Narith is slow to reveal the details of his story, especially the challenges in his life, as though they are commonplace and hardly worth mentioning. He has a calm, quiet presence. He's the sort of person you might overlook in a gathering of nearly 300 excited children and youth.

That was the scene last week at the Alongsiders Cambodia annual camp for mentors and their little brothers and sisters. 

Narith was there attending for the eighth consecutive year. He was chosen as a little brother at the age of nine. Now at seventeen years old he is one of the oldest "little" brothers. And he is a good example of why we have an annual camp.

 Worship, music and even dance are important parts of camp

Worship, music and even dance are important parts of camp

What he enjoys about camp, he says, are the worship and teaching times. But most of all he loves being part of the community: the big gatherings, the shared energy, the group activities, and the sense of movement together. 

As he keeps talking, it's clear why the community experience is so important to him.

He starts by saying his mother has been "low in energy" for as long as he can remember. His father, he adds, died when he was very young.

Narith's mother has worked for many years in a garment factory as a seamstress seven days a week. So she's away from home and Narith does many things for himself. Mostly he studies.

He's an only child, he says. His mother never remarried. She has worked hard all these years so that he can get an education, and now he is on track to graduate from high school, thanks to her sacrifices.

Being in the Alongsiders movement, not surprisingly, has had a significant impact on his life. After he was chosen as a little brother, his Alongsider mentor used to visit all the time to encourage and pray for him. They still meet frequently. Narith himself came to faith and joined a local church.

His mother also came to faith along the way. As he says this, Narith makes a curious gesture with his hands motioning toward his heart, as if he's trying to show his mother's faith because words aren't enough to describe it.

There is one more detail to the story. 

 Narith has been a "little brother" since he was 9 years old.

Narith has been a "little brother" since he was 9 years old.

Perhaps it's out of respect for her that he leaves this point until the end, because she has not let it define her. Narith's mother is deaf and she can't speak. They share a sign language they developed together over the years.

It's no wonder Narith loves the community life at camp! No wonder he is drawn to the volume and energy. No wonder he participates in every activity wholeheartedly, even craft projects designed for younger children. At home he is most often alone or, when his mother returns from a long day of work, in silence.

 Workshop learning and fun

Workshop learning and fun

Isolation is the essence of poverty. Many of the little brothers and sisters have lost one or more parents, and many take care of themselves while their parents or guardians go to work. Alongsiders is overcoming isolation through relationships.

At the annual camp, little brothers and sisters see they are not alone. Mentors learn from each other. It's a time of renewing, recharging, and sharing vision. It's for everyone to recognize they are part of a movement, and that it's from God. 

Next year Narith will likely return to camp for the ninth time as an Alongsider mentor himself.

 Narith's Alongsider mentor, Kimyan, praying for him at camp

Narith's Alongsider mentor, Kimyan, praying for him at camp

"I know because of my own experience. My Alongsider mentor always showed me love. I want to give my love to another little brother like he did for me."

 

As Narith speaks, music is playing upstairs and a voice is peeling through a microphone calling everyone together. It's time to go and join the movement again.