Miss Tan (left) seen here with Cambodians from the Arrupe Welcome Centre for the Disabled. They were selling Cambodian-made products such as handicrafts and scarves at the Church of Our Lady Queen of Peace last year. Below: Female students from the Arrupe centre. All are handicapped and most are dancers.
Since 2011, Zenn Tan has been working in a Church-run centre for the disabled in Battambang
It was seeing how some Cambodian children had to work and the poor living conditions in provinces that made Miss Zenn Tan decide to do fulltime mission work in the country.
Since 2011, Miss Tan has been a volunteer in Battambang, Cambodia, and is currently working and living in the Church-run Arrupe Welcome Centre for the Disabled.
The centre, which comes under Battambang apostolic prefecture, provides vocational training for people with disabilities, and is also a base for the Church’s outreach and rehabilitation projects for such people.
Although her original intention was to volunteer for a year, the 34-year-old single woman is now considering extending until next year.
“I believe I am fortunate I have the opportunity to do what many of my friends … wanted to but are somehow unable to do,” she shared, adding that her work helps the Cambodians “feel loved and cherished and that they are not alone”.
Miss Tan, a former parishioner of Church of Divine Mercy, had previously participated in mission trips to Cambodia organised by ACTS (A Call to Share). With her background in Fine Arts, she helped out with painting murals and building grottoes.
She later got to know the Salesian Sisters in Cambodia who introduced her to the Apostolic Prefect of Battambang, Msgr Enrique Figaredo. When she offered to work as a volunteer, he immediately accepted her request, Miss Tan said.
One of her first tasks was to refurbish the souvenir ships in the Church-run Arupe and Tahen centres, the latter located 10 km from Battambang city.
Her arts background came in useful as she painted the murals in both centres. She also assisted in “tidying” the shops’ inventories, and helped with the sale and marketing of products such as handicrafts made by the Cambodians.
She had even flown Cambodians to Singapore with the sponsorship of friends and family to sell their products at the Church of Our Lady Queen of Peace and Church of St Ignatius.
Miss Tan also teaches English in Cambodia and receives English-speaking guests.
She assisted in ACTS’ last December trip by coordinating and facilitating medical teamwork in the villages. She also assists the prefecture in applications for flood relief projects.
While she faced initial challenges such as the language barrier and cultural differences, she said Cambodians have been “kind, helpful, patient and understanding” towards her. She is currently learning the Khmer language and hopes to be able to communicate better with the locals.
However, that is not her biggest challenge right now. “I need to work on my own financial needs in order to sustain my mission work in Cambodia,” she said.
She added: “I think it is more difficult for my immediate family than it is for me when I chose to leave everything in Singapore. My family, however, respected my decision and has been supportive of my work in Battambang.”
Miss Tan also shared a little about the Church in Cambodia, a predominantly-Buddhist country.
In Battambang, Masses are conducted in Khmer. There may be translations in other European languages such as English or French when there are foreign visitors attending Mass.
One priority of the Church here is to impart “good values through social works and development activities with non-Christians”, she said.
By Darren Boon