First Person

2008 in Photos: Part Three

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With 2008 behind us, we’re highlighting photos we think best capture Oxfam’s work last year. Here’s a photo of one of my favorite people. More to come from others.

My boss, Jane, has a saying. She wants the writers to “narrow the distance” between the poor people we work with and our readers here in The States. So, when each of us heads out into the field, we keep this mission in mind, filling our notebooks with the voices of the people we meet and the stories they have to tell.

Every year, a few people’s stories stand out. Sometimes it’s because of the sheer adversity they face. Other times, it’s the great success they’ve seen and the simplicity of the solutions they pursued. The woman I’m thinking of falls into the latter category. Her name is Seng Sreila, and I have visited her home twice in two years. She’s a rice farmer in Cambodia who took out a series of small loans from her village savings group to start her own business. With that money, she’s milling rice for other farmers in her village. Her success has become well-known in her community, and her status, that of a local celebrity.

The first time I met her, Sreila gave us the kind of welcome that’s typical of the people we meet during our travels. She was kind of shy, but had this beautiful smile that popped up whenever she was nervous. After just a few hours of talking, she treated us like good friends. When we were gathering our things to leave, she grabbed my arm in a familiar way, and walked me back to our car. As she thanked me for coming, she held my hands. I remember how hers felt; they were small, like mine.

Seng Sreila in June 2008 showing off her rice mill. Photo by Inazio.
Seng Sreila in June 2008 showing off her rice mill. Photo by Inazio.

These days I’m especially sentimental about people like Sreila. Actually, I’m sentimental about just about everything. Today marks the halfway point of my first pregnancy. While I could technically fit another international trip into the next few months and get away with it, I doubt I’ll be able to pull the planning off. Plus, my husband’s not too excited about me leaving for my usual three weeks at a time.

For now, I’ll have to content myself with hearing and reading the stories from my fellow writers, and flipping through the photographs like this one of Sreila, which almost take us there.

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