Fire devastates poor, widows in Cambodia.

By January 29, 2013

Cambodia (MNN/A2) — According to the Solidarity for Urban Poor Federation (SUPF) in Cambodia, more than 180,000 people live in informal settlements in Phnom Penh.

Many of these communities are made up of shanties built on rooftops, as well as along rivers and roadsides. Most of them don't have running water, a bathroom, or electricity. People living in these settlements are vulnerable to evictions, fires and flooding.

Fires spread quickly and can easily take out a community before it's brought under control. MengAun Hour serves as the National Director of Asian Access/Cambodia. He says last Saturday, January 20, "Behind our church, one house, a coffee shop, started burning, and the owner of the house was not in the house, so the fire started burning from that house to many houses."

By the time it was put out, "It destroyed 13 houses there. It's a poor community, and among the 13 houses are five houses of our church members." Because of the way the homes are built, there is not much time to grab anything, Pastor MengAun points out. "Most of them, they just ran away by themselves. They didn't take anything from the house."

One woman carried her elderly mother out but couldn't get back in to get anything else. Four widows and their families lost their homes in the blaze. The loss of the homes is significant to a family that cannot afford to rebuild.

Pastor MengAun says when the church saw who was affected, "Even though we are a small church, a poor church, we're encouraging them to help for the special offering. We got $185 (USD) to buy food and clothes for those who are really in need." They weren't alone, he adds. "About four or five churches came and took a special offering like our church did to help the people in the community whose houses burned."

A2's pastors have been trained "for such a time as this." The key to its effectiveness is the careful selection of twelve emerging leaders. These leaders are then invited to be a part of a class that meets four times a year for a week at a time over a two-year period.

In the course of the training, the leaders are able to become more aware of their distinct strengths individually, as well as the unique giftedness of their congregations. Eight years ago, Asian Access graduated its first class of participants in Cambodia. Last year, they graduated the 4th class. What has the training taught: that a unified Church brings hope in situations that are desperate

The land belongs to the homeowners, so it's really a question of getting funds for building materials. Cement will cost between $4,000 to $5,000, but wood costs between $500 and $800. The $185 collected by the churches is a good start.

What they're hoping for now is a little more help, says Pastor MengAun. "If we can come together, we will rebuild the houses. If we cannot build 13 houses in that community that burned by fire, at least we can build four houses for the widow families." For now, survivors are staying in the church and with Pastor MengAun. Their long-term response, he says, will create future outreach. "I think that's the best help, and it will also allow the community to see the love of Christ flowing through the Church in that area."

To help Asian Access grow a building fund for the Cambodian outreach, click here.


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