Human traffickers prey upon the vulnerable.
In Cambodia, where trafficking is common, see how education, food security, and improved economic opportunities are helping children and families know their rights and avoid being taken advantage of.
One night, my husband was flipping through TV channels when I suddenly stopped him to ask him to go back to our local PBS station. After watching for a few minutes, I told him, “This looks like Cambodia.” I had just returned from a trip to Cambodia with World Vision only the week before, so the sights and sounds of that country were fresh in my mind.
It was a documentary entitled “The Storm Makers.” It focused on a trafficking survivor and her family, and the trafficker himself was interviewed. I watched the entire show feeling more and more distraught by the pain, suffering, and lack of hope depicted in the film and in the main character’s life.
As I went to sleep that night, the despair clung to me. The next morning, I woke with that feeling still there, threatening to overwhelm the promise of a new day. But then slowly, I felt God’s gentle nudging and remembered my own Cambodian experiences.
While I had seen hunger, poor education due to a high dropout rate, and high debt among the people living in areas where World Vision hoped to expand, I also visited an area called Leuk Daek where World Vision has worked for the past 15 years. What I witnessed there showed me the antithesis of despair.
I met a woman named Sauphorn who remembered the days before World Vision came to her community, when the road in front of her house would turn to knee-deep mud in the rainy season; during the dry season, there wasn’t enough water to grow crops.
“I felt so upset when we didn’t have much food,” Sauphorn says. “My children would get sick because they didn’t have enough.”
When World Vision arrived in 2000, she learned about nutrition and healthy meals, birth spacing, worm-killing medication, and the importance of washing hands and boiling water to prevent the spread of disease.
Sauphorn then became a trainer to others in her village. She says, “I always try my best to transfer my knowledge that I have learned from World Vision to the community.”
She also learned best crop-growing practices, and her yield has more than quadrupled.
Even though World Vision is now leaving Leuk Daek and transitioning its work to community members like Sauphorn, she doesn’t worry. “I still have hope for the future. World Vision already strengthened me for 10 years.”
One part of the documentary that chilled me was when the trafficker said he liked to have uneducated people come to him. They didn’t ask too many questions and he could easily have them sign or put their mark on the documentation he provided.
In Leuk Daek, I met young, educated people who know their rights and won’t get taken advantage of by unscrupulous traffickers.
Because families now have food security and know the value of education, more and more children in Leuk Daek are able to go to school. One of those students is Bunteum, who is now 22.
His parents struggled just to feed their family of 10. But when World Vision came, they learned new life skills and agriculture skills that transformed their ability to provide food for their family.
Bunteum also began attending World Vision’s Youth Club, where he learned about children’s rights and how to help his community. The Youth and Children’s Clubs worked on a variety of campaigns alongside World Vision. Some of these campaigns included raising awareness of alcohol abuse and domestic violence, human trafficking, and the value of education.
The Youth Club also had a longer-lasting impact on Bunteum’s life. “After I joined the club, I understood about my future. I could prepare my plan,” he says. He finished school and now has returned to his community as a primary school teacher. He also continues his work with the Youth Club as a consultant.
Kollel is another young man who currently participates in the Leuk Daek Youth Club. “When I joined the youth club, I changed my behavior. I have good behavior with my family and with my friends,” he says. He transitioned from a participant to leader in 2007.
Emboldened by his time with the Youth Club, Kollel also approached the Provincial Governor and asked him for financial support for the community once World Vision leaves Leuk Daek. He received a promise that the official would visit the Youth Club to determine funding possibilities.
Because of Kollel and other empowered children and their parents who live in this community, I have hope for the future of Cambodia. I know there is still need, as evidenced in the documentary I watched, but Leuk Daek stands as a shining example of what is possible thanks to work that is community-based, child-focused, centered in Christ, and fueled by caring donors.
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Read more stories from our Cambodia bloggers trip.