We operate with no staff. Our revenues are raised entirely by volunteers.
51 local Cambodian staff spend 90% of their time in the communities: training, enrolling families, encouraging saving, planning house building and well digging.
Our cottage industry employs 180 sewers. The majority of these women are ex street women – women who have been sold into the sex trade when they were young. Many have paid the price of contracting of AIDS and STDs. Staff train new workers, prepare supplies to give to home workers, ensure quality control of finished crafts, pack and deliver crafts for sale around the world. A few staff members are support people (security guards and maintenance workers).
Janne Ritskes resides in Cambodia with her adopted daughter, Miriam. Janne is a citizen of Canada and Cambodia and manages the operations in Cambodia with a staff composed entirely of Cambodians, trained by her. She has over 40 years of international experience with integrated community development programs. Her work has focused on the poorest of the poor in the slums of the US, the Philippines, Kenya and Cambodia.
Janne’s story is one of courage and sacrifice. Upon finishing her education, she committed to a life of service. She lived and worked in countries in need until she settled in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 1992 working with World Vision as a training manager. It wasn’t long after, in 1994, that Janne established Tabitha to help the poorest of the poor in Cambodia. Her vision was to create a partnership with rural families within communities greatly affected by years of civil war and neglect. The goal was to build dignity for those who found their self worth lacking.
Janne tells volunteer house-build teams stories of having to be home before dark to avoid the indiscriminate shootings by the Khmer Rouge who came into the city at night. She shares stories of Tabitha staff, survivors of the genocide, and their struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder. She shares stories of impoverished families in the countryside who keep poison within reach because they are prepared to take their lives before being subjected to the horrors of the genocide again.
Janne’s faith gave her the courage to build Tabitha in response to her disillusionment with mainstream NGOs operating in Cambodia. Her faith also led to the adoption of her daughter Miriam.
When Janne was presented with the improbable task of finding parents for a young orphaned Cambodian baby who had tested positive for HIV, she turned to God and prayed for help. Janne recalls His response in a letter she wrote for her daughter Miriam, “You take her, He said. Like most people, I don’t always like to hear what God has to say – how can I take her? My work is too consuming, I will not have the time to be with her? How will I pay for all the things she needs, I have no money? I am too old, already 50 years and I am not married – I cannot play with her as I should? What if she dies, how will I handle the pain? and on and on – but God’s voice never changed – take her, she is my child and you must take her”. And so Janne adopted Miriam and today she is a healthy young adult who is graduating from high school in Phnom Penh with the hopes of attending University in Ontario.
When Janne was diagnosed with breast cancer she had to travel to Singapore to receive the health care and treatment needed to beat it. During her fight against cancer she reflected on how, for many Cambodian women, a diagnosis of cancer was a death sentence. Janne refused to accept this and began to assemble a team of doctors and professionals and raise the necessary funds to build a women’s hospital that includes an education and prevention unit. Nokor Tep will provide modern gynaecological and oncological care to Cambodian women who, due to financial barriers and a lack of resources and awareness, do not receive preventative care or treatment for health concerns.
An inspiration to anyone who knows her or has heard her story, Janne has never turned away from a challenge. She is an inspiration who has mobilized communities all around the world to bring dignity to Cambodians who are still recovering from the genocide.