"I'm not afraid of anything"
"I'm not afraid of anything", Mouen told me during our interview.
The story of his life so far could be the one of a tragedy, but Mouen - and myself - prefer to use words such as resilience, faith, strength and hope to help describing his journey.
Three years ago, he fell 20 meters out of a palm tree while collecting leaves to rebuild the roof of the shack where he was living. His wife was due to give birth in 2 months time and the rainy season was about to start.
Rock Foundation Cambodia wanted to rebuild all the twenty houses of this community, located around a dump site on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, but the land owner did not allow them to do so, fearing it would then be harder to evict these families in the future. He even impeded RFC from giving them building materials so they could improve their houses themselves.
The fall nearly killed Mouen and he was left at a hospital laying flat on his back for four days: they wouldn't treat him because he had no money to pay for the surgery.
So RFC rented an ambulance, took him to another hospital and, after begging for an hour, they finally convinced a doctor to perform the surgery. But Mouen would either die from the broken back or bedsores, the doctor said.
Metal plates were inserted to connect his backbone and a second surgery on his bedsores was performed. Mouen kept a positive attitude throughout the recovery process and after four months at the hospital he was able to return to his house.
Sadly, though, while he was still at the hospital, at only 4 months old, his first and only child passed away from fever and swelling.
After seven, eight months, Mouen started to regain feeling in his legs and slowly started to regain control of his bladder and bowels. Although he suffers from atrophy in his legs, now he is able to walk with crutches. He still struggles with small bedsores.
RFC wanted to provide him a job training so he could work and provide for his family, and it was only two years later, in the summer of 2014, when they finally discovered a long term way for him to work despite his disability.
RFC friend and soap master Wade Pallister visited Cambodia and taught RFC director Brett Medlin how to make high end hand crafted soap. A few months later, RockSoap - Made by Mouen was launched.
The goal of this initiative is to provide a long term solution for Mouen and they hope the business will keep growing so his wife can join him - she still works at the dump site nearby.
RFC rented a small room to take them out of their small shack with no water, toilet and electricity, and now they have all those facilities. This room is also the current headquarters of RockSoap.
I heard about Mouen's story a bit more than a week ago while photographing another project developed by RFC and I immediately felt I wanted to document this beginning of a new life for him. I didn't even ask for any sort of payment, all I wanted was to help him and hopefully get him more support through my work.
That is why yesterday I spent the whole day filming him and his wife for a short video I am gonna edit about their lives and their new business RockSoap.
It was an honor to meet them and get to know bit of their daily life struggles. It was beautiful to see the joy and hope in their eyes while they were making the soap, and it was inspiring to see their positivity despite all the challenges they have been facing (the accident, the loss of their child, poverty, etc.)
Again: very often we find ourselves complaining about little and actually not-so-important things so meeting Mouen also reminded about the importance of having a good perspective about our lives. Complain less. Be more grateful.
The "problems" we normally have to deal with in our routines are not really problems if compared with the situation of people like Mouen, who live on a U$2,5/day basis. His wife still collects recycling materials at the dump site, the only source of income for the entire community where they live.
Now they are all dreaming RockSoap will keep growing so they can also be part of it. I really hope my short video will help in this process. I will post it here once it's done.
I share here my admiration and respect for Mouen and his wife and I send them all my positive thoughts. May RockSoap be the very beginning of new and brighter life for them.
I thank RFC for the opportunity and I congratulate them for the work they are doing here in Cambodia.
Only with kindness, compassion and generosity we can build a better, more equal, peaceful and fraternal society.