Cambodia. I have been here before, but again I am struck by the poverty and desperation. The hopelessness left by the Kmer Rouge is still very tangible in some places, and the effects are devastating.
The educated were targeted and fear invaded the nation. Now the country is rebuilding, but still, education is a rare gift to be had and at $30/month not many can afford the costs. A common theme I heard among the survivors and NGO staff we interviewed shared the same perspective on education; it is a means of empowerment and creates the ability to get a job. Children trapped in the brothels or sold by their parents do not have this chance as they are instead busy working. And for those that do not get rescued, they eventually age out of prostitution (ie, a woman in her twenties would go for maybe 50 cents), and are left completely broken, helpless, and uneducated. One of their only options then is to sell their own children, not understanding the ramifications of this decision. So the cycle continues.
An incredible organization doing something about this issue is Agape International Missions. The founding couple moved to Cambodia almost 8 years ago when they felt God calling them to fight against child sex trafficking in that region of the world. They are truly inspiring, resilient, and determined to do whatever is in their power to stop this horrible crime. The odds are against them, from the challenging living conditions to the cultural acceptance and hopelessness with sex trafficking, yet with great joy and courage they carry on.
Some of the programs run by Agape are:
Community school and afternoon childnre’s program
Future Project: clothing factories offering salary, health insurance, safe conditions
Their main focus since they have been in Cambodia has been on a village right outside of Phnom Penh, widely known for exploiting their children and a major attraction for pedophiles around the world. One survivor we interviewed a few days ago, came from this village where she was prostituted out of her home starting at age 10. She said that 99% of children living in her village are exploited.
Once you start asking questions, of almost anyone, you can discover some shocking information. We ate dinner with our tuktuk (Kmer taxi) driver one evening, and sat around the table numbly absorbing his deep knowledge on the inner workings of this complex issue. And the scary part is that, according to him, the demand for young boys is only increasing.
Coming up for air, I feel like I am drowning in the despair of these people and the daunting task of overcoming this issue. It is easy to believe this is an impossible battle, but I remind myself that instead of looking at the scope of the problem, focus on the individual. Each survivor that we interview is one story – one powerful story of redemption and of hope and of a future. Their stories are real and their stories count.
Each and every one of them.