Once again, we were met with the smiling faces of the CSSD staff this morning in our hotel lobby. They arrive at 8am sharp on their motorbikes and wait patiently for us to finish our breakfast-they always want us to start the day on a full stomach. They merge so effortlessly into chaotic traffic, and cross
puddles ponds (it is rainy season after all) to get us safely to CSSD’s office. The space is starting to feel so homey already. We respectfully take off our shoes before entering the office, and let the stone tiles cool our feet as we greet everyone. The staff members are all relatively young at CSSD, and their energy creates such a buzz in the air that gets everyone excited. It’s clear from their interactions that they’re like a family. Even though they speak in Khmer, you can tell that they’re always teasing each other and making jokes, and that they really enjoy each other’s company. The dynamics in the office remind me a lot of our GlobeMed chapter meetings and I can’t help but smile at the site of their camaraderie.
After receiving some very gracious and practical gifts from Mr. Chanthan and the CSSD staff, it was time to get down to the nitty gritty and start fleshing out the details of what we, the GROW team, will be doing over the next couple of weeks. Mr. Chanthan, the Executive Director of CSSD and our main partner contact, created a quick itinerary for the day. He started with introductions from all the CSSD staff. Here’s a little something about everyone (I hope I spelled everyone’s names right!):
Mr. Chanthan: Although he’s the Director of CSSD, he’s as youthful and energetic as any of the staff. Originally from a remote village, he’s really a self made man. From his reckless youth to his meaningful work with CSSD today, Mr. Chanthan’s story isn’t short of adventure, danger, loss, love, or purpose.
Sopia: Head of administration at CSSD and a shy beauty. Like so many people we’ve met here, Sopia exudes warmth and welcome and keeps the office running smoothly from behind the scenes.
Pheaktra: Pheaktra is head of accounting at CSSD and oversees the finances of all of CSSD’s projects, including GlobeMed’s project. She’s outgoing and can be heard playfully teasing the staff at CSSD.
Sathya: Sathya works closely with Entertainment Workers in 3 districts as an Interpersonal Communications Staff. He’s always impeccably dressed (even in this ridiculous heat) and despite his efforts to be “the cool guy”, he’s a total goofball.
Spreypo: Spreypo is also an IPC Staff and works with EW’s to refer the to monthly STD screenings and other reproductive health check ups. Although English isn’t her strong point, she was able to grasp what GlobeMed was all about very quickly. She said she was impressed by our commitment to CSSD and looks forward to the work we’ll do together.
Thida: Thida also works with EW’s in a couple different districts. We saw her in action in a group discussion with EW’s in the community. Although the discussion about safe sex and condom use was conducted in Khmer, we could tell Thida was really engaging and used creative tools to get the message across.
Touoh: Touoh is the newest staff at CSSD and still a little shy. He’s a project officer and works to train peer facilitators who will work with MSM (men who have sex with men) to diffuse stigma and promote safe sexual practices.
Channa: Channa is an outreach staff who works on the IAEKL project (which I think works with individuals who have HIV/AIDS) as well as with MSM. She’s outgoing and her facial expressions are pretty hilarious. We also learned she’s a great singer and dancer when we played some embarrassing ice breaker games the other day.
Samphy: “Phy” for short is second in command. She has over 20 years of experience in working with Entertainment Workers and other vulnerable communities in Phnom Penh. She taught us all a lot today about the difficulties CSSD faces when working with these women, who are often illiterate and lack a basic understanding of reproductive health, how condoms work as preventative measures, and how to even use them properly.
Samnang: He’s a community facilitator who works with about 150 MSM in 4 different districts. He’s not shy around us and wants to practice his English with us.
Hongkry: Hongkry is also a community facilitator who works with 150 MSM in 4 different districts. He’s so adorable (had to say it) with his bright smile and gentle demeanor. He also impressed us all with an acrobatics show when he climbed up a tree to retrieve us some yummy mangoes.
Seiha: Seiha means “August”, since she was born in the month of August. She volunteers with finances and accounting. She was also the first one to break the ice and ask for our Facebooks.
Saramy: Saramy is the M-Style club manager, an organization/brand that caters to the MSM community in Phnom Penh. She’s definitely got a lot of spunk, despite being one of CSSD’s most seasoned staff members. She runs the drop in center next door to CSSD and pops in and out throughout the day.
Pheakday: He’s the CSSD office guard. He seems quiet, but we all suspect he must have some secret ninja skills.
CSSD staff introductions were followed by some quick introductions on our part. We also explained how GlobeMed functions as an organization, and how we break down roles and responsibilities. They were curious about how we raised money for our project with CSSD and how we convince others to donate to our cause. After explaining who we are and what we do, I think the CSSD staff had a greater understanding of our partnership and commitment to them, and were even more eager to work with us.
We dove into discussing what skills we could bring to the table for CSSD as we work with them on the ground. Even as students, we understand how to compile, organize, and analyze data, write clear and effective reports and proposals, and communicate well with potential donors and the communities we’re trying to reach. We plan to bring these skills to CSSD over the next couple of weeks, so that they can better engage with their communities, and track the progress that they’re making in a more efficient way. The discussion was loose, but flowed organically as one idea led to the next and involved lots of translating between Khmer and English. Our excitement for our collaboration with one another, evident in the huge smiles on everyone’s faces, crossed the language barrier and, as Sai put it, was representative of “a true partnership”.
We didn’t realize how hungry we all were until the discussion wrapped up and it was time for lunch. The CSSD staff has this wonderful routine of cooking homemade meals for lunch and eating together everyday outside on the patio. With some simple cooking tools and fresh herbs growing right in the backyard, they whip up some pretty amazing meals. Even my mediocre cooking skills were put to the test as I helped put together lunch today. We love this time of the day when we can bond with the staff and enjoy the sense of family that makes this seemingly simple place something truly inspiring.
This post was super long (thanks for reaching the end), but I could go on and on about how impressed I am by CSSD’s sense of community and commitment to their work. Mr. Chanthan takes such pride in his young and empowered staff, just like GlobeMed does. As we learn more about each other, we realize how similar we are and how well we fit together in our partnership. I can’t wait for all the jokes, awkward smiles, motorbike rides, and meaningful work to come in the weeks ahead.