Posted by Onleilove Alston and authored by Yuan Tang

God doesn’t need an army of men to change the world.  Rather He needs servants with humble hearts who are willing to do His work.  As Christians, we need hearts of persistence, faith, and love that endures through the discouragements and hopelessness that can come with human rights work.  It is through relationships and communities that change happens.

I met Im Sopheak while I spent my summer abroad in Pnomh Penh doing legal work.  He is a Christian who started an organization called the Lazarus Project in 2005 where he goes into a slum every Sunday to teach the children Bible stories.  I offered to go with him since I taught Children’s Bible Study at my church.  I had no idea of the impact that those two hours would have on me.

When I arrived in the community with Sopheak, all I saw was a large plot of land filled with grass, dirt, and homes along the sides.  About forty children emerged from their homes running towards Sopheak.  Some were naked while others wore clothes that looked like they hadn’t been washed in weeks.  They had huge smiles on their faces as we told them the story of the Good Samaritan and what it means to love their neighbors.  A few girls sat on my lap holding me tightly with their little arms.

Before we left, Sopheak had a bag of candy to hand out to the children.  I was stunned to see the children almost trample each other just for a piece of candy.  Some children cried because they couldn’t get one right away.  Right in front of me a girl put her hand in another girl’s mouth and took the candy from the girl’s mouth and then ate it.  In that moment, I wish I could have given so much more to these children – food, clothing, anything.

On our way back to get a tuk tuk, Sopheak walked me through the community where he talked with the families and the children.  He has been coming to this community every Sunday for the past four years.  I bombarded him with questions, just wanting to learn all that I can.

I learned that Doeum Sleng community has 1020 families living in four separate groups.  The Lazarus Project works with group 4, which has 163 families with over 400 children, mainly under the age of 16.  The families are from various provinces.  The land is privately owned and the families need to pay $0.50 a day to live there, having to build their homes by hand.  In addition, they pay $0.40 for 100 liter of water and $0.60 for 1 kilo watt of electricity.  The average income per household is $2.50 a day.

Most of the children cannot go to school because they need to work with their families.  Some go with their parents to the market to sell goods while others spend their days collecting plastic throughout Pnomh Penh and others do laundry with their parents.  Many of the parents are illiterate.

Sopheak told me the objectives of the Lazarus Project:

  • to motivate children to re-enter school and 
  • to successfully re-establish the children’s lives with God’s love and holistic development.  

The Lazarus Project has sent five children back to school.  They also teach about hygiene and safety as many of the children are alone as they go around collecting plastic.  In addition, Sopheak brings children into the city and challenges them to dream about their futures.  Many want to work in beauty salons, become teachers, or soldiers.  They are starting to see how they do have a future.

Since then, I have gone back with Sopheak to the Doeum Sleng community and am going to sponsor a little girl monthly from the United States where my money will go towards her education, etc.  Some of us are donating clothes to the community and I will be donating money for school uniforms and school supplies for the children.  I am also going to raise the money for the moto that Lazarus Project needs in the states.  I have also come to know Sopheak’s wife and children.

One man.  One dream.  One passion for ending injustice.  In my eyes Sopheak is the hero.  He goes back every week and builds relationships with the children and their families.  The community trusts him.  I trust him and want to keep supporting him as he is the only permanent member of the Lazarus Project.  I am thankful for the Lazarus Project, for the Doeum Sleng community, and for Sopheak who have helped me see the glimmer of hope in the midst of darkness and most importantly, how one person can have such a large impact.

DSCN1956Yuan Tang is a second year law student at The Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University in Philadelphia.  She was a legal intern in Thailand and Cambodia for the non-profit international organization Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia this summer where she did human rights work in the local community. For further information about the Lazarus Project, please e-mail lazarusproject05@yahoo.com