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Proud to Be a Girl: Empowering Girls in Cambodia

by Hagar USA, which supports the work of Hagar International
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Proud to Be a Girl: Empowering Girls in Cambodia
Proud to Be a Girl: Empowering Girls in Cambodia
Proud to Be a Girl: Empowering Girls in Cambodia
Proud to Be a Girl: Empowering Girls in Cambodia
Proud to Be a Girl: Empowering Girls in Cambodia

It was 4:30a.m., and the darkness of the Cambodian night was still lingering. Yem was nursing her one week-old baby girl before dawn arrived, but in the shadows, her husband’s mistress approached and was about to change their lives forever.

Yem immediately felt the excruciating burning on her face and chest, but thought first of her baby, also crying in pain from the brutal acid attack. It left them with severe burns that disfigured their faces, causing Yem to lose an ear, and led to the partial blindness of her daughter, Sophorn.

“We were living in a difficult time. We were very injured from the acid and we hoped Hagar could help us,” Yem says. “I felt very hopeless in my life. But after we found Hagar I started to feel hope again.”

Yem admits that life was far from perfect prior to that night. She was married to an alcoholic who was frequently violent to her, and destructive of their property. Though he worked, he supported his own pleasures and addiction and never the family’s needs. Yem had to work harder to ensure her children received all that they needed to survive given the absence of a supportive husband and father. This attack took away her ability to work, leaving Yem and her baby girl hospitalized for months.

Initially, two other non-profits helped the family, but ultimately could not meet the complexities the family was facing, leading them to link with Hagar. When Yem and her family first arrived at the center they had no money for food and treatment; they were struggling to manage the challenges of their trauma and medical conditions. Once Hagar started working with Yem, we were able to do what we have been doing so well for 25 years, offer compassion and expertise to help Yem and her family begin to rebuild their lives.

The Hagar team knew that this family’s needs were significant and would likely take many years of services to address their challenges, but our team did not shy away. Yem and her family needed the opportunity to heal both physically and emotionally, and to gain confidence in her own inner beauty to help her to come out from the shadows of the acid attack and violence she had experienced.

“Before, my life was hopeless. I felt so much shame. I could not find a job because my face was not good. I didn’t have a job because I didn’t have the skills and knowledge,” says Yem. “But then I found Hagar.”

Hagar has stood with Yem and her family through the years, providing an array of essential services to help them heal, find hope, and to begin building a sustainable and beautiful future. Hagar’s support allowed them to receive medical treatment (including Sophorn’s eye treatments and her older sister’s care for lupus). They received counseling, daily needs support, assistance for Yem to start her business selling drinks and snacks to earn an income, and Sophorn gained access to an education giving the family a precious chance to build new lives. Despite her scars and damaged hearing, Yem says the worst of her health problems are behind her, thanks to Hagar’s long-term support.

Hagar consistently serves survivors with the most challenging of circumstances stemming from trafficking, slavery, domestic violence, exploitation and abuse. Without Hagar, many would simply not have the opportunity to heal physically and emotionally, nor have access to justice, or to economic empowerment services needed to help them thrive.

Sophorn shared, “Without Hagar, my life and future would not be good. Hagar’s help has made me very happy. They helped me to help myself. In the future I would like to be a doctor because I have met some wonderful doctors and I want to help people as they have helped me.”

At any given moment, Hagar continues to serve hundreds of trauma survivors needing our support. During this Thanksgiving and Christmas season, we need your help. By making an end of year or monthly gift to Hagar, you are helping survivors like Yem and Sophorn on their path to hope and wholeness. Help Hagar USA toward our goal of raising $75,000 this holiday season to ensure that we do not turn away survivors in need and can continue providing trauma aftercare services for years to come.

A generous gift of $100 can provide a comprehensive medical assessment for a woman in the aftermath of severe abuse. Today, Yem’s spirit is strong, her smile is confident and infectious, and her hope for her family’s future is bright. No longer living in the shadows of the past, she is now casting her own shadow and charting a new path for her family’s future.

We need your compassionate support so that more survivors can access Hagar’s life-changing care. With a gift of $300, you could help a woman like Yem establish a small business or undertake on-the-job training in an industry of their choice. Please stand with Hagar as we help hundreds of people like Yem and Sophorn, whose bravery and resilience shine so brightly.

