Monday, August 11, 2008

An open letter about cows to the Vacation Church School children in Bakersfield, CA

From Katherine, a missionary from California to Cambodia, and Thy our brother in Christ Jesus here in Cambodia,

To the church in Bakersfield: Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We write to you again with the words of the apostle Paul when we say that we give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters. And this is right to do, because we know that during this time together of Vacation Church Camp your faith is growing and the love of each one of you for one another is increasing.

Mr. Thy and I heard that you will be visiting a farm in Bakersfield this week. You will get to see how we grow food to eat in the United States. What did you eat for breakfast this morning? We had rice noodle soup. What will you eat for lunch? How about dinner? We will have rice with some stir-fry vegetables and fish, the same as other people living here in Cambodia. In Bakersfield, most people probably eat cereal and bread and pasta, but in Cambodia we eat rice – LOTS of rice. So, the farmers have to grow the rice. About 85% of the people living in Cambodia are farmers.

When you visit a farm in Bakersfield, you will probably get to see a tractor. Tractors are very helpful for farmers. But, a tractor is very expensive (you can ask how much one costs). Most farmers in Cambodia cannot afford to buy a tractor. Actually, I have only seen one tractor since I came here. So, how can farmers prepare their land to plant rice? They use two cows to pull a plow! But even a cow is expensive. One local cow costs about $400, and most people in Cambodia earn less than $2 a day, so it can take a lot of time to save the money needed to buy a cow. But, even if you get one cow it is not enough, you need to have two cows to pull your plow. What can you do?

One of the activities of the church in Cambodia is to start a "cow raising group" in their local village. The community members form a group to help each other raise a cow. They choose one group member to be the caretaker of the cow. The CHAD project sometimes helps by giving the group a gift-loan to buy a cow or two. Then, the group can share with their neighbors and everyone can plow their field and do other farm chores. When a baby calf if born, they choose a new member to be the caretaker of the cow. After the caretaker has passed on two baby calves to other members of the group, the cow becomes the property of the caretaker. We call this "passing-on-the-gift." One church in Cambodia told me they now have eight cows that their members share with each other!

Mr. Thy is one of the Cambodian staff members in my office. Here is a story that he told me about one cow raising group.

Living in Atsue village, Sombor Commune, Prasth Sombor District, Kompong Thom Province, Mrs. Morm Khy, a 55-year-old widow is dreaming to own a cow one day to help her family farm the small plot of land that was left in her possession after a divorce in 1995. The divorce left her only with 1000 square meters of rice land and three young children. Since then, she became the breadwinner of the family and all the heavy burden of caring for her children fell on her. To supplement the 72 kg of rice she harvested from her very small plot of land, Morm Khy has to work as farm laborer where she earns a meager wage of 5000 reils or $1.25 per day.

One year later, in 1996 her hope was restored when she joined a Christian community in her village. That group of people provides her a lot of support, even inviting her to be a member of the cow raising group project. Being one of the poorest families in the group, Morm Khy was chosen to be one of the first recipients of the cow gift-loan from CHAD.

She said that since owning a cow her situation has changed significantly. First and foremost, she benefits from building a good relationship with her neighbors who help her feel that she is not alone and who stand by her side during times of troubles and difficulties. For Morm Khy, owning a cow means she only needs to borrow one cow from her neighbor in order plow her field and transport firewood from the forest to her house. In the same way, she told that owning a cow also gives her the ability and opportunity to help her neighbors by letting them borrow her cow. According to her, she saves 30,000 riels for transporting firewood and about 1,500 riels/day for vegetables she harvests from her garden that has been fertilized by manure from her cow.

Another benefit she mentioned from owning a cow is it affords her to be more productive and to keep busy at home. For instance, with cow manure she started doing compost, cleaning the area surrounding her house, and growing a vegetable garden--watering, cultivating the soil, and fertilizing it. According to her, these activities help her overcome her boredom and also help her to be industrious. She said, "These benefits have also enabled me 'til now to keep sending my 18-year-old youngest son to school." With her smile, she expresses her joy even though she is working hard. Morm Khy said that she would like to say thank you for all the support from her church and the cow raising group that chose her to be one of the first to receive the cow gift-loan from CHAD.

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