By: Lisa Arensen, PhD

Posted: March 17, 2020
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Faculty Post

Compassion and Courage in the Time of this Novel Coronavirus


Whenever possible, I choose to write about wilderness and wildness, and efforts to protect and sustainably use our planet’s natural resources. And I could mention many moving incidents of watching students’ enthusiasm, open-heartedness, and commitment as they met community environmental activists and Indigenous farmers and conservation practitioners over the past three weeks of our travels around the edges of Cambodia.

Yet all these marvelous moments are currently overshadowed by recent statements by the WHO, the State Department and the CDC regarding travel and COVID-19, and we, like all SFS centers, are in the midst of working closely with sending schools about students being recalled to their homes.

It’s been a hard few days for our dear students and many other students studying around the world. No one wants to be sent home from a place they chose and dreamed and worked to come to, and many American students abroad now face that reality.

Human communities are tested in times of stress—sometimes we rise, sometimes we fall. I trust that we at SFS, scattered around the world, will rise.

These are strange and uncertain times, and in such times, I often turn to poetry. This poem by Hafiz, the 14th century Sufi mystic, is resonant and timely in this current global moment:

A Great Need
Of a great need
We are all holding hands
And climbing.
Not loving is a letting go.
The terrain around here
Far too

It is time to keep holding on to each other, whatever that looks like for our centers and students and staff. There is evidence that practicing social distancing and ‘flattening the curve’ of the spread of the virus, is a compassionate and responsible practice at this juncture for the sake of our health care providers and the vulnerable among us, wherever we are in the world. Our aim here at the Cambodia Center is to hold onto each other with courage and compassion–even if that looks different than the semester we had planned and hoped for.


An elderly homestay family from an island in the Mekong River


A student steals a quiet moment during a village homestay last month

For the most up-to-date information on SFS’ response to the COVID-19 novel coronavirus and how it is impacting our programming, please visit

→ Conservation and Development Studies in Cambodia

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