Recycling Our Hearts

by Alan Beringer

by Alan Beringer

When I arrived I noticed the recycling cart parked in front of the CGI office.  This is a pretty common sight in Cambodia, especially in the city.  Very little goes to waste in the developing world.  Mom was not far away, but it struck me that she left her little one in the cart while she searched through bins and asked neighboring store owners if they had anything that she might be able to sell. When she returned we asked her what amount she would make from the recycler.  She said $5 a day, but based on what we saw in the cart and know of the industry, that seemed very optimistic.

Our hearts break in increments, but they heal quickly. Then we forget. We become distracted and self-absorbed. Then we move on.  Could I challenge you to remember the poor today? Perhaps even do something for the poor today? On the drive from the airport, we were stopped in traffic at a light.  A little kid – maybe 8 or 9 – took a feather duster and started “cleaning” our car.  This happens a lot here.  The boy needed money but knew that doing something was better than just begging.  His hopeful eyes gazing through the still dusty glass finally broke Alan Beringer down, who rewarded his effort with a small gift.  Let your guard down today and let your heart break just a little.  Consider for a moment what your life and what your future would be like if this picture was taken of you.

Until ALL have heard,

For Just One


While in Cambodia, I was reminded of the impact this country and its people can have on you. There is such great need everywhere you look. The needs can be overwhelming.  However, I have to constantly remind myself that while we can’t help everyone, we can help some. So we do.

There’s a story told of a boy who is walking along a beach where thousands of starfish have washed up and are dying. The boy is picking up starfish and throwing them back in the ocean to save their lives. Someone comes to the boy and questions why he is even trying, he can’t come close to making a difference and saving all the starfish. The boy picks up a starfish and says, “I’m making a huge difference for this one” and he throws the starfish back in the ocean.

That story is most often told to show the impact of making a difference for just one life. But I think a better application for that story may be to ask – why are more people not out on that beach helping the boy to throw the starfish back in the ocean?

I’ve been wrestling with God a bit. . . He has been asking me what I am clinging to that is preventing me from fully giving myself to Him. What am I clinging to that is preventing me from being on that beach and fully devoting myself to throwing back those starfish?  Philippians 2:6 tells me that Jesus did not cling to His equality with God but rather emptied himself and became a servant of all. I’m confident that the things I’m clinging to (pride, comfort, fear, etc.) pale in comparison to equality with God. Yet why do I seem cling so tightly?!?

I know I need to be on that beach fully engaged in ‘throwing back those starfish’ that God has called me to serve. How about you?

by Nathan Cecil, written January 2012

photo by Alex Overhiser, March 2012

When Farming Kills

Standing in line in South Korea I struck up a conversation with a fellow traveler. His passport told me that he was an American but his eyes told me that he was, like me, on the last leg of a very long journey. At that point on the trip conversation is one of the best ways just to stay awake so I jumped in. I asked if he was heading to Cambodia on business and he said that he was. His business, as it turns out, involves working with the government to reclaim land that is still filled with unexploded anti-personel and anti-tank mines. Imagine having that job! I remember years ago, on my first trip to Kosova, watching men with metal detectors (and not nearly enough protective gear!) demining the area around the airport! And you thought your job was bad! Then, this morning, I noticed that the lead article on the front page of the The Cambodia Daily was “Anti-Tank Mine Deaths Increase With Development”. The article detailed the deaths of six people just a few days ago. Two “mine moments” so close together led me to do a bit of research. I discovered that since 1979 over 16,000 people have lost their lives in incidents directly related to landmines. Another 40,000 people have had one or more limbs amputated. Few countries in the world share a similar statistic. Cambodia is still one of the most heavily mined countries in the world with legitimate estimates ranging between 4-6 million unexploded mines. The government currently spends $30 million a year just in demining activities and it is project at this level it will still take nearly two decades to clear the remaining mines.

The following are excerpts from Dr. Wade Roberts book entitled Landmines in Cambodia: Past, Present, and Future.  Published by Cambria Press (June 2011).  A Kindle version is now available.  I share them because they articulate another reason why CGI is involved in empowering the poor.

