September 29, 2016

Printed in Today's Pulse

by Lisa Knodel

Spending the summer in rural Cambodia was more than a holiday for Becca Robinson of Mason, Ohio.  The 2013 Mars Hill Academy alumna dedicated 12 weeks interning with Jumpah, a non-government organization working to help the southeast Asian country overcome three decades of war, turmoil and genocide.
While the organization has an orphanage for children whose parents died from AIDS, a farm, wood shop, church and school, she researched the marketability of hand washing stations for rural Cambodian households. In between research, Robinson spent time with children from the orphanage and helped with an adult English class at the school.

“This project involved interviewing families in six villages to collect information on household demographics, economics, social capital, hygiene knowledge and hygiene practice. In order to collect this information, two translators lived and worked with us this summer and provided a lot of cultural insight. After the summer, the two other interns and I wrote a report to summarize our findings and draw marketing recommendations for the future sales of LaBobo hand washing stations in this region,” explained Robinson, an economics and community development double-major at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Ga.

LaBobo is a purpose-built, portable and mass-manufactured device which uses aesthetic appeal and user functionality to encourage frequent hand washing. According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), lack of water and sanitation is one of the biggest issues affecting the health of children across Cambodia, who have high occurrences of intestinal, skin and respiratory illnesses. In fact, diarrheal diseases account for about 20 percent of deaths of children age five and under and an estimated 10,000 overall deaths annually.

“Having a grasp of rural Cambodian household cash flows and current hygiene practices hopefully will help organizations target their marketing information to the needs of these people,” she explained. “One interesting finding from this summer was that many families would rather pay smaller monthly payments than a one-time lump sum for their hand washing station. Thus, it may be helpful for organizations to offer payment plan methods in the financing of hand washing stations. My hope is that insights like these can be a helpful resource for people who are working to bring better sanitation and hygiene to these areas.”

Robinson said her classical Christian education at Mars Hill Academy helped prepare her for the internship, including teaching her how to think critically and work hard.

“There were several times throughout the summer when we were drudging through coding lots of interview data or trying to analyze what we had learned that day. Having a good work ethic prepared me well for college and opportunities like this summer where the work is long and difficult,” she explained. “My education at Mars Hill also prepared me to synthesize lots of different information and gather the main points. This skill was very helpful this summer as our team did a lot of research on what people had already learned about hand washing behavior in this region and how to effectively write an interview guide. Having the ability to quickly read a lot of different articles and synthesize some of the main points was extremely helpful.”

Robinson, who learned about the internship opportunity through a professor at her college, said the experience taught her valuable lessons about ministry and herself.

“I definitely enjoyed living cross-culturally and understanding how to effectively operate and get to know people in a completely different cultural context,” she explained. “My experience this summer also showed me the importance of doing community development through the local church, while building on the skills and assets of the people you are working with. Jumpah did an incredible job of intentionally and thoughtfully serving others amidst very hard and broken situations and using the participation of the local people as much as possible.”

Robinson also gained a better understanding of what it means to minsters in both word and deed and a deeper sense of her own pride and need for brokenness.

 “Good intentions are not enough in doing ministry. When you are doing development work, there will be a lot of really hard situations and judgment calls,” she said. “It is so important to have a thoughtful framework for understanding how to do poverty alleviation and development work in a way that is beneficial to both parties involved. Christians should be the most thoughtful people as they enter situations of brokenness as seek to love others as Christ does. … As I consider what to do after college, I know that I want to be among people who care about justice and sacrificially serving their neighbors.”

Photo: Mars Hill Academy alumna Becca Robinson ('13), pictured on right, dedicated 12 weeks last summer to interning with Jumpah, a non-government organization working to help Cambodia overcome three decades of war, turmoil and genocide.