Compelled by Cambodia, Part 1
“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” ~ William James
I loved every minute of my time in Cambodia, but I’ve come home feeling compelled to return. I was in awe of its historical sites. Our team visited the breathtaking Angkor Archeaological Park–a World Heritage site,
as well as the horrific Choeung Ek Memorial–popularly known as “the Killing Fields”.
But most of all, I fell in love with the humble, resilient people at Cambodia Teen Challenge. The Teen Challenge (TC) Men’s Center cooks prepared the boys’, TC staff, and our teams’ meals from scratch everyday. Every morning, they went to the market, purchased ingredients, and turned the fresh meat, veggies, and rice into prepared meals for sixty people, three times a day over an open fire. And they did it with a smile.
The young boys and young men that live at the TC Men’s Center were all rescued from the streets of Phnom Penh, homeless and addicted to drugs. The boys range in age from 11 years old to 25 years old. Many of the boys do not have a family to return to after they complete the Teen Challenge program so, the program directors, Pastors Koy and Reny Chhim are hard at work searching for permanent homes for them. Orphanages and foster care programs are not available in Cambodia.
At the TC Women’s Center, I spent time with women who had been rescued from sex trafficking in Phnom Penh, addicted to drugs, sick, and in some cases with children of their own. Within the city of Phnom Penh, an estimated 17,000 women are involved in the sex industry with 20% of that number (3,500) believed to be under the age of 18. The TC Women’s Center’s current capacity is ten women and their 19 children. It’s such a small number considering the actual number of women in the sex industry in that community. However, these ten women are not only being rehabilitated from drug addition, restored from being sex trafficked, and given job training, they are also being taught how to be mothers. This is an enormous task. One of the young women I met just finished the one year program at TC and is on a waiting list to move into a transitional housing/job development program at another NGO, along with her three year old daughter (shown below) very soon. Her dream is to have a job that will provide enough salary for her to be able to pay tuition for her daughter to attend school. Public Schools do not exist in Cambodia.
The young woman in the last picture below came to the TC Women’s Center after years of being sold in both Cambodia and Thailand since age 11. She tested positive for HIV and receives monthly treatments at a nearby medical facility. Unable to have children of her own because of the years of abuse, she has volunteered to care for Baby David. Baby David’s mother came to the TC Women’s Center at age fourteen, pregnant and severely traumatized. She died a few months ago from an undiagnosed case of internal parasites. Pastors Koy and Reny made her a promise before she died to keep David at TC and care for him.
I was overwhelmed by their stories and spent a lot of time praying and asking God what could be done to make a lasting, meaningful difference. After our ten day mission trip, I sat on the plane traveling home believing that I could do more with God’s help. What that more will look like, I do not know yet.
“The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do.” ~Sarah Ban Breathnach
(I made these photographs in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap Cambodia in November 2013.)