How’s all at home? Is it time to load up the car with beach towels, sunscreen, and a good book. Wow, that sounds nice. So, I hope it’s true for you. Over here we are seesawing between buckets of rain and buckets of sun, mud fights and dust flurries, fan on, fan off. Always, something to keep you entertained.
Well, no doubt my timing is off for newsletters, but maybe this is a chance to send you something a little different. I get asked relatively often about trafficking and what is going on over here so I thought it best just to share a little story I wrote about Srey Neng. Hope you have a minute.
Human trafficking, slavery, abduction, HIV, and extreme poverty – Yes, they all exist here in Cambodia! And Srey Neng knows in great detail not because she was abducted, but because that potential is just outside her front door. Everyday a gang sits across the road from her home watching and waiting……
Srey Neng is only 14, yet she has already suffered through more than anyone should. She was born into extreme poverty in an area known as Prey Touch, both her mother and younger brother are fighting with HIV, and just a few months ago her father tragically passed away, leaving her family in even greater plight, unable to earn any kind of income and struggling to find food. Now add to this the gang that awaits her outside the gate with every cruel intention and this is far beyond what any child should ever have to face.
Out of her family’s desperation, Srey Neng, at the age of 6, came to live in our Toul Kor church/homes. She attended one of our first baptisms and came to know the Lord. She found the love of friends, and received a strong eduction. However, after two years, with her brother’s HIV hitting him hard, she needed to return home to help support the family. There was no time for school, and no time to play or just be a kid. She, at 8 years old, introduced her family to the love of the Lord and they began to attend a church near her home. Struggling to help support her family, and care for her brother she grew up little by little leaning on the Lord. However, she has also now grown to reach an age of great vulnerability, and the gangs have presented themselves.
The traffickers are more than cruel; they go beyond lying, cheating and stealing. They beat, torture, rape and then sell into slavery, whether it is physical labor or sexual slavery. They sit crouched at your door awaiting their opportunity. This gang has watched her over the last few years, but authorities are few and far between in the province and there is little they can do until any attempt is made on her.
FCOP has never promoted itself as an agent fighting trafficking or slavery, yet in caring for so many kids it consistently finds itself confronted with and battling this evil. And, we have not established ‘safe houses’ or worked exclusively on the rehabilitation of those rescued from this abuse. Within Cambodian culture, ‘safe houses’ tend to further label young women making it even more difficult for them to readjust to living within their community or village once again. Even young women who have come to Phnom Penh to work in the garment factories, are presumed by neighbors to be involved in illegal or socially unacceptable businesses, and when the girls return home they are considered inappropriate for marriage. That said, we work to raise all of our kids in loving church/orphan homes, where it is understood that everyone comes from challenging or traumatic backgrounds. No one is or can be labeled by a sign, or grouped into a specific category. Kids, play, study and support one another as they grow up in an empathetic and fun home environment. Over time they may open up about their past when they feel ready, knowing they are among friends who have all been confronted with tragedy. They may also not share their story, but heal and grow strong simply being wrapped in the love of their friends, their care givers, and the Lord.
Srey Neang has grown up, her father has passed away, and she has now also drawn the attention of traffickers. So, together with Srey Neng’s mother, the needed but difficult decision was made to bring Srey Neng to the safety of our church/orphan home a few hundred kilometers away. She is now secure and able to attend school again, but incredibly torn up knowing that her mother and brother continue to suffer with HIV, struggle to find food, and must still bear the presence the gang just across the road.
We are working to provide her family with rice, medicines, and medical check ups as well as some regular monthly support. So, FCOP doesn’t maintain ‘Safe Houses’ or work as an agent fighting trafficking and the slave trade. Yet, everyday we are actively involved in it. And, we work to make our church/orphan homes a secure, loving, Spirit filled environment for women and kids who have fled severe abuse and forced prostitution, as well as many children sadly abandon by poverty stricken mothers also caught in the trade. Our prayer is to offer amazing kids like Srey Neng an opportunity to rebuild their lives in safety, to receive healthy food, a quality education, and time to simply play as kids.