Clare Rutz is a student who is traveling throughout Asia this summer and visiting a number of GlobalGiving projects. On June 4th she visited "Restoring hope to trafficked girls in Cambodia." When asked what she would tell her friends about this project, Clare said: “Great: They are making a difference!"
I visited the aftercare program made possible by Hagar, which has become home for many trafficked girls in Cambodia. This was my experience:
After crossing the street from the aftercare program we enter the school building for grades 1-3, which is where I see a flashy neon pink tuk-tuk parked in front. I catch a proud smile of the director that was brought on by the fact that they had just bought the new addition today. The tuk-tuk will take the girls to and from school in style, and the style is well deserved. The amount of school they missed because they were sold out of a child’s world has forced the girls to spend their weekdays in a classroom in order to catch up and complete two grade levels in one year.
I continue my visit as I head to the playground where I have fortunately intruded during recess. I’m greeted with big hellos and each available hand belonging to the new faces is immediately grabbed. They look up at as us and take the opportunity to practice their English. “What’s your name?” they ask. They’re proud of how far they have come and the friendships they’ve made. When I talk to the girls I see confidence and hear about their newfound dreams of being teachers, doctors, and founder of NGOs to help girls with the same horrific past. Sreyna, the director of the aftercare program, comments, “When they first come their dreams are small then they see hope for the future. They have a high goal.” Survival instincts are replaced with looking positively forward, but this takes time.
There are twenty-five girls living in the aftercare program, while there are ninety girls benefiting from the program who are either integrated back into their family or living in a more permanent housing situation. At the aftercare program each bed is made with a nice family of stuffed animals placed carefully on each corner. There are four full-time “mothers” who cook for the girls, read to them, and most importantly love them while teaching them to trust again. Downstairs there is a room for the four counselors, including both Vietnamese and Cambodian. The importance of having someone who understands your language and culture is valued here, and with a large population of Vietnamese sex-trafficked girls a diverse staff is encouraged. The girls are very difficult when they come to the house at first because of the new scenery and strangers, but as years pass they talk to the counselors and create a trusting relationship. They learn to love themselves and each other while a non-traditional kind of family is formed, but a family nonetheless.
The program started in 2005 and many of the girls are growing up. It is a goal of Hagar to integrate the girls back into their family homes if it possible. Sometimes, after much counseling and monitoring, it is clear that it would not be safe for them to return home they move on into a more permanent “family home” with fewer girls and one “mother” looking after them to create a more traditional sense of family. In some cases the girls go to live with both a mother and father that have devoted their lives to parenting and loving as many children as they are able. The hopeful conclusion is that they can grow up safely in a place that feels like home with a restored hope that opens up once closed doors to countless opportunities.
Hagar has recently established an onsite health clinic staffed with a physician and a nurse. Since access to quality health care has always been problematic in Cambodia, this addresses a long-identified challenge. Through the Hagar clinic, each child gets an immediate medical check-up upon intake. And, coming from backgrounds of rape, violence, and abuse, many children arrive at Hagar’s Aftercare Center with significant health needs. Most have little understanding of proper hygiene and nutrition, and clinic staff help them learn. We’re happy to add this component to our program of holistic recovery care.
A total of 13 girls were involved with court cases against their abusers in 2008, with six of them involved in a particularly egregious case against a Russian pedophile.
We thank everyone for their support in recent months. Funding has been tight due to some major donors being unable to fulfill their commitments. At this difficult time, those who have the capacity to give, at any level, truly have the opportunity to make a difference and transform lives! Thanks to all of you who support our work, at any level.
Says Thi, who was sold into a brothel at age six, by desperately poor parents, “Sometimes, when I think about the past, I feel like a bird with broken wings that cannot fly.”