To Advocate, to Accompany, to Serve

“Mr. Prime Minister, JRS presents you with this beautiful sculpture, made by a man with disability, helped by his wife who lost her leg to a landmine. It shows the four faces of the Prohm. The faces can represent the four virtues of Cambodia: Metta (mercy), Karuna (Loving kindness), Mudita (Rejoicing in the good that happens to others), and Uppekha (equanimity, “the middle way”), win-win. We thank you for what you have done for Cambodia, and we ask you to show again these four virtues in your future actions.” 

So spoke Ms. Sok Eng, one of our Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Cambodia team at the Celebration of 30 years of Mine Action in Cambodia.

JRS Cambodia is very blessed (lucky, some might call it) to become our mission, allowing us to accompany, serve and advocate at grass roots and at National and International levels. Team members, often disabled or refugees themselves, accompany their peers offering them friendship and encouragement. As they listen to their stories, they know what services are really needed and try to help with housing, income generation, wheelchairs, and education. As well, they are impelled to advocate for changes that will impact on the dignity of their lives and prevent further displacement of place and trauma.

In this brief article we tell a little bit about our advocacy and the promotion of human rights for individuals and changes in the system that prevent forced displacement or address its consequences.




As our opening story shows, JRS is very committed to disarmament and peace, specially to eliminating the weapons that affect people long after the war has ended. To this end, we have stayed with land-mine advocacy until the job of eradications is finished.

In 2022 we asked our Prime Minister and business leaders to fund a Cambodia free of landmines by 2025. In response, the Prime Minister has raised 30 million dollars toward this goal. We urged for the clearance of all mines along the border with Thailand even before the final decision on border boundaries were made. We enlisted Mr. Trudeau of Canada to push for border clearance. A new policy announcement in December says Thailand and Cambodia have agreed to this.

Tun Channareth, in pushing world leaders in Geneva to this goal, also asked Hun Manet, head of the army and future country leader, to join the Cluster Munition Convention. So far, we have not succeeded in this. So Not, Sak Sopheak, Chan Men, Chantha, So Kimey and Reth, have all attended meetings with government and other agencies about improving physical rehabilitation centres and ensuring better services for people in remote villages.


Statelessness, long drawn out waits for citizenship, permanent refugee status, all contribute to this. So many people have no place to call home. In our region the Rohingyas of Myanmar stand out. In Cambodia the biggest group is those of Vietnamese ethnicity.

JRS has been involved in research, lobbying, meeting with authorities and trying to help people obtain documents so they can work, get birth certificates for their children, apply for a driving license, own land etc. In 2017, prior documents of Vietnamese born in Cambodia were withdrawn and new ones were issued promising permanent residence within seven years. The key date is 2023. So, we are following this closely.



We are happy that in 2023, Jesuit University of Boston College, through its Schiller Institute will join JRS Cambodia for research and practical measures for three weeks on engaging local communities in protecting our common home.

This focus is one of JCAP’s priorities; the other two being transition to Renewable Energy to lessen carbon emissions, and Youth and Ignatian Spirituality. We think it also helps promote the UAPs, of walking with the marginalized, accompanying youth, and caring for our common home. By engaging with the Buddhist monks, our own Jesuits and the local Church, we are hoping to integrate the UAPs with helping people find the deepest meaning in their lives to the Christian God.

It is our hope that both Boston College and our own mission here will benefit from this collaboration.


Unfortunately, another driver of division in our world today comes in the disguise of religion. We see it in Myanmar where some ultra nationalist monks blindly promote the cruelty of leaders while those who follow Buddha promote care of the poor, compassion, the middle way.

In the Russian invasion of Ukraine one can see very harmful divisions among Orthodox Christians. In the Middle East we see how Islam can be exploited to justify hatred and murder.

Our Reflection Centre is a place where people of all faiths and people with none can visit, hopefully draw from the Well of Living Water and come to peace, a new perspective and touch a spark of hope. We were blessed with visits this year from Sri Lanka peacemakers, from people with HIV, from indigenous groups, from retreatants, from people finding new ways to live after traumatic experiences.

It is a different kind of advocacy and accompaniment but one which I am certain that Pedro Arrupe would smile on!

Underneath all these drivers, Pope Francis points to a deeply unjust economic system, where some have so much and others have nothing. He calls us to be true brothers and sisters to one another and to care for the common good, if we want our world to survive. 

Let’s do it in 2023!!! 

Sr. Denise Coghlan
Sr. Denise Coghlan

Director of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Cambodia