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Community Members and Volunteers
In addition to admiring the beautiful architecture of the temple, there was one thing Hassica Phan said nearly every monk that came from out-of state or out of the country commented on: the community. “They all commented on how well our temple worked together,” she said. This genuine desire to help was reflected in each interview at the temple, showing the true dedication to this temple.
Part of this very willing volunteering can be attributed to the monks. Sophia Sour explains that “the monks need help in so many ways” when it comes to making phone calls or running errands. And, as she adds, “traditionally you don’t refuse a monk, especially a head monk.” I experienced this first hand while talking to Sophia. The head monk walked by with some sort of joint medication and showed it to Sophia. She then disappeared for close to thirty minutes. “That’s why I hide in here,” said Sophia’s sister Hassica, “because when he sees me there’s a million things he wants me to take on.” (To be clear, she “hides” only so that she can get other work done for the temple.) When it comes to broader event planning-type tasks, the monks are crucial and help allocate tasks.
The Watt doesn’t have a very hierarchical organizational structure. Everyone seems to know everyone and the organizational structure and hiring process for monks, board members, etc. is all about connections.
They noticed Sophia Sour and Hassica Phan when the two of them accidentally stumbled into a board meeting, curious about what was going on but not intending to become involved beyond that. Sophia and Hassica got talking, brainstorming ideas, and next thing they knew the monks had given them tasks. And, the head monk’s standards are extremely high.
But it seems unlikely that Sophia and Hassica do not meet his standards. The two weeks prior to the Sima Boundary celebration they were at the temple every day, from 7 in the morning to 2 or 3 at night. These sorts of long hours are not uncommon for them. “Our husbands call and say, ‘Are you guys coming back home?’” said Sophia. Even outside of the temple, the two are logging hours. Before the Buddha relic was brought in this past summer, Sophia and Hassica were scrambling to finish making decorations. “I was actually doing that at my store, sitting there in my down time. People were saying ‘you’re doing this to sell?’ I’m like ‘Oh, nooo’”, said Sophia.
The help goes far beyond Sophia and Hassica, however. “If you ask [the community], they always come and help” said Hassica. When the new temple was built huge numbers of people helped with the preparation and painted or helped pave the driveway or made decorations. When the tents blew over the night before the Sima Boundary celebration, all it took was a phone call to get a group organized to help. The hard work the monks demonstrate trickles down the line, says Hassica, and when people do these good things “it’s for [them]. It’s not for anybody else,” continues Sophia. This is “why we keep on coming,” Hassica says. Says another regular attendee of the temple who identifies himself as “just a volunteer,” “I go whenever I can and do whatever I can do. Whatever needs to happen, I help out if I can.” This commitment to the temple is special and allows the temple to continue growing. Says Sophia, “it’s a small state, but we’re able to work together and make things go. And it’s fun, because it is a fulfillment you can’t really buy.”
I go whenever I can and do whatever I can do. Whatever needs to happen, I help out if I can. —Sophia Sour
During the final day of Khmer New Year, we were welcomed to eat a delicious lunch of noodles, soup, and various pastries by Chanda Sour and Jim Hockert. Chanda introduced us to a group of women eating in a circle, dressed in beautifully colored traditional clothing. The women were volunteers, many of who were board members of the Watt and were also happy to receive our questions and talk to us about their work.
The women say they volunteer at the temple as a “break from work [outside of the temple]” and stressed that their service to the Watt gave them “peace in [them]selves”. They also emphasized the importance of fostering an environment where the temple and its community were “open to everyone”. We certainly saw this manifest itself in the kind and welcoming reception we received every time we visited the Watt Munisotaram.
According to our observations, the Watt doesn’t have a very hierarchical organizational structure. Everyone seems to know everyone and the organizational structure and hiring process for monks, board members, etc. is all about connections.