Spending the summer in rural Cambodia was more than a holiday for Becca Robinson. 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, Miss Robinson researched the marketability of hand washing stations for rural Cambodian households. In between research, she 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,” she explained.
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 ages five and under and an estimated 10,000 overall deaths annually.
Miss Robinson, who will graduate from Covenant College with an economics degree in May 2016 and a Community Development degree in May 2017, shared more about her mission experience and the impact of MHA on her life.
Q: Why do you think it was important to serve?
A: As followers of Jesus, we are called into areas of brokenness. One of my favorite books I have read for classes at Covenant is When Helping Hurts. In this book, Dr. Brian Fikkert explains, "Simply stated, Jesus preached the good news of the kingdom in word and in deed, so the church must do the same. And as we have seen, Jesus particularly delighted in spreading the goodness among the hurting, the weak, and the poor." Serving this summer also gave me a new understanding of my own pride and brokenness.
Q: How did you grow through this experience?
A: There are so many ways that this experience has shaped me that I am just beginning to recognize! I definitely enjoyed living cross-culturally and understanding how to effectively operate and get to know people in a completely different cultural context. 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.
Another way that I have been shaped by this summer is in understanding the importance of ministering in both word and deed. As Christians serving others, it is crucial that we articulate the Gospel as the reason for our hope as we do ministry.
I also learned good intentions are not enough in doing ministry. When you are doing development work, there will be a lot of really hard situations and judgement calls. 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 and seek to love others as Christ does.
Q: How do you hope to apply the lessons learned?
A: I hope to apply the lessons learned in whatever context God ends up leading me. I have a lot of respect for the professors at Covenant College and the people that I have seen doing development work that is having an impact around the world. As I consider what to do after college, I know I want to be among people who care about justice and sacrificially serving their neighbors.
Q: How do you hope your research will have an impact on hand washing in Cambodia?
A: My hope is that the organization I was working with can use the research we did on hand washing to influence their decisions and strategies on how to effectively market hand washing stations in this region. Having a grasp of rural Cambodian household cash flows and current hygiene practices will hopefully help organizations target their marketing information to the needs of these people.
One interesting finding from this summer was that many families would rather pay smaller monthly payments rather 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.
Q: How do you feel your education at MHA prepared you for this internship?
A: One of the things I appreciated most about my education at MHA was learning how to think critically and simply 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. 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.