A couple weeks ago, I participated in a couple of ceremonies in the Tropeang Prey area of Anlong Veng district in Cambodia, an area where Food for the Hungry (FH) has been working to end poverty for about seven years. The ceremonies were part of a week-long celebration in which FH officially concluded its work in five of its partner communities in this area.
Now, saying goodbye can be an emotional experience. As FH’s country director of Cambodia, I do not generally get out to the villages where we work against poverty. I make monthly trips up to our field office, but usually my time up there involves meeting with our leadership and sometimes providing training to staff.
So, typically my time in Anlong Veng is about connecting with our staff, rather than with the people in the rural villages where we work. It’s generally only when FH/Cambodia has visitors, I may host guests and go out into communities connecting with the people that make our work so important, and so rewarding.
So, despite my infrequent trips to the communities, it so happened that one of these five villages, Tuol Sala, is one that I had visited on numerous occasions. I knew some of the people there. They knew me. And now it was time to say goodbye.
This was the community where FH had facilitated the formation of savings groups, and four of those groups had pooled their resources to start a neighborhood grocery store. That little store not only represented a leap forward in economic development, but also embodied a sense of pride and ownership among that community.
The leaders of that small enterprise were able to calculate matters related to stock prices, dividends, and splitting shares in a manner, which I could barely keep up with! They were not only offering a wonderful investment opportunity in the community; they were also creating jobs and providing a valuable service to the community and helping others out of poverty.
Prices were so reasonable at that little store that even our staff liked to fill up on gas there!
While I’ll miss my trips to that little store, saying goodbye to Tuol Sala was not an occasion for sadness. It was a celebration. After all, this kind of goodbye had been the purpose and goal for FH/Cambodia’s work to end poverty in that community all along.
We had the privilege of walking together with that community for a season, but now the community would do just fine walking forward on its own as it no longer is overwhelmed by poverty. So, when we said goodbye to the leaders and community members in Tuol Sala, it meant that our journey together with them had been a success.
With that kind of reason for saying goodbye, we did the only appropriate thing, really. We ate a meal. And we danced. We basically just had a party!
Our journey of walking together with Tuol Sala village may be coming to an end, but the work of FH/Cambodia will continue into new villages. Last year, we commenced work in six new communities to end poverty, and are currently in preparation to start work in six more. So, even at the beginning, we can look forward to having to say goodbye once again.
Mark Fender is FH/Cambodia’s Country Director and enjoys living and working in the country with his wife and children.