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450 Cambodian Saints celebrate 'Day of Service' with festival cleanup

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA

More than 450 members of the Central, North and South districts in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, recently carried out their local "Day of Service" project by cleaning up trash and other debris left over from the annual Cambodian Water Festival.

"I am so thankful for our members and am happy that they had this chance to help clean our city," said North District President Thaong Chantha. "They show a good example with love and unity."

Cambodia, also called the "Kingdom of Wonder," celebrates the end of its rain season each year with a three-day water festival attended by hundreds of thousands of participants from all over the country.

President Thaong and the other district presidents led Church members, dressed in yellow Mormon Helping Hands vests, on a quest to clean up trash left on the walkways and parks in the festival's aftermath.

Am Than and Son Vu Trieu, the presidents of the South and Central districts, agreed with President Thaong that the service project made a difference for the city of more than 2 million people.

In the Sen Sok Branch, Khan Sarin and his wife, Suan Sokmo, had big smiles as they worked alongside hundreds of their fellow members.
In the Sen Sok Branch, Khan Sarin and his wife, Suan Sokmo, had big smiles as they worked alongside hundreds of their fellow members. Photo: Photo by Elder Dick Spencer, Cambodia Phnom Penh Mission

"We were impressed with the number of people sacrificing their time to serve," they said. "We consider it a duty to God to serve our community."

Each year, Cambodia's intense rains cause the Mekong River, which stretches more than 3,000 miles, to force water back up the adjoining Tonle Sap River. This phenomenon causes the Tonle Sap's flow to reverse direction and fills up neighboring Tonle Sap Lake.

When the rains stop, the river returns to its normal flow and fishing season begins. The vibrant habitat created by the phenomenon provides 75 percent of Cambodia's inland fish catch and supports more than 3 million people.

In celebration of this wonder, hundreds of thousands of people from outlying provinces pour into Phnom Penh for the festival. Fireworks illuminate the sky as visitors enjoy traditional foods, boat races, shopping and family activities.

Although this year's boat races were canceled due to flooding in most provinces, many people still made their way to the city to enjoy other festivities. Tens of thousands attended outdoor concerts and strolled parkways lined with hundreds of vendors selling food and toys.

But anticipating the inevitable trash and the burden upon city cleanup crews, local Church leaders decided this was the perfect project to help commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Church Welfare Program in a "Day of Service."

Members of the Takhmao 1st Branch show some of the trash they cleaned up as part of the “Day of Service” project their district organized in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.
Members of the Takhmao 1st Branch show some of the trash they cleaned up as part of the “Day of Service” project their district organized in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Photo: Photo by Elder Dick Spencer, Cambodia Phnom Penh Mission

Local Church leaders applied for permission from the Cambodian government to assist in the cleanup. When approval was granted, Latter-day Saint Charities provided materials for the project. Members of the South, Central and North districts met early on a Saturday morning to begin their service.

Sister Trieu, long-time member of the Phnom Penh 6th Branch, was one of the first to arrive.

"Service is good," she said. "It helps everyone have unity in serving God."

Sister Ai, Central District Relief Society president, agreed.

"It is wonderful to serve with such faithful members," she said.

Kim Sang, a branch president and Cambodia Service Center Manager, noted the appreciation of the city governor and district chief.

"They said many nice things about our service and example and that they would contact us for future projects," he said.

Kep Chuktema, governor of Phnom Penh, applauded the project in a follow-up letter.

"Such good acts show your generosity in participation with the government and Phnom Penh Municipality to improve the beauty of the city and the environment of Phnom Penh City," he wrote. "I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and all of your members all the blessings of happiness."

The service project in Phnom Pehn highlights the importance of the Churchwide call that President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, made to members to participate in a "Day of Service" initiative last year as part of the Church Welfare Program's 75th anniversary.

"The names and details of operation are changed to fit the needs and conditions of people," he said about welfare service in his April 2011 conference address. "But always the Lord's way to help those in temporal need requires people who out of love have consecrated themselves and what they have to God and to His work."

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