Archive for the 'gap year' Category

LFS Introduces…Carolyn & Anjali House in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Please introduce yourself…

I’m Carolyn;  I’m a 31-year-old Scottish girl who now lives in Cardiff, South Wales.

What is Anjali House?

To properly answer this, I need to explain a bit of Cambodian history and culture. I’ll try to be concise.

Between 1975 and 1979, under the regime of Pol Pot and the communist Khmer Rouge party, approximately 21% of the Cambodian population (an estimated 1.7 to 2.5 million people) were killed. Pol Pot’s vision was for an agriculture based communist utopia, and two of his methods of promoting & achieving this were to close schools (everyone was now to be a subsistence farmer, working to provide for Cambodia’s own needs so it would have no need for the Western world) and to kill anyone with any level of prior education (as they may have been a threat to the new ‘utopia’).

Cambodia as a country has been ‘reeling’ from this ever since. Although Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge are long gone, the legacy of their rule was a country in ruins – no economy, no infrastructure, and the huge problem of a pretty much uneducated and unskilled population. Either you were educated before the Pol Pot rule and were killed due to being educated, or you didn’t receive any education to begin with as you were a child during the regime as you worked in the fields instead of attending school and after the regime was over there was no infrastructure for schooling and no educated citizens to teach you.

Fast-forward 30 years…

Cambodia is a country that’s done a pretty good job of piecing itself back together. It’s still a very, VERY poor country. But it has an infrastructure of sorts. It has an economy of sorts. It has a stable government. It’s getting there. Corruption is rife. There are still live landmines all over the place. It’s not perfect. But in spite of all this, it’s getting there.

The education gap is still there though. It’s one of the things Cambodia can’t easily fix on its own. Another generation has passed, but they didn’t have anyone to teach them either. And so the cycle continues.

There are ‘public’ schools in Cambodia, but the fees (a few dollars a month) plus the need for a uniform and the lost earnings of the child make it an unobtainable dream for most Cambodian families.

And this is where NGO’s (Non Government Organisations) come into the picture, and where I finally get back to the original question…

What is Anjali House?

Anjali House (pronounced An-jah-lee) is an NGO in Siem Reap, Cambodia.  I was privileged to spend a month there in summer 2009 working as a volunteer English and General Studies teacher.

Anjali aims to provide support, education and healthcare provision to street kids who otherwise wouldn’t have access to these things.  In practice, this means…

  • The kids attend Anjali for half a day, and public school for the other half (Anjali pays their fees and provides them with a uniform).
  • Many of the health problems affecting Cambodian children are a result of poor diet and unsuitable drinking water. To attempt to counter this, the children at Anjali receive two healthy meals (breakfast and lunch) and a fruit snack each day, and have access to filtered drinking water throughout the day.
  • Due to the lack of clean water and the constraints of poverty, many of the children had never used soap or cleaned their teeth. They now bathe every morning at Anjali and are educated in the importance of personal hygiene.
  • All Anjali children have regular medical and dental health checks provided by the project. They will also be taken to hospital or the doctors if necessary.
  • As one of the conditions of attendance at Anjali, the child is no longer allowed to be sent out to work on the streets begging, selling trinkets etc. The families receive a weekly allowance of rice to compensate for the loss of income.

There are currently approximately 80 children at Anjali. Enrolment is by application (and based on social and economic testing). Due to lack funds and constraints of space, Anjali currently is not accepting any further applications at this time.

Tell us how you ended up going over to Cambodia to work with the team at Anjali?

The short answer is it felt like the right thing to do at the right time.

The longer answer is that I had recently resigned from a job I’d once loved after a prolonged chain of events (clash of personalities with one of my bosses, what I believe was an institutional bullying campaign, an unrealistically large work load, a nervous breakdown and a 5 month absence due to stress, a subsequent formal grievance process, and so on) None of it is particularly interesting reading. Suffice to say it wasn’t the best period in my life.

I had (and still have) an incredibly supportive partner in my boyfriend, Ian. He not only encouraged me to bite the bullet and resign, but told me to take as much time as I needed to recharge my batteries, get my head straight again, get over the lousy year I’d had and generally become myself again.

I realised that I’d been defining myself primarily by my job for a long time, and that I needed and wanted to change that.

