Saturday, 29 August 2009

CAMBODIA Young women take on leading roles in Church ministries

Srey Ponhacka (in pink) with students from the Paul Tep Im Center

August 27, 2009

PHNOM PENH (UCAN) -- Young Cambodian women are rising to leadership roles in Church institutions in their male-dominated society.

Women are no less capable than men in performing managerial tasks, asserts Srey Ponhacka, 29, director of Paul Tep Im Center, a boarding house for high-school and university students in Battambang.

Next month she will start work in Phnom Penh as manager of St. Clara Student Center, which houses about 20 women university students from around the country.

Ponhacka sees her service as "a chance to return a good deed to the Church." The woman, who comes from a poor family, said the Church had supported her university studies and helped with her medical needs.

Acknowledging that men have traditionally filled leadership roles in Cambodia, she said it is up to women to see themselves as valuable -- able to manage projects and to be a moral force in society. "Women are not weak, as the men say," Ponhacka remarked.

Jesuit Father John Evens Ashley, director of the Catholic Church Students Center (CCSC) in Phnom Penh, agrees that women can run things as well as men. And he is giving another Cambodian woman, Hun Saren, a chance to prove it.

The priest said he recently chose her as his successor, in line with the Church's objective to have Cambodians head local Church projects.

Saren, 29, will take over the job in September after previously working for a human rights NGO. She said she wants to minister to young people and help them face modern challenges. The center provides material and spiritual support to poor students from the provinces who do university studies in the capital.

Another young woman in a leadership position is Keo Kagnha, deputy director of the Catholic Social Communications (CSC) office in Phnom Penh since last March. The 23-year-old describes being responsible for the CSC's accounts and radio production as "very hard work."

"Sometimes I have to spend more than 10 hours a day and also the weekend (at the office) to finish my work," she said. However, she also said she considers her workplace her "second home" and feels happy to "bring Jesus' message to the people."

Soun Bunnareth, 26, who heads the cultural office of Battambang apostolic prefecture, incorporates artistic creativity in her work, which includes creating liturgical dances for children based on traditional Khmer dance forms.

Sister Ang Sangvat, who runs a girl's hostel in Prey Veng province, sees women today as capable, clever, brave and independent.

"Now there are many young women who have the chance to study and get good jobs," the Lovers of the Holy Cross nun pointed out, saying she supports moves to allow women to head Church projects.

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