Janne’s Newsletter

Janne Ritskes

Dear friends and partners,

Yesterday was a day to remember. I received some snail mail – a booklet of thoughts about a Tabitha Housebuilding Trip – it was compiled by fifty grade 8 students who had come to build 20 houses this year.

I had just finished orientation with two teams who are building this week and I felt a bit drained. I started to read this booklet and my spirits rose. I decided to take this booklet home with me – last night, my daughter Miriam  and I read the entries- we hadn’t gotten very far before tears flowed silently down her cheeks. She snuggled closer against me and together we had a magical hour – both of us realizing how very fortunate we are to live the life we live. I would like to share an excerpt from this booklet – it is my way of honoring each and every one of you who have come and built houses for so many.

Jordan wrote: “At first I couldn’t hit the nails although, I was good at hitting my thumb. Every time I hit myself or my back was aching all I needed to do was look down at the little children collecting the nails beneath me.  Or I would turn around and look at the men of the village helping put up the walls or even just take a glance at the mothers talking amongst themselves. Right away I would get back to nailing and wouldn’t dare complain. Doing something for someone other than myself for once, was enough for me just to get on with it.

Typical Village Scene

I took so much from this trip. It was such a privilege to be able to make such a big difference to someone else and that experience will stay with me for the rest of my life. I complain a lot less now. Before I left, I would complain for the tiniest thing but now, I like to believe, I rarely complain. I am so grateful for the life that I have and I am able to fix this world, one house at a time.”

Thank you house builders!

It is what I needed – inspiration from all of you – for this week we also were able to finalize the devastation for some of our families caused by typhoon Ketana in our Kompong Thom Project. 2000 of our families have lost their crops, 3 of our families have lost their home. The area is still very wet as a dike broke from the river and it won’t drain for awhile. Our families are cooking what’s left of their last years crops on a dirt road. It is heartbreaking and yet – there is hope because 666 of these families have either a well or a pond. They will be able to re-grow their crops and they can rebuild – for another 500 families, hope is on its way – as soon as the water goes, we will once again, put in ponds and wells. All of our projects have suffered from floods this year – literally 25,000 families do not despair because they have access to water – water given by all of you.

With all of us standing together, we hope to install 1,488 wells this year and another 102 ponds. Taking a quote from Jordan, we can fix this world, one well at a time.

Thank you for the privilege of serving so many – thank you for all the Jordans who help change the world, one house, one well, one pig, one set of clothes, one child in school…. at a time.

Janne Ritskes


March 6, 2009

Dear Friends and Partners,

Yesterday was one of those days that make everything worthwhile. I went to see our programs in Kompong Thom. Apo, my manager there, took us to see a village called Preah Nongkor. My first impression was one of total dismay. The dirt track we traveled on kept getting smaller and smaller. We were surrounded by scenes of utter desolation. The fields were dry and dusty and the homes of people were small and decrepit. I thought, oh no, how can it get worse. We visited a few families and the stories were all the same. Husbands were gone to work on the Thai border; there was no work near home. The fields were empty and dusty. The old folks and a few moms were struggling to keep it all together. The children were malnourished and dusty. It was all a bit too much.

In the midst of this desolation was an emerald of green. Several small plots of land were growing rice. What is this, I asked Apo? This is what I wanted you to see, she said. As we go out of the car, we walked through the rice. We came to two of the small decrepit homes. As we walked past the houses, two families were there. They had the biggest smiles, waiting in anticipation for what they would show me. There before me was a pond. It was 5 meters deep, 5 meters wide and ten meters long. It was surrounded by a wall of dirt, removed to make the ponds.

The pond was almost empty and the husband was gathering fish from the muddy bottom. They had their speech ready. Remember last year when we talked about ponds? Apo asked me. Remember I told you that wells would not work in this area. The water, when we find it, is very little – enough to keep clean but not enough to grow food. I asked for a pond which would cost 3 wells and you said go ahead. This is the pond.

I looked around me. The rice was almost ready for harvest, the husband told me. I emptied the pond so that we can make it stronger and be ready to do this again. We raised 1000 fish. There are a few remaining. We wanted you to see because my family is no longer hungry. We no longer have to buy food at the market each day, food we couldn’t afford and so we ate just rice. Now each day we have rice and fish, and we have vegetables to go with it. The wife spoke up quietly – now my husband is home, there is work for him here. I am safe.

I kept staring with amazement at what I saw and listened with a heart bursting full of joy. We brought you here said Apo, because the one thing our families have is land, an average of 2 hectares. But they have no water. They would all like to have a pond – a pond to grow fish in, a pond to irrigate their land; a pond that would give work to their husbands; a pond to give security to their families.

What is stopping us is the cost of a pond. It costs $350.00 – the families are willing to pay $50.00 from their first crops – if Tabitha would pay the $300.00. I looked at their faces, I looked at the emerald fields around us, I looked at the pleasure of the husband as he caught a fish for me and I knew I couldn’t say no. How many families Apo? 500 families are in the program in the 3 villages that need the ponds. At least 150 families will want one, we have 20 families that are ready to begin right now. I said, go ahead and start for I could not bear the thought of returning through this desolation without some hope.

So I now turn to each of you. The past year has taught us what water will do. Our field wells are amazing as they turn barren soil into flourishing spots of vegetables – changing desperation and hunger into food and income, turning helplessness into fields of dignity and respect. We have learned that water is a source of life and we are learning that this water must be developed in many ways. So now we must do ponds.

I thank my God that I can come and share all this with you – I often use a phrase – who will hear our families when they cry – I thank my God that it is each of you who have heard the cries. $300 for a pond sounds so very much – and yet – this $300 can grant life.  Thank you for hearing us.