Tracing the human thread in Cambodia

by Trish Clark /
Trish Clark's picture
May 23, 2012 / 0 comments

Yesterday I received the following letter from a good friend, an Australian Jesuit priest who is based in Bangkok and who ministers wherever the need may be. I was touched by his story and I felt it should be passed on. Here it is……

Dear Trish,

She is 90 years of age. Two nights before and in a delirious state, she fell three meters from a window in the bamboo and thatch house, raised on stilts and built that way to avoid the worst effects of the annual floods.

I’m in Cambodia and I’ve stopped off at a town called Kompong Thom to meet an old friend who is parish priest here – Jub Phoktavi, a Thai Jesuit who studied in Australia. My friend took me for a walk – his afternoon parish rounds. He wanted to visit the old woman who has relocated beneath the raised thatch house where there’s no relief from the 40 degree heat and humidity. The electricity is on “brown out”. So there aren’t any fans.


The old lady's house

The old lady's house


He talks to the old Khmer lady in comforting ways as I watch and think of the history that has coursed through her life – French colonial rule in her childhood and adolescence, the Japanese occupation in WW2, Cambodia’s unsuccessful attempt to stay out of the Vietnam War climaxing in the terror of Pol Pot who was born and grew up in a house 300 meters from where she lay. She must have known him in their childhoods, I think to myself.

Over the last 30 years, since Pol Pot was driven from power by the Vietnamese, her life hasn’t been much more peaceful with only the last decade of managed piracy by Hun Sen providing relative respite.

My friend, the parish priest, holds the old lady’s hand tenderly as he waves the fan to relieve the effects of the heat. Miraculously, she broke no bones in the three meter fall. It probably sums up her life.


Cambodia minority house

Cambodia minority house


Minority girl in Cambodia

Minority girl in Cambodia


Reflecting on this encounter, I thought to myself that telling such stories is the best of what we do at UCAN – reporting as if people matter. Giving an account of the lives and experiences of those left at the margins, ignored or forgotten as grand events unfold. We want to tell the human side of the big stories.

But we stand between worlds – between ones where nothing works and the ones where too much can never be enough, between worlds where there isn’t even reliable electricity and ones where the electronic world intrudes uncontested from multiple directions at once. God save us if we don’t tell the human story in both.

Thanks to the generosity of many of you, we are now doing it much better on social media. In just a few months since we started, we have attracted thousands of “friends” on Facebook pages across Asia. And already we have about 10,000 following us on Twitter.

At the beginning of May, we launched a mobile site ( for smart phones. It brings to hand held devices the reflective content of the hugely popular guided prayer site Sacred Space ( that is seen every week by 40,000 users of laptops and desktops across the world. The content is provided by the Irish Jesuits but together we’ve developed something for users of held devices as their point of web access.

As you probably know, access to the web this way is booming in Asia and in the first few days of promotion for the mobile site, we conducted a Twitter campaign that saw the promotion re-Tweeted more than 100,000 times.

Please pray for our work. Tracing the human thread in turbulent and tumultuous events and circumstances requires acts of faith and hope. And we cannot find the faith and hope all by ourselves. We need your help and prayers.


Cambodia fish seller

Cambodia fish seller


Thanks in anticipation and my best wishes again,


Fr. Michael Kelly SJ
Executive Director
Email:    mkelly [at]



Trish Clark is author of Good Night and God Bless: A Guide to Convent and Monastery Accommodation in Europe, Vols I and II, both published by Hidden Spring, an imprint of Paulist Press NJ. She writes a monthly column for as the Travel with a Spiritual Twist Editor.

You can find her at