Friday, 13 February 2009

On a mission

Contributed photo
Carol Buhrman, left, takes a traditional cyclo ride with her friend, Amy, in Prey Veng.

By Gracie Hart
Review Staff Writer
Published: February 12, 2009

The quest to find one’s self is nothing new but few travel halfway around the world and find themselves like Carol Buhrman has. Buhrman, who works in the provincial town of Prey Veng, Cambodia and is in her final year of a three-year mission with the Mennonite Central Committee, credits her mission with changing her life and helping her to find out who she is.

Burhman first heard about the MCC program, which is the relief and development branch of the Mennonite church, through her church. The MCC’s main goal is to relieve and help people around the world. Burhman, having already graduated from college, was ready to get involved.

“I picked where I wanted to go,“ she said. “I knew that I didn’t want to go to Africa and I didn’t know Spanish so South America wasn’t a choice. I saw the job [for Cambodia] online and it looked like the most interesting.“

She arrived in Cambodia in November 2006 as a girl who had logged very little travel time in her life. Now, her travel time is extensive with a very long and very expensive trip from Orange County to Prey Veng, Cambodia.

“It’s mentally tiring in that you say goodbye but then you don’t arrive until about a day and a half later,“ she said. “That’s a long time to think and imagine and process things.“

Buhrman has a lot to think about during the long trip including the family and friends that she left behind at home and also the people she has met during her time in Cambodia. After living with a host family in Prey Veng for two years, she has become accustomed to life there. But it hasn’t always been easy.

“Leaving my family was one of the hardest parts and it was hard to leave in general because Prey Veng is so far away; it’s literally halfway around the world,“ she said. “I miss having good people to connect to; it took a while for me to build a group in Cambodia and it wasn’t easy with my support system halfway around the world.“

Having moved to Orange County when she was just three years-old, making the switch from rural town to a whole new place proved interesting.

“There are actually lots of similarities,“ she said. “[You’re] going from one rural town to another and everyone knows what you’re doing so they follow you around. But there’s no comfort food, very little internet access and dirt roads without many cars.“

Buhrman also admits that she misses the little things like the convenience of running to a store and buying yogurt. However, she enjoys the works she’s doing as a rural health advisor and an advisor to Women’s Peace Makers. Burman writes proposals for grants, edits reports and talks to donors out of her office in the provincial capital of Prey Veng town.

“Cambodia is a developing country,“ she said. “Half of them live on less than a $1 a day. We’re trying to get them to diversify farming.“

Buhrman lights up when she talks about the people that she’s met there.

“They are some of the most generous people I’ve ever met,“ she said. “It also helps when you’re trying to learn the language and you practice with them. They have a strong sense of community [and] they want to know everything about you if you’re riding with them in a taxi.“

Buhrman, who recently came home for a friend’s wedding, was thankful to come home but she’s ready for her last year in Cambodia.

“I was ready for a break and it was good to come back but now I’m ready to go back,“ she said. “I’m not ready to end that period of my life yet. I did this for me and I knew this was something I wanted to do; other people are blessed through that.“

Next up for Buhrman, after her year of service, is applying to graduate school to study dietetics and possibly another extended trip.

“I will probably go back to visit Cambodia once my mission is over,“ she said. “I would like to do another overseas appointment somewhere. Asia is a good fit for my personality.“

For people interested in signing up for a mission overseas, Buhrman suggests taking the risk and doing it.

“I would defiantly say do it,“ she said. “It’s a great experience. It’s good to experience other things and cultures. You figure out what you want and how to live your life. Know that if you do something like this you’ll be changed. You won’t come back the same.“

For more information on the MCC and Buhrman’s time in Cambodia, visit her blog at

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