Battambang’s Women’s Day
It’s been awhile, but I’m back for a special occasion: International Women’s Day. March 8 has come and gone already, but I wanted to share what Tuesday looked like for us in Battambang.
We had a really special event at the Romero Center yesterday, with more than 200 women from fifteen villages and centers joining us to celebrate. They came in truck beds, tuk tuks, and motodops in groups of five, ten, twenty, laughing despite the morning rain that soaked them on their trips. We gathered in the church, danced, sang, and listened to two incredible speakers. First was the manager of Banteay Srei, a woman’s empowerment NGO working in Battambang and Siem Reap. There was one part of her speech that I especially liked: claiming and respecting our rights as women does not need to mean that Cambodian women have to adopt a Western lifestyle, and the issues that are central to women’s rights in Cambodia often look very different than in other parts of the world.
Next was my dear friend Leakhena, who came up from Phnom Penh for the day to share her story with our women. Lea spent much of her childhood in the garbage dumps of Phnom Penh. With help from an NGO, she made a new life for herself and siblings, and now works as the Chief Administrative Offer at Melon Rouge, the co-owner and manager of an Les Jardins du Mekong, and the owner of a website consulting company, as well as being a full-time mom and primary caretaker for her younger siblings. She’s one of the most charismatic, energetic, loving, hospitable, and visionary women I’ve ever met. She switches between Khmer, English, and French seamlessly and leaves a crowd of awe-struck (and often love-struck) admirers in her wake. Her talk silenced the room, and brought many to tears. After she finished, the young girls especially were crowding around her, wanting to meet her and take pictures. I was thrilled for her story to resonate so much with the women from our communities.
Finally, in the afternoon we watched a traditional Khmer dance about peace, performed by our dance students dressed in dove costumes. We shared the story of the thousand paper cranes, and then invited women to join us in making our own thousand. Watching the old women push themselves to do something completely new, the young ones teaching their aunties and grandmothers, and our youth stepping up as leaders and teachers… it was a special moment for our team as we looked around the room and saw so many women creating together.
I have tons of pictures that I’m still going through, and they’ll all be posted in the next few days, so stay tuned.
Also in honor of IWD, here’s a handful of recent excellent posts about women’s issues around the world: