A week in the village of Svay Pak, Cambodia, can seem like a ride on the emotional roller coaster from hell…all downs and really fast. After all, we are working in a village where dozens of little girls are trafficked and abused every single day. But the downs are lower now, now that we’ve been there two years. Now that we personally know and love each child. Thankfully there are highs, times when hope is fulfilled and it seems as if we’re standing on the top of Mt. Everest. I’d like to share with you a little of the ups and downs of a week in Svay Pak.
It was Monday afternoon and children were gathering for the kids program at Rahab’s House, but something was different…Something was wrong. Two young girls, one 13, the other 7, were missing, two girls that hadn’t missed a day at Rahab’s House in nearly two years. Pastor Chantha noticed this immediately and went to the girls’ house.
When he arrived at the house, the girls were nowhere to be found, so he asked where they were. He was told they were gone on a holiday. Chantha didn’t believe it so he continued to press the family and amazingly they told him the truth. The girls were sent to one of their mothers who is a prostitute in another town. More amazing they told him the name of the town, the location of the brothel and the telephone number. The girls had been trafficked away from Svay Pak. Armed with all this information we felt confident the girls could be rescued.
Immediately authorities were contacted and given all the information we had, including photos of the girls. We then waited anxiously for news of their rescue. But the news never came. Due to a number of circumstances beyond the control of those involved, the girls were not rescued. And we were certain these precious ones were lost to us forever.
It’s Tuesday morning at Rahab’s House and children are gathering, but this morning is different from any other in Svay Pak. Recently we selected 36 of the poorest children that attend our children’s programs, children whose families cannot even afford to send them to public school, and have paid for their tuition, books, and uniforms to attend a private school just outside the village…and this is their first day.
Each child is filled with excitement, anticipation, and a hope they never thought could be theirs. The girls have their hair pulled back tightly in pony tails or pig-tails; the boys have their hair slicked back and parted, and for the most part clean faces. Rahab’s House youth pastor Ratanak lines the kids up 2 by 2 and begins marching them down the main street of Svay Pak, and as they march they are singing a worship song at the top of their lungs.
It’s an awesome parade made even better as people along the street come out of their homes and businesses waving to the kids and cheering them on. What a sweet moment on a street most famous for the trafficking of little girls.
Wednesday morning, an elderly grandmother who has been attending church at Rahab’s House for over a year approaches Pastor Chantha’s wife, Bhuntan, seeking help for her 9 year old granddaughter. The child’s mother, a prostitute, left her years ago; her father ignores her spending his time drinking and gambling. The grandmother explains that when her granddaughter was 7 years old she was savagely raped by a powerful man in Svay Pak. The man was never arrested, but her granddaughter was sent to an NGO for healing. After a year she was reintegrated back to Svay Pak where her grandmother has cared for her. But every time she leaves the girl alone she is raped by different men and boys in the village. And now she is afraid that her granddaughter will be taken away to a brothel. Her plea was simple, “Please help us!”
Bhuntan told Chantha the story and he immediately called Sisarat, ARC’s administrator of counseling and social work. They decided the first step would be to see if the grandmother would like her granddaughter to come to ARC. She was ecstatic at the thought. She was cautioned not to get her hopes too high because both Cambodia’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Svay Pak’s village leader would have to agree before custody could be granted to ARC.
The next day, Thursday, grandma and granddaughter, Chantha, Sisarat, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the village leader met together. All agreed that this little girl belonged at ARC and that’s where she is today. A safe and secure place where she is loved unconditionally and continually smiles…a smile that hasn’t been seen for a long, long time.
What’s most amazing about what’s happening in Svay Pak is the appearance of hope. Villagers are now believing maybe there’s a way to overcome the evil that has touched every corner of the village and assaulted every family. Just two years ago the Ministry of Social Affairs said, “Don’t waste your time in Svay Pak, it’s hopeless.” The village leader told me, “I’m happy the people traffic their daughters, then I can get money from them.” What a difference the unconditional love of Christ can make. This love first came to Svay Pak through the very ARC girls who were once trafficked and held as slaves in this village. Today that love is multiplied through the AIM Svay Pak Ministry Team and the church. And it is all made possible through our faithful supporters. Thank You!
Oh, almost forgot…You know those two girls that were lost to us forever…Today they’re living at ARC. Again through the efforts of the ARC social work team, Chantha, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Svay Pak village leader they are living lives filled with hope and love…