Needles galore and mini-yarn balls for Toul Sambo:
Deep sigh of relief.
This morning on the drive out to Toul Sambo I had many worries floating around in my head. Not having enough needles, not being sure how many people would want to sign up for training, the yarn being too thin for teaching, the village leader not having prepared a list of names, not knowing where in the community to set up the training and so on. Today could be potentially messy, I thought.
The morning couldn't have turned out better (well, except for the lack of needles).
When we arrived, the village leader was nowhere to be seen. Another community member had taken on the responsibility of talking to everyone and making a list of interested people. Great initiative and the list was well prepared. Without it, things would not have gone so smoothly. We told everyone the problem with the knitting needles and not having enough and although they were disappointed, they seemed willing to share with one another until we come back on Monday with more.
We met with every interested person, gave them a pair of knitting needles and small ball of yarn and directed them to Rofi, Tyna and Mony, who were ready to teach them casting on and knit stitch. The official training has not started, but we wanted everyone to have a chance to learn, practice and get the hang of the bare basics. This way, when we start the training in a few weeks, the foundation will already be set.
And this is where it gets exciting and 'happy'. I was really worried about Tyna and Rofi and how comfortable they would be. They are young and shy and they had both, along with Mony, expressed concerns about working with HIV positive people. As you can expect, there are a lot of misconceptions about HIV/AIDS here and a lot of fear. They seemed to understand that the disease could not be transmitted easily, but feared that they might be open to other illnesses. Davy, Yeng and I have been reassuring them that we would not ask them to work in a situation that put them at risk and that if they felt really uncomfortable, we would need to talk about it some more.
So today, I really thought they would be nervous working with the community and I had no idea how training that was so unstructured and informal would go. We didn't have a chance to prepare too much or talk it through, I just asked them to cover the basics. I didn't have a chance to give them any support either as Davy and I were busy going through the list, getting names right, trying to learn the situation in each household.
I only found out when we got back in the car how it all went.
Tyna and Rofi are usually very quite, shy, reticent. They don't ever say much unless asked a question and even then only with some encouragement. When they got back in the car today, though, there was no shutting them up! For most of the ride back it was all excited, happy chatter in the back seat. I could only catch the recurrent sabay sabay sabay (happy in Khmer). Turns out everyone was happy. The community members were happy to be learning and my knitters were happy to be teaching them. They even said they would be happy to go there on their own on a moto (they know the next 10 days I'm busy with finishing my MSc) and continue training.
Yeng, my amazing husband, had said something to the knitters the other day about learning new skills. He said, and I paraphrase, when you learn a new skill of any kind, you should never think its just yours to keep. It can only become truly yours when you pass it onto someone else and help them grasp it as well. I don't know if my knitters got that or really internalized it, but I do think they reveled this morning in being able to teach others. It seemed it was fun, exciting, rewarding for them. And it clearly made them happy. There was no need to worry about location either. Although not ideal, a woven mat in the shade of a banyan tree can make a learning space. It's the teachers and students that make it what it is.
For me, it was an emotional morning. When I started this journey, expedition really, to establish Cambodia Knits, it was moments like these that I had hoped and aimed for. Seeing the Toul Sambo (a community whose misfortunes I had only been following in the news until a month ago) people sitting in small groups, smiling and really happy, eager to learn makes it worth all the stress, doubt, minor debt and worry. Oh, and of course hard work. It's moments like this morning that show that it is possible for these families to improve their lives 'stitch by stitch'.