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Malis is eleven, and loves playing with her friends in their village. Her community is close knit, with neighbours dropping by often. Unfortunately, an older family member took advantage of this when Malis was nine and sexually assaulted her. Malis was referred to Hagar by local authorities, and that’s when our legal and protection officer Sotheary was brought into her life. Sotheary worked closely with Malis to prepare her for court, showing her Hagar’s children’s book about what things would be like and talking her through exactly what she could expect. Sotheary also worked alongside her parents to ensure they had the tools they needed to support her.

After months of waiting, the time came to go to trial. Hagar took care of the practical side of things, organizing transport and snacks for Malis and her parents. When Malis’ perpetrator spoke in court, Sotheary placed a screen in front of him so that she did not have to be retraumatised by seeing him. Malis was afraid when it was her turn to speak, “I was scared, and my heart was beating so fast, and it was hard to breathe,” but she stepped forward and spoke anyway. Malis made it through the day in court and was proud of herself for how strong she was.

A month after the trial, Malis’ counsellor travelled to her province to let her know that her perpetrator had been sentenced to seven years in jail. Malis was so happy, knowing that she didn’t need to fear him any longer because he could not reach her. She says, “I don’t need to worry anymore, I know the perpetrator is in jail.”

Malis journey with Hagar is not only helping her to heal from the trauma of her past but has inspired her for her future. Malis wants to work for an NGO and wants to be just like Sotheary in helping advocate for survivors of abuse

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Bopha is eighteen years old.  She grew up in a big family in a north-eastern province of CambodiaSupporting six children wasn't easy for her parents, as her father was a logger and her mother was a fruit-seller, and income wasn't often stable for either of themBopha and her older sister decided to shoulder some of their parents financial burden by leaving behind their education and starting work themselves. Her older sister went to work in Thailand and Bopha moved to Phnom Penh to start work in a garment factory.  

Bopha started work in the factory and became friends with a woman there who told her about an opportunity in China, one that would change her life foreverShe told Bopha she could help her get to China and live a better life, that she would have a better job and a higher salary. Bopha readily agreed to go to Chinaknowing that if she made some more money, she would be able to build a future for herself and her family.  

 “I was so happy when I got a job in China with a high salary.” shares Bopha. 

Bopha travelled to China alongside many other women who had been recruited through the same company in Phnom Penh. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary when they left Cambodia, but upon their arrival in China, Bopha and the other women were forced to hand over their passports. They suspected they had been tricked, and they feared for their safety, but they had no choice but to comply. 

 After being held for a few days, a man informed them that they were not about to start new jobs, they were going to be married to Chinese men.  Bopha was taken by the marriage broker to a remote area and sold to a family as a bride. Over a number of months, Bopha was sexually abused and treated as a domestic slave. She was given limited access to food and she didn’t receive medical care. 

 Bopha says, “I felt hopeless and didn’t get support from him. He forced me to work on the farm while I was sick." 

Two months later, Bopha came across another Cambodian woman working in the same town. The woman told Bopha that she had managed to save some money, and the pair decided to escape together. They travelled for three days through the forest until they eventually reached the Cambodian Embassy, where Bopha contacted her mother. Bopha stayed at the embassy for around three months. She was brought back to Cambodia in November. Bopha was pregnant with her husband’s child and she was subsequently referred to one of Hagar's partner organizations who support women through crisis pregnancies.  

In January, Hagar's partner organization referred her to Hagar. Bopha stayed with Hagar to receive essential services. She received counselling, medical care, case management, food, and safe accommodation. Bopha gave birth to a heathy baby boy in February and moved back to her home community in the north-east of Cambodia, to be supported by family.  


Throughout Bopha’s reintegration, Hagar’s team of counsellors worked with her family to ensure that both Bopha and her family had the support that they needed 

Working closely with Hagar and our partner organization, Bopha and her son are healthy and happy, and she's looking forward to the future with hope. Bopha is interested in the hospitality industry and Hagar are helping her reach her goal of working within it. 

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Socheata is a bright, confident, talented nineteen-year-old who works at a boutique beauty salon in Phnom Penh. She’s also a survivor of extreme abuse.   

