I’ve missed Cambodia ever since my first trip there in 2012. It is a country with a tragic history, yet it is also a country of so much hope. Despite the progress lost due to the tyrannical reign of the Khmer Rouge, the country has seen a remarkable recovery. What was once a country devastated by war, famine and the brutal intellectual persecution of over a million people, is now a country rich in opportunity, evidenced by the influx of new foreign investments and developments in the country. It is however, still an impoverished country with low human rights developments. While the changes in Cambodia over the last five years are impressive, one thing remains the same: an active sex industry where human trafficking thrives.
Human trafficking in Cambodia is an issue that is known on a global scale. The abundance of NGOs present in Cambodia that tackle human trafficking is a testament to how rampant this problem is. Ethnic Vietnamese people continue to be marginalized in Cambodia, making them excellent candidates to be abused and exploited. Knowing this has made my heart hurt for the Vietnamese in Cambodia. What future could they possibly have when they basically do not exist in the eyes of the government? Would they ever be able to escape the perpetual cycle of poverty that feeds human trafficking in their communities? Does hope exist here?
Hope in Cambodia was found in several places. The first is in the abundance of NGO’s in Cambodia that fight human trafficking. Knowing that Chab Dai exists and has grown in Cambodia means that there are more and more people coming together to come up with a solution to the human trafficking situation there. The second place of hope was seeing the impact of these NGOs in places such as Svay Pak, a place considered to be an epicentre of Cambodia’s child sex trade. The third is seeing and meeting amazing and selfless individuals who embodies the teachings of Christ to love others and look after the least of us. The fourth and most significant place of hope is definitely the OBV home in Cambodia.
Angela told us that the girls in Cambodia were different. They were in fact, very different, as they were sassy, silly and very confident. We can only attribute it to the way that they are treated by Ha, Nimol and Nghai, who care for them and treat them with love and respect. I was captivated by how beautiful these girls are, inside and out. These girls never failed to try to impress us with their dancing, their language skills and their charm. It was truly a heartwarming experience to see how these girls have come into themselves and developed such unique personalities despite their trauma. Everyday that we spent with them was full of laughter, fun and unconditional love. The experience that I would never forget however, is when we accompanied them to visit their village. It is one thing to hear about the state of the Vietnamese villages in Cambodia, but it will never compare to how it feels to walk through it.
On the day we were heading to the village, the girls were extremely excited. They laughed and joked and were abounding in joy. Two of the girls in my tuk tuk were from the village we visited and they confidently navigated for the tuk tuk driver. Driving in, B greeted her friends and villagers, who expressed their surprise to see her and she waved at them as if she was a VIP returning to her hometown. In a way, she was. She happily told me that those were her friends and excitedly pointed out her brothers as they whipped by us on their scooter. But dynamics changed.
As we left, B and D began to cry. Their tears stung me as I began to fully grasp the situations of these children. They’re faced with the very difficult situation of leaving their families behind so that they could have a better future. While it seem simple to us in the west when making such a decision, behind this decision for these children are many complicated factors that I cannot even claim to comprehend. What is it like to wrestle with obligations to my family and protecting my future? How do I love a family that potentially harmed me or allowed me to be harmed? How do I watch my family live in such a dismal state of poverty while I gallivant around in the city with my belly filled and a beautiful big home to live in? I cannot even pretend to comprehend the depth of the pain that these girls feel, my heart aches for them. It just seems so unjust for these children to have to shoulder such heavy burdens and bear so much suffering. This is a stark reminder for me of why we need God, why we need to gospel and why we as Christians must fight for justice.
Cambodia is also home to the amazing Sister Chanthu. She is someone who realized that this world is bigger than herself and that the harvest is truly plentiful but the labourers are few (Luke 10:2). Her life is truly given to the Lord as she allows him to use her not only as a healer to the sick, but a mother to the motherless and a light amongst the darkness. She is just one woman but yet she is as able to bring restoration to so many people. She gives many people who would otherwise not have it, a second chance at life. Meeting her and the people she works with has renewed my faith in people and especially Christians. To know that there are people out there who takes their faith seriously and who love so boldly encourages me to not give up on hope and to join and fight alongside them. What a privilege and an honour it was to have seen Sister Chanthu and her community.
Leaving Cambodia was very similar to leaving Vietnam. I left with a sense of hope and peace knowing that there was so much good happening there despite the situation. Despite this, I left with a feeling of sadness and longing knowing that I have stepped out of the lives of these beautiful little souls. The girls showed us their gratitude and their love as we left, leaving even myself in a trail of tears. I cannot even begin to comprehend how they have infiltrated my very tightly secured heart, but all I know is that my heart is bigger and more capable of love because of them. I clung to them as we said goodbye, unwilling to let go for fear of losing them but reluctantly we went on our way. Perhaps it was a good thing that we left in such a state, because nothing could've prepared me for what I would witness in Malaysia.