Name: Warren West
Hometown: Chestertown, Md. (Presbyterian Church of Chestertown)
Assignment: As planning, monitoring,evaluation and reporting coordinator for MCC in Cambodia, I work with projects in food security, education and peacebuilding. This includes researching and planning for good projects, working with partners and MCC staff to discover what impacts our projects are having and sharing that back with MCC.
Typical days: Recently, I took a long, dusty motorcycle ride with a partner to meet past graduates of an MCC-supported rural vocational training project. I talked with them about how their lives and livelihoods were affected by the project and brainstormed with partner staff about ways to better measure the project’s results. On days when I’m in the office, I research new projects, for instance reading reports from similar projects in Cambodia, and provide feedback to partners on their proposals and reporting.
Joys: Collaborating with MCC staff, partners and project participants to find better and better ways to more fully see the impact of MCC-supported projects. I am a real details and analysis person, and I love to learn, so this role is so life-giving for me.
Challenge: With things like intense heat, traffic, constant noise and limited green space, I’ve found that it’s extremely hard to fully relax and unwind.
On food security and the importance of financial services: As I work with MCC’s food security projects, one of the things that I keep reflecting on is how important good financial services are to farmers. I don’t think this is the first thing that comes to mind when most people hear the word “food security,” but it is so important.
Most farmers here take out loans each year to last them through harvest, and for many debt becomes a significant problem. Both of our food security projects here have some form of community banking as a central component, where members can take out loans at affordable rates, can save and gain interest – and can have ownership over the bank as well, thus keeping money in the community.
I think having these components shows MCC’s flexibility and willingness to listen to local partners’ visions for what food security means to them.
How life in Cambodia has changed how I think about food: I think more and more about how much food my home culture wastes. Here in Cambodia, there seems to be a way to eat just about anything. The blood, intestines, feet, head and heart of a chicken are all eaten here, and fish and other things are fermented, dried, etc., so as to get more use out of them. This clearly makes sense as a more sustainable model. If it is edible, why shouldn’t it be eaten!
Favorite foods: I love so many foods here, especially the coconut water and prohok kerti, a thick stew-type dish made from fermented fish, minced pork, coconut milk, palm sugar, garlic and chilies. You usually eat it by dipping fresh vegetables or sour mango into it.
On sustaining myself in a new culture: I once read a book by Eugene Peterson titled A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, and that phrase really stuck with me. Whether it is language learning, trying to coordinate good projects or just living in another place in general, I can get frustrated when I can’t progress at 100 steps a day. Also, there are just so many ups and downs – times when projects thrive, times when they don’t, times when I get complimented for my language, times when someone doesn’t understand what I am saying. So, among all that, I really like the idea of just waking up the next day, being patient and walking in the same direction again, realizing that the journey is very long.
Starting with MCC: When I was finishing grad school in international development and looking for positions overseas, I saw a posting for an MCC SALT (Serving and Learning Together) position in Cambodia that looked really interesting. I ended up applying and really enjoying my year. I lived with a host family, learned a lot of Khmer and worked with a partner NGO to develop proposals and reports. I really enjoyed my experience. When an MCC position opened up to work with another partner NGO, I was happy to sign up. Then, when MCC Cambodia created this new position a year ago, it seemed like another great opportunity. My wife, Sophea Ly, works as the exchange coordinator with MCC, overseeing the International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP) and the Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Program (YAMEN). We both really enjoy the opportunities to learn, be challenged and make a difference working with MCC and look forward to the remaining two years of our assignment in Cambodia.