Archive for February, 2010|Monthly archive page


As I have adjusted to life back in the U.S. this past week, I see glimpses of a new person emerging from Cambodia. I look the same on the outside, but inside my heart was transformed by Cambodia. Here is another attempt on my behalf to put those changes into words through poetry.


Enduring cycle
Darkness finds every country
Night around the world

In Cambodia
The darkness lasts forever
Suffering is real

Elie Wiesel’s “Night”
Auschwitz survival horrors
Life continues on

I used to tremble
When I walked into the dark
Now I am at peace

Facing the darkness
I heard humanity weep
And I wept with them

Before tears I cried
Poured out from selfish pity
Now my tears have changed

They flow not for me
But for all humanity
There are no islands

I stared into death
Felt dignity stripped away
My heart was humbled

It is only now
Soaked in brevity of life
That I truly live

My lungs breathed before
But my heart was not thriving
I was ignorant

At last I’m alive
Every single breath cherished
Death awakened life

Enduring cycle
Darkness finds every country
Light shines within me


Who Will Cry?

One of the most memorable times of the trip for me was meeting a little boy named Panya at the Rainbow School near the beginning of our time in Cambodia. As a social work major I recognized red flags in his behavior which indicate sexual abuse. I have continued to see Panya in the back of my mind, forever etched in my heart as I continue to cry and grieve for this little boy. Whenever I think of Him, I am reminded of a poem from the movie “Antwone Fisher”. This movie, released in 2002, is about a boy who was sexually abused as a child and ends up receiving counseling from a character played by Denzel Washington. At the end of the movie, Antwone Fisher writes a poem about his healing process from abuse. Who cries for little Panya? I do…

Who will cry for the little boy?
By Antwone Fisher

Who will cry for the little boy?
Lost and all alone.
Who will cry for the little boy?
Abandoned without his own?

Who will cry for the little boy?
He cried himself to sleep.
Who will cry for the little boy?
He never had for keeps.

Who will cry for the little boy?
He walked the burning sand
Who will cry for the little boy?
The boy inside the man.

Who will cry for the little boy?
Who knows well hurt and pain
Who will cry for the little boy?
He died again and again.

Who will cry for the little boy?
A good boy he tried to be
Who will cry for the little boy?
Who cries inside of me

(Vanessa Jelsma)

“Life is but a Breath”

Here is a Haiku that I wrote about my experiences with life and death on this interim. The quote “Life is but a Breath” is from Theary Seng’s book “Daughter of the Killing Fields” :

“Life is but a Breath” – By: Vanessa Jelsma

“Life is but a breath”
Mangled bicycle and blood
Woman lays sobbing

Crowd circled around
No one offers her a hand
Traffic keeps moving

Victim of chaos
Alas, good Samaritan
Pulls her to the side

The woman huddles
Sobbing in the stranger’s arms
Rocking back and forth

Shocked and terrified
In the fetal position
“Life is but a breath”

Dog naps in the sun
As the village children play
Peacefully he sleeps

The calm vanishes
Shrieks and howls and moaning
Puncture my eardrum

Hind legs now broken
All attempts to stand will fail
Our van shattered bones

Again there’s a crowd
Circling around the puppy
They are all silent

A small boy steps up
Then carries the dog away
“Life is but a breath”

Flowers bloom inside
The Toul Sleng prison courtyard
Reaching to the sky

Buds on trees flourish
While those that drop will shrivel
Beneath scorching sun

The white purity
Glistening in Heaven’s light
Lasts for a moment

Plummeting to ground
Will happen in an instant
“Life is but a breath”

If those walls could talk
Great horrors would be revealed
Cries would be released

Torture was brutal
The results of satan’s force
And the people paid

Painfully they fell
Electric shock or drowning
Blood and starvation

Families torn apart
30 years and healing still
See those empty eyes

Generation ceased
Leaders annihilated
Puzzle pieces lost

Put the pieces back
Find the right fit one by one
A new image

God has overcome!
Glory shines in Cambodia
He has conquered death

Great hope can be found
When you see with Heaven’s eyes
Christ declared victory