A Hand Up, Not a Handout


Opinions:  It is said everyone has one, and everyone is entitled to one. Yet here in Cambodia I have found people do not have opinions, or at least they do not share them. When I ask, “What do you think?”, I get blank looks. This has been a struggle for me, because I like others’ to have input. It’s how I get to know them. It’s how I see if they understand. After many hours a thinking and trying to figure this out, my conclusion is the Cambodian people are either the boss or the servant.

The boss has the power–the complete say in everything. The servant has no voice. They follow everything the boss says; without question, without reason, they just follow. This does not only affect their jobs, it spills over into the house, and even into ministry.

A few examples: A mother tells the daughter it is time to be married. The daughter gets married. Even if she doesn’t love the man, even if she is not ready to get married, simply because the mother says. A hotel owner gives tasks to the worker, seven days a week for 10-12 hours each day. The workers don’t question the amount of work. They just do the tasks. A bar manager tells the server to keep the customers happy. Even if that means her being touched in wrong ways, even if she is asked to leave with them.

This type of leadership has made it much harder to teach the girls how to be independent or how to think on their own. I have been trying for months for the older girls to take ownership of the cafe. Once I realized the boss/servant dynamic here, I knew I would have to give it to them, they would never take it. Finally during the past week I saw some light in two situations. The first one began with them creating specials without my direction. They made pineapple cookies, peanut butter+chocolate cookies, and chicken tortilla soup–all without my suggestions or recipes. Then the second one involved each month’s job rotation. So instead of my placing them, I wrote each job on the board, I handed them the marker and said you all talk and decide who works where. I gave them 15 minutes. When I returned, they had started to work and think things through. It took them almost a half hour, yet they finished without my help. Their set-up and reasoning was not what I would have done. They are learning and will do things differently next month.

Empowering people isn’t about giving them everything. It’s about providing them the ability to make their own choices and think on their own. It would be much easier to come in, fix their house, buy them rice, pay for schooling, and give clothes. Yes, all of these things are good, just like putting ice on an injury. But these are temporary. Skills like teaching them how to think, how to problem solve, and how to reason will continue throughout their lives. It’s about a hand up instead of a handout.

By Ryana DeArmond, Feb 2013

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