In Cambodia, Srey Roth grew up in very poor conditions, with never enough food and no chance to go to school. Then, her life changed forever when she was viscously exploited as a 10 year old. When she first came to Hagar, she wouldn’t speak. As she began to feel the love and concern of her housemother and counselor, little-by-little she began to trust and share her feelings. Today, she is 13 years old and she has moved out of the Recovery Shelter into a group home. She says “I am strong now, and I want to live life in its fullness. I do not live in fear anymore, I live in hope.”
Thanks for your part in helping Srey Roth find that hope.
Last month, 18 girls from Hagar's Recovery Program visited Bokor Mountain, a two hour drive south of Phnom Penh, in Cambodia. The field trip was designed to fresh body and spirit, and to help the group grow as a team. Here are what a couple of the girls had to say:
"I really loved being at the top of the mountain. I thought I was in paradise. It was very cool, but I felt warmth. I felt the warmth of being in a family." -- Srey Phreak
"I felt so excited on my way to the top of the mountain. I felt like I was on the way to heaven. I loved the fresh air, the clouds, the flowers that I could touch. I felt so refreshed." -- Kanga
Arriving at the Shelter
When a girl comes to Hagar’s Shelter for girls, they are often traumatized and terrified. Many have been conditioned by their traffickers not to trust organizations like ours. Others are still traumatized by their rescue.
The girls arrive at our shelter accompanied by Hagar case manager and a counselor. The girl is shown her room, the playground (pictured above), and her daily schedule is described. She is introduced to her house mother. To create as close to normal living situation as possible, the children’s shelters have house mothers, who act as primary caregivers for five to six girls each.
Sometimes, with serious trauma or very young girls, the housemothers have to help a girl get dressed, wash herself, brush her teeth and wash her clothes. Some clients have never done these things or are so traumatized they cannot. In this case the housemother will help the girl until she is able to do it on her own.
The First Day of School
The first two to three days the girl is not expected to attend school, even though it is right next to the shelter. She decides when she feels ready. In the meantime, she may relax, help her housemother around the house, and join in activities with the other girls.
When she does decide to go to school the housemother will go with her the first day and stay all day with her. This helps each girl adjust to being at school and demonstrates that she is not alone. When she’s ready, the housemother will stop going to school with her.
Soon, the girl will begin following the same routine as the other girls in the shelter, who also attend school. She’ll share responsibilities with them, like cleaning after dinner and keeping her room tidy. Meeting other girls that have experienced similar abuse and making friends will help her heal. Counseling sessions will help her heal. And the love of a housemother will help her heal. We know that through your support, she’ll become a strong and confident young woman.
For a child in a Cambodian courtroom, the experience can be harrowing. Child witnesses need to testify while standing right next to their abusers. The same ones who sold, raped them for profit, or exploited them. Then, sometimes the judge laughs at a young child's testimony. Sometimes the perpetrator’s friends or family jeer. Children may be told that it is their fault. It's in stark contrast to child-friendly practices common in developed countries.
At Hagar last year, 38 clients—most of them children – were involved in court cases in Cambodia.
We’re committed to make the situation better. We launched two initiatives in 2011 to help support clients through the legal process. A new Hagar Legal and Protection Unit includes a Cambodian lawyer and expatriate advisor, who ensure that clients are informed and supported. They accompany clients on appointments. They prepare them for court. Because, when a young girl stands up in court, speaks the truth, and is believed, it is a key part of the whole journey, from victim to survivor.
Also, Hagar and two other organizations began collaborating with the Cambodian Ministry of Justice to increase the child-friendliness of the system. Along with an art therapy consultant, we are designing a waiting room with the goal of providing a sanctuary. Children will be brought to the courtroom only when it is time for their voices to be heard. They will be exposed to less trauma, accusations and chaos. Last year, all concluded Hagar Cambodia legal cases resulted in a positive outcome. The perpetrator was convicted, sentenced, and fined. These results are not just a testament to good legal support. They reflect inner strength, good recovery services, and each person’s resilience.
During Human Trafficking Awareness month, we want you to know that you've made a tremendous impact on the girls in Cambodia who come from backgrounds of human trafficking. To show our appreciation, we've created a special thank you video for you directly from Cambodia. Watch Hagar's thank you video (one minute).
We look forward to our journey together in 2012.
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Hagar USA, Inc.