“Cambodia is a land of contrast: astonishing temples and deficient aqueducts, elegant dance and pervasive disease, grandeur and genocide, plenty and poverty, landmarks and landmines. Every village has a story, every family a trial. Life is fragile and death is commonplace. Religious and cultural institutions give cognitive pacification when crops failures occur or new mothers die during child birth. The traditions here are strong and people have discovered ways to endure. While most survive, the majority do so in chronic and pervasive poverty. Economic need is profuse. My eyes are continually opened to the consequences of destitution. My heart hurts. How was I so lucky? If the situation were reversed would anyone be willing to come to my aid? It would be so easy to turn away. Perhaps with time I would forget these feelings of responsibility.

“Sarun Sot was standing in an open field outfitted with a worn sack dangling from his shoulder. On his other shoulder he had positioned a strap which was connected to the metal shaft of a metal detector. The strap helped to hold the weight of the device as he motioned it left and right in concentrically expanding semi-circle patterns. Alone, he was searching for metal. Sarun was 12 years old. His family relied on the income that he acquired selling the snippets and oddments of metal he unearthed. He would tote his daily find to his uncle’s home – less than a kilometer away from where he lived. After being paid the going rate for the weight of metal he had uncovered, he quickly instituted the return leg of his journey towards his home with cash in hand. A portion of his earnings were given to pay rent on the metal detector. The remainder was handed over to his father. Sarun was to continue this process the following day, and the next, and the next. No long-term escape plan was in place.”

“Situations of poverty and economic need often induced risky behavior involving explosive remnants of war. Most often this interaction was intentional in an effort to temporarily ameliorate the sting of poverty. It was the plight of so many like Sarun that motivated my research. Sarun died July 14th, 2008.”

A Broken Shoe


My favorite pair of sandals sort of fell apart while I was wearing them today. Fortunately I was traveling most of the day from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh so I didn’t need them much but I will say that whenever My shoes were within sight of people they definitely brought out the smiles.

My broken shoes made me think about some of the differences between the rich and the poor and between the developing world and just about every place else. In the developed world my shoes would be toast. Straps breaking and soles falling off are usually taken as clear indications that it is time to bite the bullet and buy a new pair. But not here.

Here in the developing world – here among the poor – it is simply time to break out the glue and find a needle that will sew through leather. You see – nothing ever goes to waste among the poor. They have recycling down to an art and understand how to get the most out of everything – including shoes. In this area the poor can teach us a lot. How much more could we save and then give if we would only choose to keep things longer and use them fully? So do I go shoe shopping tomorrow or go find some glue? So how do you say “Rubber Cement” in Khmer?

A Day in the Life of … a 16 year old girl

She is 16. At least that is what she says.  I suspect no one really knows for sure.  Her birthday has never been celebrated.  Not even one time.  She used to go to school but that was a long time ago.  She completed the second grade but then her father left and there was no more money for school.  She started working full time when she was 9.  She didn’t sleep well last night.  She sleeps on a thin mat on a wood floor under a net.  The net kept some of the mosquitos away last night but not all.  Mosquitos, and the gifts of sickness that they bring, are simply part of life when you live near the river but she doesn’t want to get sick again.  She got up on her own.  Her mother has been too sick to do much work in recent months.  It may be her heart.  It may be something worse.  But she doesn’t know for certain because her mother has never been to a doctor.  It is 6:00 a.m.  A little rice is all there is for breakfast but at least there is something today.  She looks at the bicycle.  It really isn’t much but it does help her do her work.  She wishes that it was hers and that she didn’t have to rent it.  The fifty cents a day rent for her is significant.

It’s time to go.  She knows that if she doesn’t hurry all the good stuff will be gone.  She takes her hat and a small bottle of water.  A girl, a bike, a hat, some water – the work day begins.  She heads to an area away from town.  Today she will cover several miles.  She is looking for cans.  Cans are always good.  They are light and easy to work with.  But bottles are good too.  They are just heavier and when they are broken they can cut through the bags or worse yet – her hands.  But today was difficult.  After almost 10 hours of searching all she had collected was a few pieces of cardboard and less than half of one bag full of cans. The buyer didn’t seem too interested in what she had.  He weighed it and then decided to pay 4,000 riel.  She thought it should have been more but what could she do.  4,000 riel is only $1 and that is a far cry less than her highest day.  Once she actually made $3.  Once.  Today, after paying the rent on the bicycle, there will only be fifty cents left.  That won’t buy much for dinner.  Not for three.