I’d just posed the question ‘what next?’ when my friend Beth had returned from a month in Cambodia, having been placed at Grace House by a volunteer organisation called Globalteer. She’d come back on schedule purely to attend her own university graduation, and was planning on heading straight back out to Siem Reap. She told me I ought to come with her. I decided to roll with that.

Beth later decided that although she’d love to return straight away, it wasn’t to be. I applied anyway, thinking that it probably wouldn’t be possible. Less than a month later I was on a plane, having been placed at Anjali by Globalteer.

What are the most important things you learned from your time at Anjali?

I think I learned a lot, but it’s incredibly difficult to describe the experiences I had, words just don’t seem to do it justice. I can honestly say it was one of the best months of my life. (I STILL want to go back).

I learned that you don’t have to be perfect to be a volunteer. You just have to be enthusiastic. I’m a perfectionist, and as such, frequently worry that my best isn’t good enough.  It was, and you get lots of help and support from the staff and other volunteers at Globalteer.

I learned that there’s a place for all personality types in this sort of environment. I’m very much an introvert, and in the beginning found myself feeling inadequate due to the fact that I wasn’t an ‘all out’, loud, confident presence around the kids during non lesson times. Pretty soon I realised that not all of the kids were extroverts either, and the fact that I interacted with them in a different manner to some of the other volunteers didn’t actually matter.

I learned that there’s a peace that comes with just going with the flow and that somehow you’ll end up in the right place at the right time anyway – even if you didn’t see it coming.

I learned that I can’t solve everything for everyone, but that’s not a reason to stop trying to at least make a small difference. There’s an old Scottish saying that –  “Mony a mickle maks a muckle” (translation: lots of small things make up a large thing), and I realised that I need to stop worrying about the ‘Muckle’, and just get on with my ‘Mickle’.

How can we support Anjali?

There are lots of ways…

Volunteer over there. I promise, you will NOT regret it. You don’t need a month; however long you have is fine. And if I can do it, ANYONE can.

Raise awareness of Anjali, who & what they are and what they do. You’re welcome to use the information & pictures on my blog.

Make a donation/ host a fundraising event for Anjali. I’ve been there and can personally verify that every dollar is put to good use. If you’re a UK tax payer, you can gift aid your donation to make it worth and extra 28%.

Sponsor an Anjali child Please be aware though that Anjali don’t generally allow sponsors to visit the kids (Cambodia, unfortunately seems to be fast becoming the new Thailand in that respect, and that fact breaks my heart).

If people wanted to pray for you, what would you have them talk to God about on your behalf?

Prayer isn’t something I’ve figured out, so I’m not entirely sure how to answer that sincerely. I guess the best answer I can give is ‘however they feel led’.

Cambodia is a beautiful country with beautiful people, who lead hard, hard lives. I’d like to hope it’ll get better for them.

The kids at Anjali come from some pretty hopeless backgrounds, I’d like to think that they’ll have better futures than pasts.

I’d hope that their time at Anjali makes them feel loved and validated and allows them to have a childhood.

I’d like to hope that they won’t have to go to bed hungry again.

I’d like to hope that they grow up create a better world than the one they were born into.

Thank you so much for sharing about Anjali House with us Carolyn. We’re also really happy to announce that Carolyn will be returning to Cambodia and Anjali House this summer! You can find out more about Anjali House by going to www.anjali-house.com and follow more of Carolyn’s tales of Cambodia, plus life as a Scottish lass in Wales on her blog http://searchingforbrokenness.blogspot.com


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LFS Introduces…Jay, a DNAer

Please introduce yourself, and give us a brief summary about what you are doing just now?

I’m Jay, and this year I am really excited to be doing a gap year (even though I’m older than the average person doing one!) I am really pleased to be working alongside and with some wonderful people who are passionate about God and His plans for the world.  The organisation that is providing me with training is called DNA and through them I am on placement for the year with Oldmachar Church in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Can you tell us more about DNA as an organisation?

This is what DNA says about itself “DNA is unique! We will provide you with a life-altering “hot house” year through which you will be radically discipled in the context of church for a life of service to Jesus and being an agent for His kingdom.” It has been existence for about 20 years and is all about helping people maximise their potential in God, in their service but primarily in becoming as much like God wants us to be as we possibly can.

