August 16, 2022

Mercy Emerging Leaders Fellowship 2022-2023 Cambodia Immersion Cohort 2 Part Three

Day Eight: Friday, 26th of August 2022

Today, our discussions and learning were focused on Degradation of Earth and more specifically, around the issue and sacredness of water. We began our day reflecting on the importance of our oceans and clean water, visiting the MGA Oceans Task Force advocacy video on protecting the oceans. We reflected on the human impact on the ocean and the need for restoration for the ocean to maintain its role as our life support system. Angela Reed rsm reflected on Vandana Shiva’s concept of ‘eco-apartheid’ saying “Beginning with separation from the Earth, we create separation within the human community. Finally, we separate ourselves from our own humanity, our being, our purpose on Earth. We start believing that the Earth is to be owned and conquered. And we shrink ourselves into exploiters and consumers''.


Fellows were then invited into small groups to create mind maps of justice issues related to water scarcity, pollution, sustainability, and the sacredness of water for all life. Each group then presented and discussed their ideas. We concluded our session by watching a recording of MGA’s side event at the 66th Commission on the Status of Women, “Women’s Leadership and Resilience in the Face of Climate Change” where Fellow, Paula Anamani rsm shared her experiences of water as an indigenous woman from Samoa, and how environmental realities have changed the lives and livelihoods of people in the Pacific. 


After lunch, we embarked on a group trip to Kampong Phluk and the nearby flooded forest on the edge of Tonle Sap Lake to see the floating village where over 1,000 families live - mainly fishermen. Here we saw rows of stilt houses, a church, government buildings, schools – all situated 20 feet above the ground on concrete supports. Other houses and facilities there were designed to float with the changing water levels. It was evident how important the Tonle Sap lake and its aquatic resources are to the socioeconomics and livelihoods of the residents in the community. Towards the end of our tour, Fellows had the opportunity to enjoy a row boat experience through the flooded mangrove forest. It was so peaceful and filled with natural beauty.


We concluded our day in gratitude with a group meal in a local Khmer restaurant. 


Day Nine: Saturday, 27th of August 2022

The day began with breakfast. One common errand each morning is walking to the local laundry service just a few minutes outside of Metta Karuna Reflection Centre. These walks connect us with the local community as we support the local economy and practice a few phrases of the Khmer language. During the walk, we give space for heartfelt talks and sharing. We are blessed that Po Po, one of the centre’s dogs, escorts us out the gate to ensure security.    


As we formally began the day’s program, the always responsive and flexible MELF leadership team presented the schedule for the day. Our opening reflection provided a Shibashi body prayer video, which led us in gentle movements of a body-mind exercise meditation, a reflection song video, and a closing reading. This was led by Sarah Brown and Derby Mercado rsm.


Having stretched our bodies and warmed our hearts, the group set out on a bicycle excursion to a small village. Along the way we visited the House of Sanctuary, an oasis for asylum seekers, and supported the village shops. With a hammock, Cambodia coffee beans, donuts, fruit, and drinks in hand, we travelled back to the centre.


For our afternoon session, we focused on exploring our potential research projects, a requirement of the program, and each fellow was provided with time and space to brainstorm two possible areas of research that interests them and ignites their passion for justice. Fellows’ research projects should expand on one of MGA’s justice themes related to 'Degradation of Earth' and 'Displacement of Persons'. Fellows must complete their research projects by July 2023 where they will present them during our final immersion at Mercy International Centre in Dublin.


We closed the day with mass in the local parish and a beautiful dinner out to celebrate the near end of our immersion. During our celebration, gifts of thanks and gratitude were shared. Angela Reed rsm presented Denise Coughlan rsm with a framed photo of Denise with Pope Francis from her visit to the Vatican 2019. We thanked Denise for her generosity of spirit, many teachings, and for journeying with us and we also gifted her a book of poetry by Mercy Sister Mary Wickham rsm. On behalf of the Fellows, Denise was presented with a scarf from the Philippines. 


With much to process and continue to learn, we know this is only the beginning of an amazing journey with these incredible women fellows. We look forward to our final day of immersion tomorrow!


Reflection by: Sarah Brown and Derby Mercado

Day Ten: Sunday, 28th of August 2022

The final day of our MELF Cambodia immersion began with an opening reflection on solidarity and a meditation led by Siobhán to centre us for our final gathering together. Although our ten days together were full of activity and learning, they seemed to have passed by quickly.


During our morning session, the Fellows were invited to revisit their identity wheels from our session on Wednesday. All Fellows were encouraged to write their identity story to inform them of who they are and where they stand as they advance Mercy and Justice. Following this personal reflection time, the group was then invited to construct a collective group statement to represent who they are as leaders in Mercy. It read:


We are a community rich in cultural diversity who, as women of Mercy, are passionate for advocacy of justice. 

We are enthusiastic leaders who hope to grow our spirituality and care for people and planet. 

We hope to grow in solidarity with people on the margins, and to develop as leaders who inspire positive impact in the world.”


Following this, we gathered for our closing ritual around our centrepiece from day one. We lit our candles of Mercy, Justice, and Leadership and centred ourselves as we reflected on our time together. Angela Reed rsm read Isaiah 61 1-3 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me’ and recalled that we are all blessed and empowered by the Spirit of the Lord God. Christine Valters Paintner’s ‘Blessing of Fire’ was also read and each person was invited to share a word which represented how they are feeling as they leave this immersion and continue their leadership journeys in their own ministries and daily lives. As they did so, they collected their country symbol from the centrepiece. To conclude our ritual, each of us were invited to choose a traditional Cambodian scarf from the centerpiece and offer it to another Mercy Leader with a blessing of friendship, strength, and gratitude for each other. We concluded with a song of courage and empowerment: ‘Break the Shell’ by India.Arie.


After our ritual, the Fellows had a free evening to relax and explore before catching their flights home. Although we were sad for our immersion to come to a close, we look forward to continuing our MELF engagement through our monthly webinars, online classroom, and research for justice. We wish to extend our deepest gratitude to Denise Coghlan rsm, all of the staff members at JRS Cambodia, our featured speakers, and all the wonderful people who helped make our week so meaningful. 


Writing about their experience of the MELF immersion Fellows said “I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the team in Cambodia and the MELF Team Leaders and their generosity, support, challenge, and love. And so thankful for my cohort - an incredible group of women - brave, open, caring and supportive. What a blessing!” while another noted “this programme has helped me appreciate more deeply the beauty of interculturality and the privilege of being an advocate for Mercy and Justice in our world”. Overall, it was a special time of blessings, learning, and empowerment at Metta Karuna, and as one Fellow wrote “by experiencing the grassroots and knowing the people of Cambodia by name, each of us is now empowered to walk in solidarity with them and lead collaboratively to seek just solutions for a future that belongs to all of us”. 

Read Part One of the MELF Cambodia Immersion
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