Mercy Emerging Leaders Fellowship 2022-2023 Cambodia Immersion Cohort 2 Part Two
Day Five: Tuesday, 23rd of August 2022
Our fifth day began with an opening prayer and reflection on peace facilitated by Paula Anamani rsm and Gaby Kinsman. Guided through Margie Abbott rsm’s Peace ritual from her book Cosmic Sparks, the group reflected on the concepts of peace in our earth and in ourselves. We were then welcomed into the program via a video by Berniece Loch rsm, CEO of Mercy International Association who wished us well at the beginning of our immersion and reminded us of the great blessing it is to be with one another in this journey. The morning continued with a session led by Mayet focused on affirming one another through words and writing. Each participant wrote small letters to the other fellows and MELF team sharing a message of affirmation and blessing for the fellowship. This activity gave us the opportunity to reflect on the gifts and leadership qualities of each member that makes up this very diverse group of women and allowed us to acknowledge the significant bonds and relationships we have been forming over the past five days.
Angela Reed rsm, Head of MGA, then presented on Speaking the Silence and solidarity, challenging our human nature of staying silent in the face of injustice. Inspiring quotes and reflections from the likes of Jon Sobrino and Joan Chittister contemplated what it means to be Mercy in our world and our response to the suffering we experience and see. We then looked at the Mercy Justice Advocacy Approach as a way of looking at issues from the grassroots to a global advocacy level and dismantling oppressive systems.
Fellows joined the Cambodian staff, some of whom are landmine survivors and people with disabilities from Metta Karuna to assemble wheelchairs specifically designed for the Cambodian terrain. The wheelchairs were donated by the Mercy Global Action team to support those who cannot afford one, particularly those in remote areas. It was a great team effort - teams interacted well with each other, despite the language barrier. The smile on all of our faces was more than enough to complete our tasks. Each team was able to test out their wheelchairs. No signs of wheels or screws fell out! All wheelchairs were well secured. This simple act of kindness will go a long way and make a huge difference in someone’s life.
In the afternoon we delved into the programme expectations and engagement with Siobhan. We valued the time to go through the aspects of the fellowship step by step and there was a sense of excitement and eagerness to start our thinking about mentors, research, and engagement with Mercy ministries in our regions. To conclude the day, we were introduced to a new element of the programme, our MELF Team Liaisons who will provide extra support for all of us fellows. We then took time to meet with our liaisons and began talking about what was emerging for each of us and our ideas and wishes for our projects and mentors.
Reflection by: Gaby Kinsman and Paula Anamani rsm
Day Six: Wednesday, 24th of August 2022
On Wednesday morning, we opened our MELF sessions with an interfaith prayer celebrating the majority Buddhist faith of the people of Cambodia led by Rebecca Rathbone and Elizabeth MacNeal. Our focus was the connection between the Christian tradition of “love” - love your neighbor, love the Lord your God - and the Buddhist tradition of “metta” or compassion. Using a prayer developed by a Jesuit priest, Francis Clooney, SJ, we prayed what he calls The Prayer of St. Francis with the Bodhisattva Vow. The prayer set the tone for the theme of the day which was refugees and migrants, reminding us of the love and compassion needed for all people.
After prayer, we welcomed Sr Denise and her team as the speakers for the first session of the day which focused on refugees and migration. The Metta Karuna team emphasized the need to approach migration and displacement from a people first approach, reminding us that numbers, cases, etc. are important; however, it is the people that truly matter. We focused our time together discussing areas of displacement from the mid 1980s and walking through how conflict, climate, and government play significant roles in the need for people to leave their homeland. This discussion laid the foundation for a round table with those on Sr. Denise’s staff who have experienced forced migration.
We were introduced to a woman named Soking from Cambodia who spoke in detail about her experience forcibly leaving her home and working in a labour camp. Soking spoke of dangerous work, little food but rice soup, and sickness. She drew close attention in speaking about the desire of those in power to kill all the educated members of the community, a particular devastation for her as a teacher. Staff member Chita then spoke about his family’s forced flee into a refugee camp near the border in order to keep the family safe. He and his sister were the last to leave the camp when the conflict in Cambodia ended. Finally, Sony spoke of her experience in a refugee camp in Vietnam when she was very young. She highlighted the impact of forced migration on children, a poignant reminder of how basic routines like school become almost impossible during times of crisis. Their stories were stark reminders of the lasting impact of forced migration and calls for each of us to grow in understanding of the complexity of this issue.
After lunch, we returned to move our focus to the advocacy level and learned more about the inner workings of the fellowship, our upcoming virtual gatherings, and readings and research. The fellowship began to unfold and we started to draw the connection between the grassroots reality here in Cambodia and the overall goals of the program. In our discussion we focused on privilege, working to unpack our identities in ways that might guide and inform us as we become stronger leaders in mercy and justice.