Born somewhere in the bounds of Phnom Penh, Socheata was left at the Russian hospital as a baby. When a woman arrived, claiming she was Socheata’s Godmother and had come to bring her home, hospital staff assumed she was telling the truth and released Socheata into her care. What they didn’t know is that there was no real connection between Socheata and the woman, and that Socheata was about to be placed in a violent home.  

Throughout the early years of her life, Socheata was subject to severe violence from her ‘Godmother’ and her nephew. Her neighbors started to notice bruises and cuts all over Socheata’s body. When they finally reported it to the police, Socheata’s arm was broken and she had experienced head trauma. Both the ‘Godmother’ and her nephew were arrested, and that’s when one of Hagar’s partners were able to refer Socheata to Hagar’s care.  

At first, Socheata was placed with a family in Hagar’s emergency foster care program. A few months later, Socheata was placed in a permanent foster family. Her case manager recalls that there were some challenges throughout Socheata’s time with her foster family. As she got older, she was a typical teenager. She got a boyfriend, and sometimes she’d come home late and make her foster parents worry. After some time and work with her case manager, she learnt the importance of communicating where she was with her foster parents. During Socheata’s time in foster care, she received comprehensive psychological and physical care, and was able to enroll in school. Socheata struggled with academic learning, but her case manager is proud of her for her persistence, “even when Socheata did not perform well in school, she kept pushing through and she was able to finish her final year.” 

When Socheata completed grade 12, Hagar’s Economic Empowerment team were able to help Socheata to find a job placement. They supported her in preparing for work, and secured her an apprenticeship at a local boutique salon. Socheata thrived, and within three months, the manager of the salon promoted her to being an employee and gave her a payriseSocheata can do almost everything in the salon, but her favorite thing is hair. She says she likes to do every single hairstyle.   

 One day, Socheata would like to run her own salon, much like the one she is in now. Like anyone in their first full-time job, Socheata finds the work tiring and at times has wanted to quit, but she is well supported by Hagar staff and the management of the salon and they’ve walked through those challenges with her. Her case manager is proud of Socheata’s commitment saying, “she is committed to learning her skill.”

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When Hagar’s partner found Arunny, she was working in a karaoke bar, in poor conditions and with minimal pay. Arunny was very unhappy, she had wound up working there after a great deal of sadness in her family. Her mother had died, and her father had not wanted to care for her. He shortly remarried and moved away, leaving Arunny with no choice but to seek work. A friend was working in a karaoke bar, and Arunny saw a way out. She was devastated by the loss of her mother and the abandonment of her father, and she didn’t feel as if she had been left with any choice in what she did next.  

 Arunny describes herself before coming to Hagar as shy, silent, and easily afraid. Someone would speak to her in a loud voice, and she would cry. Now, she says she is more confident and can stand up for herself. Hagar’s Economic Empowerment (EE) team has been working with Arunny for four months. They gave her work readiness training, ensuring that she was ready for the workforce and knew common work place etiquette. Her EE officer helped her to find opportunities for training through Hagar Catering, and Arunny started off her six weekly training rotation in the widely renowned Intercontinental Hotel. Not only is Arunny growing in basic skills, but she is being trained by some of the best in the business.  

 As a person, Arunny feels she has grown since she started work, “I feel that before I was a bit shy, but now I am open to talking about my problems with staff. I am open to getting advice from the trainer or the staff there. I’m braver. I am more open minded when I get advice.” As far as her skills go, Arunny has learnt so much. She shares that she feels confident with her skills, she’s good at chopping vegetables and preparing meals. Arunny hopes to learn to make sour soup, it’s her favourite thing to eat. Beyond hoping for a good sour soup recipe, Arunny dreams of owning her own cooking stall.  

 Now, Arunny says that she is strong and empowered, but that she knows she has some growing to do. She wants to be like her boss as she continues to grow, because she cares about her employees, Arunny says she will often check in with them to see how they are feeling. She says that she loves the environment, not only is she happy to develop her skills and work in the area that she loves, but she’s grateful for the staff and the way that they encourage and support her.  

 Arunny will continue to be supported by Hagar as she journeys towards becoming a fully qualified chef, with staff members walking each step of the journey with her 

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Organization Information

Hagar USA, which supports the work of Hagar International

Location: Charlotte, NC - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @Hagar_USA
Project Leader:
Jennifer Valliant
Communications Specialist
Charlotte, NC United States
$5,805 raised of $50,000 goal
75 donations
$44,195 to go
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