When Thom is recycling - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Summer 2021 newsletter


Hang Tran, Cambodia


Playing in the dirt

Among the youth living with developmental challenges at the Home of Hope, one boy stands head and shoulders above the others, literally. We call him Thom, meaning “Big,” and he fits the bill.

Thom gathering dried leaves in the garden.

Thom is probably in his late teens. He has no birth certificate or known relatives to provide family background. As a child, he was rescued from the streets a few years ago. He has a friendly smile and childlike demeanors. Thom is not aware of his tall stature and often plays in the dirt with other youth, as if they were little kids.

For a youngster who survived homelessness and living on the streets, Thom does not have any street smarts. During the COVID pandemic, a number of local physicians have collaborated with the Missionaries of Charity, providing checkups or dispensing medications in surrounding villages. I have been helping the Cambodian staff with preparing packages of vitamins and supplements, etc. for the villagers. Thom likes to be present for these occasions. He sits quietly watching me doing these activities.

At times, Thom jumps at the chance to do artwork or washing because he sees other kids having fun wants to get in on the action, too. But he usually drops it quickly. No matter how much the staff or I try to persuade him to continue, Thom makes faces to indicate that he is “not interested.”

Thom is pretty good at picking things up from the ground and putting them in his mouth. We all try to tell him that these things are garbage and not food — not good for our tummies. It does not matter one bit. His hands instinctively do what served him well while living on the street — feeding himself.

When we are working in the community garden, Thom seems happy to gather dried leaves for us to fertilize the soil. When we clean up the garden, he is given a bag and shown what to put in the bag — not everything, only wrapping or boxes or bottles made of plastic. Thom is eager to do that. All the youth applauded heartily for their enthusiastic participation. Thom’s big smile said it all.

One day I saw Thom walking by himself with a bag in hand, looking keenly at the ground and … picking up a plastic bottle, without prompting by anyone. Oh wow! My heart was so moved with awe and joy! Thom may not understand the necessity of regular cleaning or the effects of plastic on the environment, but what he did was a significant developmental step in the right direction.

Recycling plastic

Thom is recycling more than just plastic. He has learned to recycle one of his old habits into a new behavior for himself. Without a doubt, Thom is making a contribution to the community. The benefit is real and impactful. Also, his action has reminded me to pick up the debris in the garden of my mind — and opened my eyes to different depths in the Psalm 112:4:

Light arises in the darkness for the upright, gracious, compassionate and just.

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Your generous donation will support both my ministry of caring for differently abled young people in Cambodia and the Missioner Sustenance Fund that helps to keep me and my fellow lay missioners in mission. Thank you!


Hang Tran
A Maryknoll lay missioner since 2013, Hang Tran works with young people living with disabilities at the Home of Hope in Chom Chao, Cambodia.