Tilling the earth under the blistering sun

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The first time I went bouldering last January I ended up with blisters all over my hands. It was over a decade since I’d done any form of climbing and my hands weren’t used to it.

This morning I helped the umoja group in Tonle Bati till their land under the scorching late morning sun. I’ve now got two impressive blisters to show for my efforts, which I’m currently resisting the temptation to bust. My life working in an office in London has never quite felt so embarrassing.

Over lunch we spoke with Ke Pich, the pastor of New Life church in the village – we’d met earlier in the day and heard some of his story, but the new titbits made an interesting life incredible.

He’d only became a Christian in 2009 after watching Christian television programmes, went to the church in the next village and told the pastor there of his commitment to Christ, and also went on to prove the pastor’s doubts about his conversion by lasting more than three months.

For the past few years he’s been leading the church in his village, and since 2012 working with ICC to develop an umoja group for the church and, in time, for the community.

When Ke Pich was three Pol Pot came to power. He was sent far from home to near the Thai border and separated from his parents and forced to work carrying cow dung to the fields to for fertiliser for the crops. Occasionally he would be able to see his parents, in theory once a week.

Once, he was crying out to see his mother when Pol Pot saw him, and promptly struck him round the face. A tiny symbol of the violence inflicted on a nation.

After the Khmer Rouge regime fell and Ke Pich was nine he walked home. It took him about a month and walking barefoot he, unsurprisingly, got blisters all over his feet.

I now boulder frequently and I don’t get the blisters any more, calluses have developed where once the skin rubbed raw. If I worked on the land more frequently, if I tilled more soil, I’d develop more and my skin wouldn’t form into the bubbles of pain now topping my palms.

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When we do something time and time again we learn, and we learn how to change what we’re doing, we adapt and we improve. When I climb, I climb best when I learn from others, seeing what they’re doing that works and doing likewise.

In Tonle Bati there’s a lady who had fifty chickens. She did fairly well out of them, raising chicks and selling them at market. Through the church umoja group she also helped train other villages how to raise chickens, increasing the likelihood that they’ll be able to feed their families.

A couple of weeks back, at the height of the dry season, disease struck. Probably from a neighbour’s chickens, it wiped out most of her chickens. She’s left with just two hens and six chickens.

It’s a bad turn but it isn’t the end of the story. And this is also the beauty of Tearfund’s See For Yourself initiative. You can keep up with what’s going on in Tonle Bati, and hear the stories of the church and the villagers and how they’re seeking to improve the life of their community.

She’s not getting any new chickens from Tearfund or from ICC, but the church is there for her and that’s why Tearfund is focused on supporting and empowering the local church. Next time she’ll ensure the chickens get better food and clean water to try and prevent the same happening again.

The £3 a month that Tearfund is asking for to support these projects is excellent value for money. By investing in people they are ensuring that development is sustainable. While we’re out here we’ve got a target of generating 60 new supporters for Tearfund, I’d love it if you could be one of them. Give online at www.tearfund.org/bloggers

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