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My First Shoes

From Tommy, Serena, Ezra, and John
Phnom Penh

Distributing food and supplies to 3,000 poor families in Cambodia

Tommy, with brothers Ponlho and Ponleu (back), amid the sea of donated goods and grateful recipients.

Several months ago, Family members in Japan received a donation of 18,000 new pairs of shoes, to be sent as humanitarian aid to the Third World. Two box companies donated new boxes, Family members and friends spent a day re-boxing the shoes, a local transport company got them to the port, and a Singaporean company shipped them to Cambodia for free.

The first month, in a joint project with the Cambodian Red Cross, we distributed 12,000 pairs to children in four provinces. We also spent time getting to know some of the children. On another occasion 3,000 families received a 50-kg (110-lb) bag of rice, bar soap, laundry soap, two 20 liter (6-gallon) jerry cans, water purification tablets, medicine, blankets, mosquito nets, and two pairs of new shoes. Here are some of their reactions and personal accounts of life in Cambodia, translated from Khmer:

Today the barangs (foreigners) came. They gave me two pairs of new shoes. They asked me to give them my old pair so they could send it back to show to their donors, but I had to tell them that even though I am nine, I never had any shoes. My parents are too poor to afford shoes. Only my dad has old plastic sandals because he needs them for his job as a moto-taxi (motorbike with sidecar) driver. My mom walks barefoot, and so do my six brothers and sisters. On Sunday we all climb on the moto and go for a ride. It is lots of fun. My youngest brother stands in front of my dad, and I sit behind him and hold my younger sister, right in front of my mom, who carries the baby in her arms. My two other sisters sit behind on the rack with all the food and things. We are one happy family. We don't have much, but we appreciate what we have and have learned to make do with it.—Ponlho

Today the barangs came with some of our government people, so I went with my mom and dad to see them. My brothers and sisters stayed home with my aunt and my grandmother, who also live with us. Our house is not fancy, but it is ok. The good thing about living so many in one room is that you never get cold even when the rainy season comes. Yes, our house has only one small room, just big enough for us to sleep side-by-side on the wooden floor. It is well situated by the edge of the Mekong River, so we don't have to go too far to get water to wash or drink. Our toilet is just next to the house. The other advantage is that we don't have to move when it is flood season. Every year it floods here, and all the farmers come to our road—the only road in the province that doesn't flood—and camp in tents for a couple of months with their families, cows, and other animals. When the waters go down, they go back to their rice fields. I am grateful for our little house by the river.—Ponleu

Today the barangs came. I was a little scared because I hadn't seen so many barangs at one time. There were six of them, but I felt safe because we were 3,000. Each family had been asked to send one representative to receive things, so many people came from all around, mostly by boat, of course. A television crew was also there, so I figured they must be somebody important. The Cambodian people who were with them talked about the Red Cross and the Family helping us and caring about us, and they gave us many things to bring back home—rice, shoes, jerry cans, soap, sarongs, blankets, mosquito nets, water- purification tablets, and other things. They told us not to use the mosquito nets for catching fish because they were soaked with insecticide, and that we could use the blankets to sit on and eat our meals.—Ravy

Today the barangs came, and our moto was totally covered with gifts. Things were stacked 2 meters above our heads, and lots stuck out the sides. I had hardly room to sit on it. A barang woman from The Family came toward me, but I wasn't afraid because she had love in her eyes. She spoke Khmer a little, and she put nice shoes on my feet. My first pair of shoes! Wow!—Srey