Making a difference

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By Kirsten Laskey

John and Jean Lyman of Los Alamos figured they have a good life. So when the opportunity arouse to do humanitarian work in Phonom Penh, Cambodia, through their church, Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Lymans raised their hands to volunteer.

The Los Alamos residents spent 21 months in the country. While the LDS church has journeyed to Mongolia, Myanmar, Laos, China and other countries, Cambodia is the only country that receives assistance in all five major humanitarian areas offered through the church. These areas include wheelchair distribution, vision training, neo-natal resuscitation, clean water and family food production.

Disaster relief is also given.

Through these programs, the Lymans helped Cambodians with everything from setting up water wells in their villages and collecting rainwater through water harvesting, teaching mid-wives neo-natal resuscitation, to instructing rice farmers on how to increase their yields.

Jean Lyman said all the projects they worked on were funded by the LDS charities. She added they always partnered with an established local agency. Their focus was to assist, Jean Lyman said, not take over.

The Lyman’s work was not only about assistance, but sustainability. People served by the charities are able to take care of themselves so the benefits continue, Jean Lyman said.

What they experienced and accomplished left a big impact on both Jean and John Lyman. “I think what I’ve gained is a much greater appreciation for the things we’re doing and many organizations are doing to assist people in Cambodia,” John Lyman said. “Also, I found people in Cambodia are not much different than people in America, they just don’t have as much stuff. (Cambodians) are very intelligent, very capable of the things they do. They like opportunity.”

“It’s nice to have been needed and give something back to humanity after all we have been blessed with and enjoyed here,” Jean Lyman said. “It was great to meet so many people who also have a charitable outlook on life.”

In addition to aid, the Lymans were exposed to the culture in Cambodia – it was a privilege to live there, Jean Lyman said.

While the Lymans have traveled before, returning home to American culture was a shock, John Lyman said. He said the culture shock was a lot greater returning to the U.S. than arriving in Cambodia.

Americans do not need to travel over seas and through other countries to make a difference. They can help people right in their home towns.

Jean Lyman encourages people “to look around for service opportunities because they’re everywhere.”