Today is my last day in Cambodia. I fly back home tomorrow morning. I reflect on the past two weeks with troubled thoughts and bittersweet memories. Feelings of guilt and sorrow flood my emotions. Life is a fragile matter. This mission trip has opened my eyes to the dark and evil corners of my homeland. I have seen the poorest of the poor and the most neglected members of society. The families that I have met work to the bone to survive on a day to day basis. Aged beyond their years, their gray hair, faded eyes, sunburnt skin, malnourished bodies, and indiscernible smiles are ingrained into my memory. The people around me are are weak, frail, decrepit. It breaks my heart that in the most desperate of times, the plight of my people rests on the saving allure ofsurrendering their children to sexual exploitation.
Women and children are the most vulnerable. Women are subordinate and of less value to men.Women are submissive to men. It is criminal that women and children in 2013 remain objects and merchandise to trade, sell, bargain for. Cursed with poverty from birth, they are stripped of the opportunity for education and success. It is their inevitable doom that their bodies are their sole solace for fortune and survival.
I met a girl named M. who was sold by her mother 5 times. In all her feelings of hurt and betrayal, she found it in her heart to buy her mother "Tet" (New Year's) gifts every year above anyone else. I have never heard of such grace and forgiveness. She warms by heart. I also met two sisters named D. and G. At young and innocent ages, their mother's boyfriend found her no longer desirable. Instead, he found sex with D., G., and their older sister more enticing. Hopeful to please her man, this mother smothered her 3 daughters with pillows and allowed the monster to rape them repeatedly, one by one. Their older sister is so traumatized that she now stutters, among other psychological disturbances. My spine chills.
What horrifies me is that I could easily be in their place if my parents never escaped Vietnam. I feel like I have won a life lottery. I am blessed, I am privileged, I am healthy. Most importantly, and in all sense of the word, I am able. These poor women and children are not able. They are not able to reach their full potential, they are not able to reach their dreams. At worst, they are slaves. Sex slaves. Once used, they are tossed aside like garbage, rotten meat. My blood boils.
On the return flight, I stare outside my window and think about the girls. I miss them. I love their innocence, their tragedy, their potential. I think about how good it felt to be a part of their family and love them like they were my sisters. I loved offering them new experiences, like taking them to the beach in Vietnam or taking them to the big city of Phnom Penh in Cambodia. I loved how their eyes lighted up every time they learned something new. Most of all, I loved how they appreciated even the smallest of gestures, like writing them a card. In the end, I think they changed my life more than I did theirs. They made me reflect on my privileged life and be more appreciative of what I have. I didn't think I had much until I met them.
I want to offer them the best of what I have, which is my voice. I will speak out for them. I will let it be known of their abuse, their suffering, and their injustice. I will also speak for organizations like One Body Village, which offers them a second chance for love, family, health, and success. Children are not prostitutes. Children are not slaves. At every chance, I talk about the girls and OBV to my friends, coworkers, family, and new acquaintances. It doesn't surprise me that they are naive to the issue, just as I was last year. I will never stop talking about what I have seen here.
And on a side note, I'm counting the days until I see my new family again next year! I can't wait to see how they will have grown and matured into the beautiful, young, happy girls they deserve to be.
I leave you with my favorite quote:
"Sometimes the smallest things can take up the biggest part of your heart."
- Winnie the Pooh
I hope my stories have touched your heart as much as it has toiled mine.
To be continued...