“And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me. So they said, “Let us rise up and build.” Then they set their hands to this good work.” (Nehemiah 2:18 NKJV)
Nehemiah had only heard second hand stories about the condition of the people living in Jerusalem and the broken down walls around the city. After spending time in prayer and fasting, he felt compelled to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls (Nehemiah 1:1-10). Nehemiah had such a clear vision of what he was to accomplish that when he shared his vision with others, they wanted to join the effort. He was able to obtain permission from his boss, King Artaxerses, to travel to Jerusalem and rebuild the wall. The king also provided the financing, supplies, and a security detail so that Nehemiah could complete the project without delays. Nehemiah had three important ingredients for success:
When our 28 member mission team arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, only three members of the team had ever been to Cambodia before. The rest of the team had only received second hand information about the needs in that country. What they heard compelled them to go and help. We had vision, permission, and provision. We were able to build a collaboration between our team, Teen Challenge Cambodia, and the Cambodia Biodigester Programme Office. The photo at the top of this article shows members of our team, Teen Challenge Cambodia (TCC), and the Cambodia Biodigester Programme Office consulting on the plumbing for the new toilet/shower facility at TCC with the partially completed biogas digester in the background on September 11, 2014. Like Nehemiah, we had the ingredients for success.
And like Nehemiah, we faced challenges that we did not expect. Nehemiah struggled to build collaboration with the community leaders the lived in neighboring communities around Jerusalem. Our challenge was not with collaboration. Our challenge was understanding and addressing the cultural and infrastructural, sanitation issues in rural Cambodia. We failed to understand overall lack of sanitation education and public health awareness. Our new toilet shower facility is going to be functional and linked correctly to the biogas digester, but the intended users did not exclusively use toilets. In fact, most of the Cambodian people in this rural area did not ever use a toilet. Here is how the new toilet/shower facility looked on October 2, 2014 from the front:
In researching this not so uncommon sanitation challenge in developing countries, I was referred to a TED Talk by Rose George. In this TED Talk, she presents information about the challenges faced by communities that lack basic sanitation and the cultural understanding of the need for sanitation:
So, one of our tasks when we return to Cambodia in November is to introduce basic public health and sanitation education to the users of the biogas digester system and toilet/shower facility.
Have your ever worked on a project and lacked an understanding of the cultural norms of the end users of your work?
“So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” (1 Corinthians 15:58 NLT)
By the way, I thought I would also share this short video produced by the SNV Netherlands Development Agency. SNV is the organization that initiated the Cambodian Biodigester Programme in 2006 that we were able to partner with, making this project at TCC a reality.
(Photo credits: Linda Freeman, Takeo Province, Cambodia, September 2014. October 2, 2014 photo of new toilet/shower facility by Lacy Beach.)