Blog 2 – The Fruit Of The Loom
- FROM Paul Ewing
- March 18, 2014
It’s early on a Monday morning, and we set off in our van, through the bumpy streets of Phnom Penh to an undisclosed secret location.
We are on our way to a trauma recovery center for underage girls caught up in prostitution and trafficking.
As many know, S.E Asia has a long-standing reputation for being a hub for this kind of activity.
In Cambodia, prostitution has been around for hundreds of years. During the Khmer Rouge years (1975-79) it was completely banned and punishable by death.
During the years of 1992-93, a significant number of military and civilian personnel arrived in Cambodia, there to help to restore peace and civil government in a country ravaged by civil war. Unfortunately they created a demand for commercial sex, and prostitution flourished once again.
Whilst the ages of prostitutes both male and female was often from age 15 upwards, a significant problem emerged in the 1990s. Much younger children being sold by their parents for sex.
Still today, young girls are lured by what they think are legitimate job offers like waitressing.
Pimps are reported to imprison young children who are virgins, not putting them to work until they have been presented to a series of bidders such as high-ranking military officers, politicians, businessmen and foreign tourists.
Young girls working in brothels are in effect sex slaves. They receive no money, only food, and there are armed guards to stop them from running away.
Children are often held captive, beaten, and starved to force them into prostitution.
These problems are real and exist today.
We arrive at the trauma center.
This “safe-house” is unmarked and very secure – it is large and protected by extremely strong walls and fencing that are impossible for intruders to climb.
The center is guarded and there are security cameras covering the entire compound.
World Vision believes in the complete safety and security of these young women and girls, aware that there is always the risk from predators and those who have had contact with the girls in the past.
There are a lot of details that I could go into about this particular visit, but I won’t.
But I would like to highlight some of the work that World Vision are doing with the girls who are there and recovering.
The feel of the place is like a family school, with a manageable number of girls staying there for varying amounts of time.
As I recall, one of the youngest girls received by the center was 4 years old.
The girls we met that day were between the ages of 11 and 18.
Beautiful young girls – many of whom are Vietnamese, who have been in the country illegally, or trafficked into Cambodia, and had their lives ravaged by greed and the terrors of exploitation.
Part of the essential work of World vision is the re-educating the girls about their self worth, and helping them over the trauma of the past.
There are weekly counseling sessions, and there is a “house mother” who is always there with the girls to be exactly that – a mother – inasmuch as she can be.
There are a number of female social workers there too.
One of the things that I found moving was the fact that each worker only knows the story of the girl that they are counseling – there is not a culture of sharing everyone’s story with all and sundry. This helps to restore and preserve the girls dignity, and helps them feel safe with the team looking after them, and with each other.
Meeting these young girls on one level was charming – in their classroom, they are like any other group of young teens, giggling with each other, and laughing at my funny hair and silly face!
They are children! They still have much to learn, they still have some essence of joy in their lives, and as a group, they still have the fun together that young girls have – and that is reassuring.
But these facts only makes the trauma of their past all the more unacceptable and hurtful. Girls interrupted. Girls deceived. Girls emotionally and psychologically scarred, some suffering from STDs and other things that no young girl should have to suffer.
The road to restoration can often be a long one – but one that World Vision is committed to.
What about the future?
What can World Vision offer in terms of skill-sets and life applications, so that a young woman can re-integrate into their culture in a way that is healthy and helpful, contributive and also provides some form of financial security?
Various skills are taught at the center, from professional hairdressing skills and dressmaking skills, to the fascinating and very delicate intricate skill of traditional loom weaving with linen.
We observed a young girl deftly manipulating the loom, – it’s a physical job, but watching the fabric take shape is fascinating.
A girl could make 2 or 3 scarves in a day – and these can sell for $5 or even up to $20 for the very detailed works.
I like this particular skill – it keeps a Cambodian tradition alive and gives a real sense of accomplishment for the girls too.
World Vision is able to provide opportunities for girls to set up their own business when they have left the centers, and there are very encouraging stories of success.
We were told of one young girl who recently got married and now has a child, a loving husband, and active and committed member of a church, and has a business too.
Whilst to you and I in the west, this seems standard, in Cambodia, a culture where losing your virginity before marriage is deeply frowned upon, and prostitutes are the lowest of the low, this young lady’s story is tremendous!
It inspires hope – not just for you and I – but to all the girls who hear her story. It’s a story of light penetrating a dark world where all of society may shun them, where the hope of real love has evaporated, where providing for their families and parents is no longer an option, and it restores all of those hopes. For many those hopes become a reality.
I leave the center, my heart tenderized by what I had witnessed.
I had been surrounded not only by a sense of hope – but the very tangible reality of hope in action.
Seeing a young girl free to blossom unhindered into her womanhood, at her own natural uninterrupted rate, in an environment that is safe, secure and loving is something that every child should have the right to.
The long-term commitment to these precious young lives from World Vision is so encouraging, and so essential, especially in a land where to so many, hope seems to be an unattainable dream.
We drive away from the safe house. Remarkably, it seems to blend away into the rest of the street. Almost undetectable. We contemplate the young lives we had spent the day with.
We turn our thoughts to where many other children are facing the brutal reality of predators, hunger, violence and fear – The Streets.
And as the black night falls like an assassin – we make our way deep into the city to find them.