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For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them. Matthew 18:20
GRIFFITH GLEANINGS SEPTEMBER 2020   ***Please note Deb has a new email address: if you reply to this newsletter it automatically is sent to Deb’s new email. Deb has not been able to access “ALL” her emails in the last six months, because her old email address was compromised. So if you missed hearing back from Deb please try again.

“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone” is the line of a popular 1970’s song, ‘Big Yellow Taxi’. This season of COVID-19 has visited many with a realisation of this human condition of failing to value what we have taken for granted.

As we write this update we read about protest and arrests of people in parts of Australia that have gathered illegally to protest about restrictions of movement. Freedom to gather with friends and family when desired is something many people in the world take for granted. The freedom to gather hasn’t always been a reality for Khmer people in past decades, but as a communal society it is an important part of life for our Khmer friends.

Pchum Ben is the Khmer festival that has begun to be celebrated here in Cambodia that literally means to gather together and eat rice. It is also an opportunity for Khmer families to honour their parents and ancestors before them.

To date in Cambodia there have been no deaths linked to the COVID-19 virus and no community transmission. There have certainly been some precautions put in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 being spread. Schools have stayed closed since March and tourist visas are not being issued to foreigners.

Just this month there are signs that restrictions are easing. Some schools have started to physically open with restricted class sizes and temperature checks of every person arriving. With many public schools like the local public school where Rob volunteers, it is hard to see how class size restrictions and hygiene requirements will be met. 50 to 60 students in the past would pack into small classrooms, with insufficient teaching staff numbers and infrequent running water or soap.

Last month the government symbolically gave a holiday to government works and some businesses that compensated for the Khmer New Year holiday being cancelled in April. The current Pchum Ben festival is the other occasion in the year when Khmer families travel from wherever they now live, to return to their place of birth and family to celebrate and gather together.

While there are still formally restrictions in place about certain types of gathering and restrictions at certain public events to hand sanitise and wear a face mask, very few restrictions are expected for families gathering and attending the temple together this festive season.

We don’t remember seeing any ‘big yellow taxi’ in Cambodia. There are less Tuk Tuks, on the streets of Siem Reap since the COVID-19 pandemic and livelihoods connected to tourists have been hit hard here in Cambodia, but gathering together this month will not be something Khmer people take for granted, it will be celebrated. Gathering is one characteristic of a communal culture that Western culture could learn from. We count it a privilege to be gathered here during this season.

Gathering and celebrating traditional Khmer festivals all look different in this COVID-19 season.
Sharing a picnic in a field where rice will soon be growing, is one way we have reengaged with our Khmer friends. This picnic was equipped with a large loud speaker, so we can share listening to our gathering singing Khmer karaoke songs.
The joy in the engagement of our youngest adult child Miriam to Wes Milne.
Renewed 12 month visa’s for both of us.
For our work permits which are now approved.
For energy and capacity in this season to get out and about building and renewing relationships.
Our local friends are recovering/recovered from significant mosquito borne illnesses.
For the lessons learned daily from humble Khmer people who open their language, culture, hearts, lives, and families with us.

For schools to meet COVID-19 requirements to reopen for both International schools (where our team families children attend) as well as the standard Khmer public schools where meeting challenges of hygiene and physical distancing in classrooms will be difficult to meet.
For wisdom for Khmer families as they move through this season of change and challenges.
For the Cambodian Global Interaction team strategy development while two team families remain back in Australia.