Each reunion with the girls always seem better than the last. Their sweet faces, playful laughter, and bubbly energy pull at every string of my heart and every moment spent together is like a dream. This year was no exception. I saw familiar faces and new ones alike. The familiar ones welcomed by presence with gleeful laughter and open arms, running and calling my name from afar. They remembered every detail of last year's time spent together, from making balloon animals to teaching me to read Vietnamese. The new girls did not shy away either. They quickly commanded my attention, grabbed my hands and pulled me in five different directions to play. Life never tasted so sweet!
Thank you, Shantelle Quinlan, for your toy donations. They loved them, especially the Frozen ones! "Let it go" is forever stuck in my head.
We painted rocks and made Play-Doh animals all day, every day. They sure are talented!
They also equally love it when we walk them to school Of course we had to squeeze in 2 minutes of play before school started.
The children try very hard all year round to succeed in school. The top 3 are rewarded, but I love that Father Martino also gave a reward to a 4th who "tried her best, but just couldn't make it". He acknowledged that each child has a talent and skill and that school "just isn't for everybody". Love!
People always ask me how I could immerse myself in such sadness and know so much about the children's tragedy without feeling overwhelmed and depressed. "I don't know how you do it". "I don't know how you can stay so positive". The girls have survived unimaginable suffering, cruelty, and torture. They have been rejected from their families, deprived of all love and protection, only to be traded like commodity and bargained for like produce in the market. Worse yet, their lives are considered disposable. When they have been used and abused until their little bodies are no longer prized, they are thrown on the street, if not in the garbage, to live the rest of their days in shame and sorrow knowing that still no one out there cares. Surely, that is dark, and yes, it is depressing.
The key is that the girls have survived this suffering. I am bewildered by their resilience, their strength, and their courage. They were raped by their own fathers, brothers, and uncles. They were sold by their own mothers and grandmothers to pay for the most trivial of materials like a cell phone or a television set. They were beaten, chained, tortured, and again raped to fulfill sick fantasies of men who couldn't care less that the child was only four years old. Through all that, the girls maintain their youthful innocence that would humble any shallow and narcissistic fool. I stay positive because the girls inspire me to do so. They have made an impression on me that no teacher has ever been able to impart. They are bright, kind, gentle, loving, and respectful. They remain hopeful to a brighter future and are fierce to succeed. This year was a change for me. I no longer looked at them with eyes of pity and sympathy. My heart wasn't as broken. When I looked at them, my spirit was lifted to see happy children playing as free and frivolous children do.
"Papa" Danh and little C. She was left for dead in a pool of her own blood after being raped by a man in her neighborhood at the tender age of four. When we met her for the first time last year, she was withdrawn, quiet, slow, and delayed. Simple phrases like, "Thank you" or "Hello" was foreign to her and she could not tell her right shoe from her left. She even tried to eat a sandwich with a spoon! After a year with One Body Village, the change in her is incredible. She has become quite outspoken and clever. We played monopoly together and she made sure that all debt was duly paid to her! She still can't form proper sentences, but hey, Rome wasn't built in a day.
Our OBV girls in Cambodia live in one small house along a street of complexes. They don't have many toys or games. Their worldly possessions include a bicycle (shared between two), simple clothes, and books for school. They have one ball to play with and commanded us to play monkey in the middle for hours. Amidst all the fun and laughter, they made sure that we didn't speak Vietnamese aloud for the other children on the block to hear. Vietnamese people are heavily discriminated against in Cambodia and the girls want to avoid emotional and physical bullying at all costs.
The OBV girls in Cambodia look so elegant with their long hair and traditional dresses.
Our girls used to live down this alley. Houses are more like make-shift shacks built from tarps and misshapen wood. This entire community is comprised of very poor Vietnamese families who are marginalized and shunned from regular society due to heavy discrimination. They either fish or recycle plastic for a living, earning less than $5 USD per day.
Every person has a calling, and Father Martino's was saving children. He is beyond passionate and devoted. He is strong willed, hard-headed, and relentless in rescuing children and keeping them safe. He risks imprisonment, physical assault, and even death every day. On this last trip, when an undercover mission was busted in Cambodia, Father Martino was assaulted by 10 men who followed him to his hotel. Luckily nothing was broken, but he spent the rest of the trip in agonizing pain. People like him are few and far between and he makes me want to go out there and kick some ass.
I love playing with them, laughing with them, crying with them. I love caring for them when other people in their lives deceived, neglected and abused them. I love speaking up for them when other people tried to silence them. This is my calling too.