OUR JOURNEY BEGINS IN A SLUM
At the beginning of the year 2000, the founder of Alongsiders, Craig Greenfield, left a corporate career in the technology sector and moved into a Cambodian slum (just a stone's throw from the slum community Craig and his family live in today).
Together with his wife Nay, Craig began working with poor families devastated by AIDS, so that children who had lost their parents were not taken away from everyone else they know and love as well.
Cambodian communities were being empowered and supported to care for their own orphans. A community-based orphan care movement was born in a slum in southern Phnom Penh and spread to other slums around the city, eventually reaching hundreds of orphaned children. [Read Craig's book, 'The Urban Halo: a story of hope for orphans of the poor']
But as they grew close to many of the orphans who were their neighbors, Craig and Nay were frustrated that they could personally only reach a handful of children with the type of intense nurture, love, coaching, encouragement, mentoring and discipleship that would transform their lives.
Realizing that you cannot buy love (let alone for the thousands of children who need it), more paid staff was not the answer. Instead, Craig began to pray for a volunteer movement of young Cambodian Christians to rise up from within the national church to reach the tens of thousands of marginalized children all across the country. This movement would be entirely reliant on the work of the Spirit in people's hearts, rather than financial incentives. And it would not be dependent on outsiders, but truly be a movement of the poor helping the poor.
The movement started with just ten young Christians. They made lots of mistakes and made even more changes. But gradually, by God's grace, they began to identify the keys to seeing such a movement take hold and last the distance.
In 2003, Alongsiders Cambodia was born (previously called Big Brothers and Sisters of Cambodia), in partnership with the youth department of the Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia (now DOVE).
Today, hundreds of young Christians faithfully walk alongside one vulnerable child each in their own communities, and the movement has spread into seven provinces of Cambodia. One generation is being equipped to reach the next.
And the first group of "little brothers and sisters"? Most are now in their early 20's, they have become leaders in their churches and communities and many have gone on to become Alongsider mentors themselves.
Over the years, invitations have come from all over the world, to see Alongsiders-type movements established in developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. After more than ten years learning in Cambodia, the tools, resources and insights are in place to finally see that happen.
The best is yet to come.