To end our night, we attended the Phare Circus, a local theatre event started by four refugees in a camp in Thailand. These Cambodian men learned theatre and acrobatics while in the camp and upon returning brought their passion to life by inviting others to build community and share their stories through art. The circus featured men and women telling a Cambodian story through humor, tumbling, fire, and theatrics. The room came to life watching their talent and passion as we continued to uncover so much beauty that has bloomed against such much displacement.
Today was a reminder for each of us of the importance of our individual stories. We were reminded of the impact people can have on each other, and the reality that we never really know what someone else has journeyed through in life. Today we learned more about refugees and migrants, but really we were reminded to meet all people with compassion. To meet all people as people.
Reflection by: Rebecca Rathbone and Elizabeth MacNeal
Day Seven: Thursday, 25th of August 2022
Day 7 began with a reflection that was a coming together of cultures as we reflected on who we are as individuals and our ability to make an impact through our actions, big or small. This was led by Stellah Mathe and Dominique Marendy. This reflection tied nicely into the day's focus; disarmament and the campaign for a mine free Cambodia by 2025. This year marks 30 years of mine action in the country, which have seen landmines or explosive remnants of war (ERW) removed from approximately 2,385 square kilometres of land, allowing the land to be used for productive purposes such as agriculture, resettlement, roads, schools, and other infrastructure development. We learned that approximately 5 million landmines and 13million cluster bombs are estimated to remain, with the current population of Cambodia at 16.7million, this means just over 1 ERW exists per person.
MELF fellows joined in soliarity with staff and volunteers at JRS to campaign for a mine free and cluster bomb free Cambodia by 2025 and to celebrate the launch of the Cluster Munitions Monitor 2022! Cluster Munition Monitor 2022 will cover cluster munition ban policy, use, production, transfers, and stockpiling globally, and also contain information on the impact of cluster munition contamination and casualties, as well as developments and challenges in addressing such impact through clearance, risk education and victim assistance.
It was such an inspiring moment as we assisted in creating advocacy materials while listening to survivors share their past experiences and the tremendous healing they’ve all had and the great support from Sr Denise and JRS in assuring them that life goes on despite their disability. They have been given a renewed sense of hope and improved prospects in life.
Following our campaigning at Metta Karuna, Sr Denise and Soking shared their experience as active members of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines which went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. They shared inspiring stories of courage, determination, and justice!
Nonetheless as we advocate for Cambodia to be free of landmines by 2025, there is also a lot of work that still needs to be done. The thought that a landmine can explode and impact anyone at any given time in Cambodia is sickening. Sr Denise, through her Mercy, justice and leadership advocacy at Metta Karuna has been highly successful in helping those impacted to find hope and reintegrate into society. Joined together, we condemned the use of landmines and cluster bombs everywhere in the world.
Last month Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the Samdech Techo Project for Mine Action, which runs under the slogan “Providing Safe Ground, Creating Smiles”, to help reach the estimated target of $136million USD to clear the mines be 2025. A month on the project has already raised over $19million (at the time of writing this). This is in large thanks to several contributing organisations from around the world:
- Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA)
- Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC)
- The Halo Trust
- Cambodian Self Help Demining
- Norwegian Peoples Aid
- Japan Mine Action Service
- National Centre for Peacekeeping Forces
- APOPO detection rat technology
Unfortunately, landmines aren’t a uniquely Cambodian issue with more than 60 million people living in fear of being injured or killed by landmines every day around the globe. Global deaths and injuries from landmines hit a ten-year high in 2015 – a staggering 75% increase on those recorded in 2014. Aside from Cambodia, countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Zimbabwe, Angola and, with recent conflicts, the Ukraine continue to be affected by landmines. This means that without action now, landmines will continue to be a problem for many years to come.
As we have been called to action to support Cambodia’s 18th Sustainable Development Goal: A Mine-Free Cambodia by 2025, What can you do?
- Show your solidarity with the people of Cambodia by sharing information about this campaign on social media with the hashtag “#landminefree2025”.
- You can visit JRS Cambodia or Cambodia Campaign to Ban Landmines and Cluster Bombs on facebook and share their posts.
- Check your countries participation in the following and campaign for their involvement in the following:
- Mine Ban Treaty
- Convention on Cluster Munitions
- Convention on Conventional Weapons
- Convention on Conventional Weapons / Amended Protocol II
- Convention on Conventional Weapons / Protocol V
- UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
- 2018 UNGA Resolutions: 73/61 (landmines) -- 73/54 (cluster munitions)
- You can learn more about the impact of landmines in Cambodia and around the world at https://www.landminefree2025.org
Reflection by: Dominique Marendy and Stellah Mathe