Posts Tagged ‘ Travel ’

ICM: Changing the Face of Poverty

International Care Ministries in the Philippines.  Awesome people, amazing mission, brilliantly executed.

I’ve been a fan of ICM — an organization dedicated to changing the face of poverty the Philippines — since I attended a presentation in a DC conference room over a year ago. I was quickly enamored by their model of ministry and their well-constructed strategy designed to meet the needs of the poorest of the poor on a holistic level.

Naturally, when an invitation came to spend a week with them to learn more about their programs and management in the Philippines with the backing of one of my generous supporters, I leapt at the chance.  I spent a week traveling around the country with a group of ICM staff, supporters, potential partners, and a handful of other missionaries from Cambodia and Indonesia.  I made some great like-minded and like-hearted friends, and came back to Thailand re-energized, loaded with ideas and equipped with some concrete tools to integrate into our work here.

ICM has developed a “values, health and livelihood” curriculum which they deliver through three- or six-month training programs, administered in partnership with local pastors reaching the poorest of the poor in their communities.

I geeked out a bit when we dove into their livelihood curriculum which includes teaching vermiculture (worms!) and vegetable gardening or container farming (in coke bottles or old tires) for homes without space for a garden.  We visited the demonstration farms but also saw their practices being employed in rural villages, fishing communities and slum communities alike. (The second photo below was a model for slum community projects.) I took the liberty of asking the local kids whether or not they liked the vegetables they were growing, to which I got a resounding “yes.”

ICM also operates preschools for those with limited or no access to educational opportunities; they currently have 80 preschools around the country serving 2,000 kids and their families. We not only got to spend some time doing activities with the kids but attended several graduation ceremonies; each consisting of about 300 confident five-year-olds running around in caps and gowns.  (And I thought Thai kids were cute…)

They have also recently started a malnourished children feeding program and run a number of other “mercy” programs designed to provide special assistance to individuals and families in need.  These range from funding special medical cases for poor individuals facing serious illness to operating a children’s shelter, and from partnering in slum reconstruction to providing economic opportunities for at-risk women.

Malnourished children program

Slum Community Reconstruction

It was awe-inspiring to see ICM’s presence and hear and see firsthand stories of their impact; they are an organization on mission to change the face of poverty in the Philippines, and they’re actually doing it.  They have a solid staff, strategy driven management with Kingdom vision.  I can’t think of a better model to learn from.

On a personal level, I admit I was a little worried my “squirrel” syndrome would take over when I got there and I wouldn’t want to come home to Thailand.  That wasn’t the case at all.   Though I certainly fell in love with the adorable kids and was quite jealous of the fact that the Philippines is a) already predominantly Christian and b) largely English-speaking… I found that I itched to get back to Thailand where the kids and families weren’t just new faces to me, but I knew their stories.  And I’m not merely a visitor to them, I’m now auntie Cori.  Despite the language barrier here (which is getting easier by the day) and the relative spiritual darkness we face, I would still choose Thailand any day of the week.  It’s home for me for now.

So… now my challenge is to apply some of the good stuff I learned.

Next up:  Stories from Buriram…

Malaysia and the Mountains

Playing catch-up after a quick trip to Malaysia to renew my visa directly followed by five days out in Thailand’s hill country near the Myanmar border with a crew of rambunctious youth.   Will try to capture a few of the highlights…

Malaysia was great; overall a successful visa run with a little time allotted to play tourist over the weekend before heading back to Bangkok.  I was hosted by a couple of good friends in Kuala Lumpur while I went through the visa process and was able to spend a day visiting the outskirts of town.  The gorgeous limestone formations at Batu Caves (272 stairs leading up to a Hindu shrine in a cave with 100-meter-high ceilings) made me wish I had thrown in my rock climbing gear, and a visit to the forested paradise of the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia made me remember just how much I prefer trees to concrete.  I then hopped up to Penang Island to get a little more taste of Malaysia’s diversity.  I was fascinated to constantly look around and see a mix of Indian, Chinese and Middle Eastern cultures;  I left there not quite sure what Malay culture actually was, other than a mix of everything else.

Just days after I got back to Bangkok from Malaysia we turned around and hopped on an early bus headed to Sangkhlaburi in Thailand’s hill country for a five day youth camp.  We took a few handfuls of youth with whom we have relationships either through their parents participating in The Well programs or through other means.

It brought me great joy to see these kids getting a chance to trade in the internet, movies and the concrete jungle of Bangkok for a few days in hill country with fun community, games, music, mountains, rivers and challenging messages.  For some it was the first time entering into community of this sort, sharing their lives with others their age and being challenged with messages about what it means to follow Jesus as a teenager today.

So many beautiful moments (and many, many hilarious episodes) throughout the camp, all culminating in a powerful final evening where we saw kids take hold of the message of the Gospel in amazing ways.  I wish I could capture and share all the sights, sounds and smiles that transpired over the weekend.

On a personal level, I realized how challenging it is to connect with youth when you can’t speak their language.  Having been a youth leader in the States for however many years, I found myself frustrated to not be able to connect with them more and feel like I could really enter in their lives and hearts.  But… I remembered how much my youth at home liked to tease me about being so hopelessly out of touch with anything “cool” — be it music, fashion, slang.  So, it turns out it’s just as fun to make fun of me for my lack of language.  One of my favorite memories from the weekend was staying up late with the girls and listening to them laugh hysterically at my attempts to copy their boy-crazy, teenage Thai slang.

Beyond that, I had a sweet little 10-year-old from the village attach herself to me and take it upon herself to correct my Thai (often) and make sure I didn’t get lost.  And one of the teenagers paid special attention to make sure that I understood the rules to the games (and then did the embarrassing dances with me if I lost the game… which happened often…)

Talk about lessons in humility; I had a healthy dose over the weekend.  And it was good.

Aside from the fun and games, I loved seeing the responses from the teens as they were challenged to process through what it means to follow Jesus in their teenage years.  It got me excited to see so much potential in a pretty amazing group of teens, most of whom have already experienced some pretty hard stuff in their lives.

Though my role at The Well isn’t focused in on the teenagers, I’m appreciative of the window I got into their lives over this weekend as we all pitched in to make the camp happen.  I loved seeing so many seeds planted and have great hopes that God will supply the increase as they continue to be invested in by the leaders here at The Well.

I’m back to Bangkok now with a full plate of projects and a healthy dose of excitement for God continuing to stir things up and move things forward in our lives and community.   And I’m sure many more lessons in humility await!