Tonight she is too tired to spend time with any friends.  Since there is no electricity at the house she won’t watch television or listen to the radio.  Since there is no water she won’t even get to take a bath.  But at 8:00 she will decide to call it a day and then plan to do it all again tomorrow.

But Monday is coming!

The story above is true.  It is the story of one of the girls chosen to be a part of the new class of culinary training center students.  Please pray for these girls as they embark upon a new journey.  And pray for CGI as we begin not only working with them but also with their families!

What if …

What do20120710-170607.jpg you think of this photo? I captures a moment but it says much more. To us it begs the question “What if?”. What if we had been born in another place? What if we did not have access to great hospital care and health insurance to cover the costs? What if this was my child and I was the one holing the IV?

We all know about the poor. Often we both empathize and condemn. Most of the time we simply move beyond them as quickly as we can. Stay here for a moment longer and look intently at the picture. What do you see? What do you feel? What can you do? What should you do? What is God asking you to do? What if this picture was of your family? What if …


El Dinosaurio (“The Dinosaur” for those who don’t read Spanish)

So I was reading an article in the South Korean newspaper on the final leg of my journey to Cambodia.  It began with the sentance “Cuando desperto, el dinosaurio todavia, estaba alli”.  Somehow it just a little unnerving to read a Spanish sentance in an English version of a Korean newspaper!  But alas it did catch my attention.  The article, written by Hugo Dixon, was all about the economic crisis in Spain and Italy and the steps being taken to support the euro.  And while I am not going to blog about the serious economic crisis in Europe and potential ramifications to the global poor I do want to comment on his leading sentance. Translated into English it simply reads … “Upon waking, the dinosaur was still there.”

After breakfast this morning and before my first meeting with the CGI Cambodian team I had an opportunity to quickly read through the English version of yesterday’s edition of the Phnom Penh Post. The article that caught my attention was entitled “Teenager Allegedly Sex Slave”.  The article follows the photo …


“Police have pulled a 15-year-old girl and her parents in for questioning over allegations the girl is being kept as a virtual sex slave in her families home in Banteay Meanchey province, where her parents had chained her legs to a bench to prevent her from escaping, police said yesterday.  The horrific allegations, which are being investigated by rights group Adhoc, were refuted by the girls parents, who claim their daughter is simply being locked inside the house for her own well-being.  Neighbor Khieve Bory told the Post yesterday he had visited the girl’s family last week and saw that she had been restrained in shackles.  “The girl told me that her parents forced her to work, to be a beggar and to have sex with foreign men since she was 13 years old.” he said, adding that the girl had allegedly been shackeled by her parents after her eighth attempt to flee and escape their abuse.  Her story was reported in a local newspaper that quoted her as saying her parents had forced her to have sex with French and Thai nationals and they has also trafficked her to Thailand’s Sakeo province, where she was kept to work as a prostitute.  Soum Chankea, provincial Adhoc coordinator, said yesterday that Adhoc was investigating after receiving information form villagers and seeing photos of the girl.  The girl’s father, Nuth Meoun, yesterday denied the acts described by his daughter, but admitted he was keeping her locked inside their house for her own security as she had been sneaking out at night to hang out with friends.  “We do not put the leg cuffs on her any more, we just lock her in the house and sleep with her every night,” Meoun told the Post.  “She just accused us, but we parents are angels to look after our children, so why would we force our beloved child to be a whore?”  he asked angrily before hanging up on the reporter.  Um Sophal, Poipet town police chief, said yesterday that his men are investigating the situation, but that he could confirm she was no longer chained up.  “We will keep investigating and watching the girl’s family because we are afraid the parents might do something bad to the girl after [police] left.” he said.

Please note that while these parents must be considered innocent until proven guilty there is much in this article to be concerned about.  This stuff does happen. It happens to the poor and the powerless every day.  Upon waking, I discovered again, that the dinosaur is still here!