A puppy, a leader in the making & a lightning storm

Written by Nicky Mih, founder and MDI sometimes wonder how we fit so much into a week and it’s not until I sit and reflect for the purposes of writing a blog post such as this that I realise the amount. There’s always lots to learn, always lots to do, and it’s always diverse. It’s something I love about what I do. It also amazes me the relative ease and joy with which we accomplish it.The week began with myself and Sreymom, our Program Officer, attending a conference on sustainable funding. It was a good opportunity to work alongside practitioners and leaders of other gender equity and children’s programs. People often ask me if this work is competitive because everyone is fighting for the limited donor dollar, but I love that I haven’t found that. We’ve made many friends along the way and we help each other, and this conference was an opportunity to forge new relationships, to collaborate on challenges and share best practice. When trying to level the playing field in an unjust world I like that it’s filled with allies.We also got a dog this week, well, a little puppy. His name is Zeke, our newest team member in training. His job as he grows into it will be to protect us, our laptops and our motos, because during a recent storm someone broke in and stole one of our motos. Zeke will get a brother this week too so he’ll have a play-friend. It’s easy finding a puppy in the villages as they’re full of them. What was more difficult was finding a little fella not riddled with worms or covered in sores or open wounds by the tender age of 12 weeks. Zeke is gorgeous; gentle natured, loves to play and mostly just wants his tummy rubbed. Kakada, one of our Education Officers, who is great with Zeke, used to have a dog. Someone poisoned him. In fact he’s had 3 dogs and each one has been poisoned. Kakada won’t get another dog. It makes me nervous. As added security we’ve also got a security guard who sleeps overnight in our garden.

our new security

On Wednesday our whole team attended a 100 day prayer ceremony, a final part of a funeral process, for the mother of one of our Social Workers. At first, while I watched him host everyone, I was really sad for his loss. There was the sharing of food, offerings of rice to Buddha accompanied by prayers asking for forgiveness, access to paradise and long happy lives, and then we walked around the perimeter of the prayer area holding incense and a couple of times per lap there were collective whoops of joy followed by little giggles, and prayers with grannies and monks, and the sadness I’d felt for my friend and colleague was replaced with the realisation that he is surrounded in community. People attend over a 24 hour period, staying for about an hour apiece. That’s a lot of people in attendance, a lot of support and friendship. It seemed very different to how we do funerals. I was happy he had such a supportive community.On Thursday I accompanied one of our Social Workers and 4 of our Education Officers to one of our villages about 40 minutes from town to visit some of our girls, their families and teachers. 2 girls made a mark on me, for very different reasons:First, Thavvy*. She’s 10 and hadn’t met me before. She lives with her grandma who she adores and who loves her a lot, but her mum has never bothered with her much, and left her years ago to move away for work, visiting occasionally. Last year her mum offered for her to go and live with her, and Thavvy really wanted to know what that would be like, so she dropped out of school and went with her mum. She learned that her mum wasn’t very good at loving her and cared a lot more about her new husband. Thavvy returned to live with grandma and enrolled back into school. She’s ok knowing what she knows and she’s pleased she tried living with her mum. She walked over to me to talk. She’s only been learning English for one year. And she’s only 10, but she had all the confidence you’d want to see in a young girl. I don’t see this often. In fact I’ve never met a girl quite like Thavvy. She chatted with me easily, and recalled in great detail what she’d been learning in class. She’d just written an essay about her mother and she told me how she’d written about her mum’s physical characteristics, how she has a pointy nose more like mine than like hers, her mum’s personality and character, and how she wants to do well in her life so she can provide for her mum in the future. This kid blew me away. She’s got a spark, umph, strength, leadership… With safety, security and access to a few opportunities this girl could go on to be anything she wants. I’m keen to make some additional leadership opportunities available to her, and follow her journey to see where she goes.And then we went to see Sreyroth* because we’d learned she’d been injured in a storm. Sreyroth is 16. She sat quietly, smiling a little at us while her mother recounted what had happened, “I was across the road, over there. My brother was here. People were screaming for me to come, that my daughter and husband had been hurt. I ran. I didn’t know what had happened or what I’d see but I just ran. They screamed that my daughter and husband had been struck by lightning.” She began to cry, continuing recounting while dabbing at her face and eyes. “I didn’t know who to run to first, my daughter or my husband. I was so worried, so scared. I chose my daughter. I saw her lying still on the ground. She was unconscious. But I could see she was alive. I picked her up and carried her to here, screaming we have to go to hospital. Then I went over to my husband. I could tell he was dead. I knew he was. The lightning struck his head and made a hole, as deep as this,” and she pointed to the length of her finger. “But I still wanted to take him to the hospital, just in case.”The lightning had burned Sreyroth’s hair and x-rays show she may have electrical burn damage internally and should return to hospital if she suffers any symptoms, but for now the doctors were happy to release her. Mum told us this as the preparations took place around us for her husband’s funeral. Sreyroth’s Education Officers returned the next day for the funeral to show Sreyroth and her mum that we care. I think of Sreyroth as I sit in my concrete bedroom in a storm, thinking of how safe I am and how vulnerable and exposed our families are out in the villages under palm leaves and tin.On Friday we had to go to the Department of Labour. After climbing all the stairs we saw it was empty - the department had moved. So off we trekked to the new location. Well, to say we were impressed is an understatement. We’ve nicknamed it Government City. There’s a series of beautiful buildings, each identical, in 4 neat rows of 6, each building clearly labelled. There’s the Department of Labour and Vocational Training, The Department of Women’s Affairs, The Department of Education, Youth and Sport, The Department of Social Affairs to name just a few. All beautifully and conveniently laid out in one easy to access location. We can simply come here once a quarter and pop in to each relevant department. We’ll jokingly say “we’re going to Canberra” every 3 months. In fact, Australia should totally remodel Canberra on this. It’s so impressive. When Cambodia struggles in so many ways I love it when we see an example of Cambodia leading the way.

Government City

Our week ended with a Values activity. We know what’s important to us, what our many values are, but we’ve never really nutted out as a team what is most important to us, which are our core values, those we adhere to above and beyond all others… so we finished the week with a huge collective brainstorming activity. Our work on values has just begun, but once we get clear on these we think they’ll be able to guide us in everything we do and every decision we make from recruiting new staff since our values will help us write position descriptions and interview questions, and they’ll underpin performance appraisals and all our communications. We’ve only just begun our Values activity, so we’ll keep you posted as it unfolds. If you were to guess, based on what you know of us, what do you think our top 5 values will turn out to be?

Values activity

*names changed to protect identity