Janne Ritskes is the founder and director of Tabitha Cambodia.
Janne has had an extraordinary impact on the people of Cambodia and inspired an ever increasing number of people to volunteer working with her to make a better life for Cambodians.
She was born in Smilde (Drenthe) in The Netherlands and emigrated to Canada in 1951 with her family. She studied business and earned a BA at in 1980. Upon
finishing her education she committed to a life of service focusing on assisting the poor in the US, Philippines, Kenya, and Cambodia. In this period she learned and refined grass roots approaches for enabling the poorest of the poor to break the cycle of poverty. She became convinced of the need to put the people themselves in control of combatting their own poverty and create a positive future.
In 1992, Janne moved to Cambodia where she worked in Phnom Penh with World Vision for two years. She immediately noticed that after years of instability, violence and dehumanization by the Khmer Rouge regime most survivors were faltering in their efforts to find self-worth, feel safe, or to allow themselves to trust in the future. It was challenging to find effective practical ways to begin to rebuild a shattered country and society.
Faced with the prevailing view that Cambodians were unable to respond to the
development programs provided, Janne’s response was to double her efforts and find a better way forward that would address the unique needs of people
struggling to recover from genocide. She resigned her position and in 1994 after
discussions with family and close friends she pulled her savings together and
established Tabitha Cambodia.
Janne’s unique approach was that even the poorest of people have resources. Not only is it their right and responsibility to choose how those resources should be used but the very act of making such choices should be part of their own solution. Encouraging the poor of Cambodia traumatized by many years of violent conflict to understand and accept this responsibility was (and continues to be) challenging. Janne believes that supporting people to make positive choices for themselves even very small ones at first, is the most effective first step to help those who live in fear.
In her book Tabitha Snippets (2005) Janne wrote “Our vision is rather a simple one to help people overcome despair by providing a system of savings which allows them to change their lives. Through savings people actually have to decide for themselves if they are worthy of something — perhaps as simple as a towel or drinking glass. The actual savings process requires their permission, their participation and their decision on whether or not to act on their desires.”