After four months in Cambodia, most of it spent in Phnom Penh, I’m getting set to move on. I’ve booked a ticket to Kuala Lumpur and leave in less than two weeks. My plan is to explore Malaysia and then Indonesia (and that is literally the extent of my plan as it currently exists). The other day I was thinking that the only thing I’m really sad about is leaving here ‘my girls,’ as I have come to think of them. As I have mentioned, though I suppose only in passing, I have been teaching English to teenage girls who are in an aftercare program run by an NGO here. They were all victims of child sex trafficking, and live with foster families here in Phnom Penh because it is unsafe for them to return to live with their families (some of whom, sorry to say, actually sold their young daughters into sexual slavery).
So I was thinking about my girls and remembered that I had never posted the links to some videos about them on here as I’d meant to do. And so I am remedying that now.
Four years ago, Dateline did a story on child sex trafficking in Cambodia, and documented a ‘rescue operation’ on film. Some of the girls who were rescued are the ones I am teaching now. This page contains an article (which is a partial transcript of the story) and the story, ‘Children for Sale,’ is broken up into several short videos.
Then came a follow-up story in 2007, which shows footage of the actual rescue. Then, just last year, they went back to check in on the girls and see how they were faring in their new lives. The four girls featured in this video are all my students, including Loeum, who is my best student and also one of my favorites. (Yes, all teachers have favorites. Of course.) I’m also happy to report that Loeum is now first in her class at school, and another of my students, Mey, is second.
My girls are bright, funny, sassy and love to sing (which has resulted in my developing a love/hate relationship with the song ‘Bingo’). Sometimes they are motivated to learn and other times they ignore the crazy white lady in front of the blackboard and gossip with their friends or listen to their iPods (they are teenagers, after all). They go to church on Sundays, as the organization I’m volunteering for is a Christian one. (I did have some misgivings about working for them, given my aversion to organized religion and especially proselytizing and anything that smacks of missionary work, but Hagar does some really great work with the girls in their care, and if the foreign staff there are motivated to do so by their religious beliefs, well, really, who am I to have a problem with that?) Some are shy and some outgoing. Sometimes they are happy, sometimes sad. Some have told me they miss their families. They know me only as ‘teacher,’ as they refused early on to learn my actual name.
I hope you will watch the videos and meet some of them and learn a bit more about what their lives are like. I plan to take some videos of my own in class, and will post those here sometime soon so you can meet them all. Warning: I sent the link to the last video to some of my friends and most of them were brought to tears. I hope they were tears not only of sorrow for what the girls have been through but happiness that their lives are so very much better now, and that they are so full of hope for their futures—as am I.
I won’t say ‘enjoy’ this time, as I usually do, but I do hope you will watch and perhaps be moved by what you see.