Prek Pnov is a community on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. It is unique in that many of its residents live on a thin swath of land that is sandwiched between a major roadway and the bank of the Tonle Sap river. Each year, predictably, that swath of land massively floods. Homes that are made to float rise with the water, while homes built on stilts are subject to flooding that lasts for months at a time. Over the course of our years in Cambodia we have spent more time in Prek Pnov then probably any other village. Much of that time has been during the dry season though, and while we have been told many times about the annual flooding, we had no idea the scope of it until recently - until seeing it with our own eyes.
Mid-May through October is rainy season in Cambodia. During this time, not only does it rain A LOT, but there is melt from the higher regions that drains into the Mekong river. The Mekong river and the Tonle Sap converge at Phnom Penh, and when the Mekong, swelled to capacity, meets the rain-swollen Tonle Sap, it over takes the smaller river, causing it to reverse direction of flow, flooding everything that sits anywhere near its banks.
About now you might be thinking that anywhere along the banks of the Tonle Sap is not a good place to live. So why do people live there? The situation is complicated with the government bureaucracy, limited options for education, and a variety of social challenges that tend to accompany extreme poverty and continue the cycle.
Two weeks ago we visited Prek Pnov with our friends Kosal, who works in the community as the director of Asian Hope’s school located there, and Sopheak, the community resource liaison, who grew up in Prek Pnov. While our hearts were again touched for the people and the difficult life there, we were also encouraged by the steadfast love and compassion Kosal and Sopheak have for this community. While we often feel like we are inadequate for truly making a difference when the needs are so great, Kosal and Sopheak, by their gracious interactions with the people, reminded us that sometimes simply extending a hand, sharing a smile, or buying a few fish and some peanuts does make a difference. Ultimately, while these interactions seem so small, when added up over time, they make the biggest difference. It’s through these interactions that relationships are built, the gospel is demonstrated and shared, and lives are changed.
Words are effective communicators but you all know that my first language is visual. The following is a look at the Prek Pnov community on the morning of September 29th. Despite all the issues our hearts are touched by this community and we hope that yours will be too.