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Taking it to the Streets in Phnom Penh

In Cambodia, Hannah Kurtz ’13 motors on as an international service worker

Maneuvering through the blitzkrieg streets of Phnom Penh is not for the faint of heart. Motorbikes (“motos” in local parlance) swarm the streets like flies at a backyard barbecue. No traffic lights diminish the disarray. 

In late December Hannah Kurtz ’13 ventures out after dark for the first time on her red Vespa, a loaner from the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), in this city of 1.5 million people.

Kurtz, a Mennonite from Somerset County, population 28,000, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, has been an MCC volunteer with a small stipend for living expenses since graduation. She spent a year in Jordan as a teaching assistant at a school for the blind. Recently, she began a three-year stint in Phnom Penh working with the Returnee Integration Support Center, which serves individuals who came to the United States as Cambodian refugees but were deported after being convicted of felonies. 

Many of her clients grew up as Americans, sport tattoos, and speak perfect English. Kurtz helps them readjust to life in Cambodia by helping them find jobs and housing. Earlier this day, she visited some who’d run afoul of Cambodian law and were in prison, providing them with toiletries and money for food and water, which the prison doesn’t supply.

Kurtz also works with Women PeaceMakers on women’s rights and antiviolence issues.

“I love this work,” Kurtz proclaims. “I’ve always wanted to work abroad.” Armed with the knowledge gained in her peace and conflict studies major, she feels well equipped to understand “how structures work.”

After her MCC service, Kurtz anticipates graduate school, then a return to international humanitarian work.

For now, she is stretching herself in many ways—not just by riding a moto but with her home-cooked curries and pad thai. “All I ever ate at Swarthmore was hamburgers,” she says with a laugh. “Donnie [in dining services] was my best friend.”