Scholastic Charles Nopparut “Bee” Ruankool, SJ
“I’m actually in Cambodia!” I told myself when I first arrived at the airport in Siem Reap. Although Cambodia is near my homeland, Thailand, this was my first time to visit this country. I was very exited about the trip because I realized that my Christmas and New Year celebrations would be very different from previous years, and I was very grateful to the Scholastics and Brothers Circle (SBC) for the opportunity to explore Cambodia more.
Staying in Metta Karuna (love and kindness in Sanskrit) Reflection Center, I was welcomed warmly by Sister Denise and her co-workers. I also met many scholastics from different countries in the Jesuit Conference Asia Pacific. We shared our experiences with one another in a spirit of openness and joy. The atmosphere really made me feel the “loving kindness” for which the reflection center is named. The presence of Cambodians, Jesuits, collaborators, and the scholastics during a meeting gave me a much deeper experience of the theme for the year, “To Heal a Broken World: Reconciling People, Communities and Creation.”
During the two weeks, there were many activities, sharing, and exposure, to help deepen our understanding of the topic of reconciliation. However, what impressed me most was the live-in with the family in a parish church that is part of the Battambang Diocese in western Cambodia.
All the scholastics were divided into smaller groups. There were four scholastics representing four countries in my group (Korea, Myanmar, Portugal, and Thailand), and we stayed in the small parish church called Nikhom. I remember how joyful the people there were upon receiving us on our arrival. We joined them for three days and celebrated Christmas with them. It was an inculturated Christmas celebration and I enjoyed this experience very much and was happy to see how the Holy Mass could be integrated in a holistic way with Cambodian culture.
One evening during the Christmas celebration, a young man asked me, “Brother, where are you from?” I immediately replied that I was from Thailand. He then began speaking with me in fluent Thai, which really impressed me. He told me that he and other young people choose to work in Thailand because they can earn more money than working in Cambodia. This surprised me at first, because I thought Cambodia was very rich in natural resources, which could help support peoples’ livelihoods. I then learned that mostly grandparents and young children lived in this village, and in other villages as well, because most young people and adults choose to work in other countries. This made me very sad. But it was a good way to learn what is really happening in the communities in Cambodia.
There are two possible reasons for what’s happening now. Firstly, Cambodia’s experience when the Khmer Rouge was in power from 1975 to 1979, led by Pol Pot and during which time, many people were killed. Cambodia lost many of its skilled people who would have been able to help develop their country. This was a trauma that is still in need of reconciliation. Secondly, young people lack education especially on the management of their ecological systems. It will take time for them to understand the value of fostering their land through agriculture and producing their own products.
Despite the problems I discovered during the live-in in Nikhom, I did not feel discouraged. Actually, I felt quite the opposite. I still feel that there is real hope through the many great people who have dedicated their lives to the people of Cambodia. Some of them I met, those who have worked in Cambodia for many years like Bishop Enrique “Kike” Figaredo, Sister Denise Coghlan, Father Joseph “Jub” Phongphand Phokthavi, Mr. Bob, Matt, and many others. Through their lives, they teach me more about how reconciliation can happen, even though it may take many years. They teach me not just to work for the people, but also to be with them, to accompany them as friends, and to move forward, into the future with hope and joy.
At last, I realized that my expectation upon arriving in Cambodia was right. I did have a very different Christmas and New Year holiday. The SBC meeting gave me the opportunity to experience Cambodia together with my fellow scholastics. Staying with the people in Nikhom and learning from the dedicated people in Cambodia during the two weeks was very inspiring for me.
Now, I have a better understanding of what “to heal a broken world” means. Through the experiences here, I learned that I must reconcile with the past. In the present, I must learn to dedicate my life and do the best I can for others. For the future, I must learn to keep hope and joy alive. This was what Cambodia taught me in this SBC meeting and they are lessons that I know will bear fruit in the future.
Bee is a Thai scholastic who joined the Scholastics and Brothers Circle meeting in Cambodia last December 2012.