to hear the call for service which brought her back to Cambodia, instead of a quiet western life.

Back in Cambodia after the peace agreement in the early 1990s, she contacted her godmother, Sr Marie Jean Ath, who offered her to work with the newly established Jesuit Social Service in the country. With not much to do in terms of livelihoods Srey Mom took the offer. At first, the burden of putting food on the table occupied her but soon she found that her life is one of unselfish dedication to the poor and the disabled in her community in Siem Reap. In the marginalised and those maimed by exploding landmines, she saw Jesus who once said, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Mat 25:40) She wanted to give thanks for the gift of life through her work with JSS and promised to carry the cross with the Lord for the sake of Cambodians who were struggling to rebuild the country and mend brokenness caused by years of warfare.

As the director of JSS in Siem Reap her main concern is with youths in the country who often have very limited options but to marry at a very young age. As often the case, the marriage soon breaks down and leaves behind children without the presence of loving parents. Those who have the choice leave their hometowns and villages to work as migrant workers in Thailand or simply to have better education in the city. Much of the school system in the village is very basic and not fit for purpose.

Her analysis of the situation is simple. At the root of all social and justice issues in society is the lack of charity. The challenge is how to help people overcome this deficiency especially among youths. Srey Mom has a weak spot for young people because she believes that they are the key to transformative changes to happen in Cambodia. Her own generation has endured suffering and hardship, but the younger ones are here to build the future. This dream is often jeopardised, however, by the terrible state of educational infrastructure and system in the country. Given the situation she decides to commit herself to improving education in any way she can in her capacity as director of JSS.

JSS runs several projects in education through its education team: building schools, providing scholarship to prospective students, bicycles for transport to school, literacy class for adults, and training for teachers. The rule of thumb is that nobody should stay away from school because of poverty. Srey Mom sometimes goes beyond her duties. She would go to visit the villages and conduct the training and teaching herself. This is true especially when it comes to extracurricular subjects such as ethics and responsibility in the community, sex education and care for the community. In particular, she encourages the beneficiaries of scholarship to form study groups where they help each other and look after the weak among them. She believes this will help them to nurture the sense of care, sensitivity and responsibility toward their family and other people around them.

Now, it has been 20 years since she took the offer to work with JSS. She finds joy and pride watching her students grow to become people with responsibility and charity. She is hoping that her little effort will contribute to the process of reconciliation that is still going on in Cambodia. Her prayer is that one day Cambodians will become people who not only care for themselves but also dedicate their lives for the betterment of the country and even beyond.