Today we happily endured a bumpy 6 hour bus ride to Phnom Penh to visit the girls in Cambodia. We passed the Vietnam-Cambodia border with ease, as do drug and human traffickers do I'm sure. If you do not have the proper paperwork to cross the border, you can simply pay a driver an affordable amount of US currency to drive you around the poorly patrolled gates! I had the pleasure of meeting N.T. and N.Y. last year, and to my surprise, they are joined by 6 more children upon this visit! I win their attention once again with my balloon animal and origami gimmicks and we all bond quickly. The girls here are lucky in a sense that they have never been sexually abused or trafficked before. However, they are at very high risk of being sold to trafficking predators. Selling the virginity of pubescent girls at the prime age of 12-14 is a commonplace in Cambodia, especially for Vietnamese families. In fact, it evokes a celebration upon completion of the unlawful transaction! Many of the girls come from very poor Vietnamese villages, where generations of uneducated and unskilled families rely on selling their children as their only saving grace. It's an unfathomable concept to hopeful and naive Westerners like ourselves, but you really have to be there to believe it. So, in exchange for micro-loans, the girls' families surrender them to OBV for care and education.
There is an air of joy and purity at the OBV home in Cambodia in contrast to that of Vietnam. The girls of Vietnam mask their shame, guilt, and tragedy well with their playful and youthful demeanor. However, the faded sparkle in their eyes and the solemness of their sunken faces when they think no one is looking unquestionably reveals their troubled past. Nonetheless, both groups of girls are very sweet, ambitious, and hopeful for a better life.I love them all like family.
In the morning, we planned to take the girls to a beach resort in Sihanoukville. The girls read a short story in Khmer to me and I quickly fell asleep on the top bunk after an exhausting day. Silly me! They, on the other hand, did not sleep a wink as they anxiously awaited a fun-filled day at the beach! I have never seen a more excited group of girls in my life.They woke me up at 4 am, 2 hours before our bus was due to depart. I couldn't be mad at their eager faces. Because most of the girls never rode on a bus before, car sickness was quite the debacle. A grueling 5 hour bus ride and 6 bags of vomit later, me made it to the hotel! The girls looked at the hotel pool with bewilderment and asked us if that was in fact the beach...! Their naivety is both sad and quirky at the same time! I am reminded constantly of what I take for granted when I am around them. At the beach, the girls took no time to befriend the ocean. Most didn't know how to swim, but they jumped in the water anyway with uninhibited curiosity. We laughed and played for hours until the sun went down. It was truly a blissful paradise and I loved being there with them to share this new experience. Oh how I loved today.
No matter where they go and who they're with, the girls stick together like family.