“He understands my heart,” Somnang explained with a huge smile as he looked at his new Alongsider, “and he always encourages me.”
Somnang and his Alongsider Chantrea are some of Kampong Leng’s newest Alongsiders. Alongsiders began in this part of Cambodia a little over a year ago, and last week a dozen new pairs registered, excited to begin a mentor relationship. When asked why they wanted to be Alongsiders, the older brothers and sisters replied that they wanted to encourage their younger brothers and sisters.
In Khmer, the word for encourage is leuk tuk chet—three smaller words put together which literally translate to lift, water, and heart. To encourage another person in Khmer culture means to lift up and refresh their heart.
Many of the children where Alongsiders works are downtrodden and downcast. Society has marginalized them, leaving them vulnerable and discouraged.
That's why leuktukchet is at the heart of the Alongsiders movement. Encouragement is the blessing that poor communities can offer their orphans and vulnerable children. It doesn’t require money, expertise, or a particularly winning personality. It’s the choice to build another person up (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
From the start, Chantrea has lifted his little brother’s spirits. They met when he found Somnang crying outside the village. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
Somnang shyly explained that he was angry with his mother, who had beaten him. Chantrea sat with Somnang, advising and encouraging him. Somnang was comforted by Chantrea’s understanding presence, and was thrilled when Chantrea gave him a ride home on his bicycle. It was the first of many bicycle rides for these new friends.
Chantrea hasn’t rescued Somnang from the situation, but he’s given him the confidence to cope with it by walking alongside him even when he is downcast. Somnang can count on Chantrea’s support to lift him up and refresh his heart, and that changes everything.
Another little brother in Kampong Leng, Udom, also shared how encouraging his older brother was. “My favorite thing about Buntern is his kindness and gentleness,” Udom said.
Like the other Alongsiders in Kampong Leng, Buntern encourages his little brother to stay in school. Many families rely on their children to tend the cows and help in the rice fields. Udom’s family complains when he goes to school, since education will not put food on their table that night.
But Buntern makes sure that Udom attends school whenever possible, because he knows that education will bear fruit in the long run. He answers Udom’s questions and helps him study his lessons. It’s good practice for the future, when Buntern hopes to be a teacher.
Other days Buntern and Udom help their families plant rice. The rice is planted as a seed in a dry place until it reaches about thirty centimeters. Then it is transplanted to the rice paddies to reach its final height of about one meter. Buntern waits for the end of the rainy season, when his family will harvest the rice.
As he watches the rice grow strong in the watery paddy, he hopes that he can likewise nourish his little brother. Buntern repeats the word leuktukchet. “I want to encourage Udom.” The middle word, tuk, means water, life-blood in the oppressive June heat.
The rice will be ready around October, but Udom’s education will take many more years. Buntern takes it one day at a time, walking beside his little brother as they tend their cows and study their lessons.
For encouragement isn’t about one miracle or intervention. Encouragement starts with an uplifting relationship: Buntern and Chantrea walking beside their little brothers from the village to the rice fields, and refreshing their hearts.