What does your year with DNA look like?

Busy!  In practical terms I have a lot to do this year, I have lots of jobs around Oldmachar, my placement church, I do their admin for them, that is something I have been doing for some time now and I love but I also help with a music group for toddlers, a community outreach coffee shop, visiting older people in the local nursing him, providing meals for homeless people through the Bethany Trust’s Haven project and other things too.  Also, 2 days a week I study various theological topics, I really enjoy this part, I have read so many interesting books since the year began and the work I have to do on them makes sure I get the most out of it all.  My favourite piece of work so far was a worksheet I did on “Apologetics”.  On top of that I have weekly meetings with my discipler who helps me work through anything God is doing in my life at that point and helps me get the most out of my study time etc, these have been a huge blessing to me, the year wouldn’t be nearly so effective if these meetings didn’t happen

Has it been everything you expected?

Yes, and no!  I have known a few people who have done DNA years in the past and so I had a pretty good idea what I was letting myself in for but at the same time God has taken me to places in terms of my character and heart that I didn’t think He would, as the year goes on my calling in God’s Kingdom is becoming much more obvious and it is not what I was expecting at all!! I love this year, the chance to be this focused on God and all He is and does is proving to be an amazing privilege and I can’t wait to find out what work God is going to do in me each day!

What has been your favourite thing about your year so far?

My favourite thing has been realising just how much God loves me and that it is not because of anything I do but just because He wants to.  Quite often in DNA teaching blocks we hear the words “Nothing you can do will make God love you more, nothing you can do will make God love you less” and I love that, I love that His love is that unconditional!  This is one of those concepts that I would always have said was true but now I not only know it but I feel it in my heart, in my gut, in my soul!

And what has the most challenging thing been so far?

One of the most challenging things for me has been that before my DNA year began I had been out of work with illhealth for a long time, several years, and so the change of pace has taken quite some getting used to, especially when the year began I ended up with lots of colds and bugs and it really took its toll on me, I am pretty good at diary management but all of a sudden it became a necessity rather than a luxury, I feel like I haven’t spent nearly as much time with my friends since the year began and I miss them, I found that really tough.

Who do you have supporting you? How do they support you?

I have many people supporting me, some of my family and my friends in particular.  The support me in prayer, this year is tough and because it has so much potential to have amazing results for God it is open to all sorts of attack, prayer is essential when doing this and so when people agree to do that for me it is appreciated greatly, I really can’t emphasise how much it means to me.  The other way that people support me is with finances, the year will cost me about £2700 in fees and I have had to buy some books for my studies too, many people have blessed me hugely by allowing God to use them to send some money my way, when I started this year I had none of the money, and so far I have paid 2 of the 3 installments of my fees in full and on time, God is great and so are the people who are sensitive to Him when He guides their giving!

What piece of advice would you give to anyone thinking of taking a year to do DNA (or something similar)?

Be prepared to do anything, let go of yourself and just go with whatever happens, let God do what he needs to within you and don’t be afraid!  Be ready for it to be hard, very hard, but exciting and rejuvenating and a huge blessing and a foundation for the rest of your life!

If people wanted to find out more about DNA how could they do that?

The first port of call would be the DNA website – www.dna-uk.org – it has loads of articles from past and current DNA trainees about what the year is about and also some pieces from people on the leadership team of DNA talking about it and information on placement churches and all that.  If people then decided they wanted to know more there are free DNA open days, some in Aberdeen in Scotland and others in Bromley just outside London, where you get to come along to one of our teaching days and find out exactly what it is all about, I went to one of these and it answered any doubts I had about the course and the people who run it!

If people wanted to pray for you, what would you like them to talk to God about on your behalf?

I would love if they would pray for God to keep on working in my life, for health, as I mentioned I have been plagued by colds and bugs and they just get in the way and for the remaining part of my fees to become available.  Most of all I would love them to thank God, on my behalf, for being faithful to me and for being with me and for using me in His Kingdom!

Thank you so much for sharing with us Jay! We will be praying for God to protect your from germs and keep you in good health and provide for all your needs as you continue in your discipleship year with DNA.


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