By Heather Hui (Assistant Field Director of Pleroma Missions in Cambodia) | Jun 2021
The Cambodia government has been restricting the movement of its people, starting with curfews, to the ban of inter-provincial commute, the lockdown of its capital Phnom Penh, the ban of movement across areas within Phnom Penh, people only allowed out with a permit, and the closing down of all local markets. When lockdown first started, the government said NGOs were exempted from the lockdown. However, the government gradually tightened the lockdown but failed to mention if NGOs were still exempted. At the same time, the government continued to increase the relevant criminal liability and fine. There are even footages of the police whipping people who did not comply with the policy.
With these measures in place, we have to arrange for colleagues to work from home as much as possible. But it is a must for care-givers and chefs to work at our homes. You can imagine the challenge of continuing to go to work and to serve under these circumstances and limitations under the pandemic. As the person-in-charge of the two homes, I wake up every day to different challenges. After more than 10 days, I can share with you all that, I was exhausted, but I was also encouraged, time and again, because of the beautiful pictures that I saw:
My Mother on Her Way
One early morning after the 5 am curfew, our oldest care-giver rode towards the clouds on her bicycle. Her daughter took a picture of her silhouette, praying for her safety, who could not go to work by tuk tuk due to restrictions and had to ride for one hour instead.
Could I buy some vegetables?
After the announcement of the closing down of all local markets, the chef and I drove to buy food supplies at once. On the car, she asked me shyly: “Could I buy some vegetables for my family while we are at it?” “Of course!” I said. When we were about to pay for our two cartfuls of foodstuff, I saw that she only bought a large pack of salt for herself. “Didn’t you say you wanted to get vegetables for your family?” I asked. “I forgot!” she replied in embarrassment.
I Begged Them!
Our colleagues repeatedly disregarded warnings and drove out in our NGO vehicle to support other colleagues. I, with the privilege of being a foreigner, said: “You can’t go out anymore, NGOs are no longer exempted and the government will start charging you…” However, our care-givers kept crossing blockades after blockades to come back to work. I was curious and asked: “How do you do it?” “I begged them…” they replied with such resolution. They selflessly begged, because they wanted to go to work, to serve other people’s children, even though they could break the law and be punished for it.
In this pandemic-ridden, frighteningly and painfully silent city, I see love flowing: it encourages me, and breaks my heart at the same time.