Oh Cambodia, the Land of Sweat and Dreams

June 24, 2010

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Last week I shared why I left my sweet little family, met up with seven strangers in the Dallas airport and traveled on 4 planes to visit children in Cambodia.  I want to share my experience and hope that I can give you an abbreviated summary rather than a post the size of War and Peace.  Our days were long, hot and exhausting both physically and emotionally. I think I perspired so much that the sweat actually equaled my body weight each day.  I experienced some of the worst and best Cambodia has to offer.

(The food was sooooo gooood!!!  Sorry, I can’t help it.  I love to eat!)

Let me get some of the worst out of the way.  A quick history lesson:  In 1975, the Khmer Rouge took control of Cambodia.  Its leader Pol Pot was a communist who had a vision to make everyone equal.  To accomplish this goal, he moved ALL Cambodians out of the cities into the countryside to work in labor camps.  In just three years, the Khmer Rouge killed 2 million Cambodian people, out of a population of 8 million, through starvation, disease and murder.  We visited Toul Sleng, a former torture facility, where 20,000 men, women and children were tortured (only 7 people left the facility alive).  The Khmer Rouge took a picture of each person before they killed him or her.  There were rooms full of pictures of their victims. Yes, these are all pictures of children who were killed. And yes, there were many more boards like this with pictures of children who were killed.

It was hard to look into the eyes of children and mothers holding infants. All of them knowing they were about to die. Who knows what horrors they had already lived through.

Tears filled my eyes as I  gazed at this photo. I connected to this mother and the small child grasping at her clothes. The hand looked to be about the size of Miss Enigma’s. I can only imagine the torment this mother was enduring.

Cambodia is still suffering from what Pol Pot did to destroy their families and their sense of decency.  There is so much more to this story! I highly recommend the book When Broken Glass Floats.  It is an excellent personal account of a girl who lived through Pol Pot’s regime. She is about my age. What happened in Cambodia is recent history. You can also watch the movie The Killing Fields.

I visited a state run orphanage.  It looked like an abandoned building. It was bleak, dirty and DEPRESSING!  Jen, who lives in Cambodia, said she has visited the orphanage 5 times and still can’t figure out who is caring for these children.  These children literally have no hope for their lives.  The two little deaf twins in the photo above are the two children I wanted to bring back in my suitcase. Adoption is not allowed at the state run orphanage. The twins couldn’t talk but we shared hugs and candy.

One of the most difficult things I witnessed many times was the prolific sex trade.  Men travel from all over the world, many Americans, for the sole purpose of hiring young Cambodian girls and boys.  Witnessing these men with young girls made my blood boil.  Seeing this was a surreal experience. I couldn’t believe how out in the open the sex trade is in Cambodia.  Parents actually sell their own children into the sex trade to make money for the family. The orphan girls in this photo will never have to live a life in the sex trade.

The hardest thing I had to do was visit “The Dump.”  This is actually an enormous trash dump that is higher than a house and goes on as far as the eye can see.

Families live on top of the dump, yes on the trash, and make their children sort the trash every day.  The children eat rotten food and collect items the parents can sell. Many parents are abusive and addicted to alcohol and drugs.  I cannot begin to describe the smell.  This was like those terrible things you see on T.V. with naked children and flies buzzing around.

The Dump is considered to be one of the worst living conditions in our world.

Okay the good news!!!  Each day we experienced something terrible and depressing, but then we would visit the homes and school of Asia’s Hope.  Oh my gosh, these children are a true delight!  I have never come into contact with such happy and peaceful children.

These children treat each other with so much respect.  They share and help each other unlike anything I’ve seen.  I did not leave Cambodia depressed.  I left feeling thankful that in all of this darkness, God has made a little oasis of hope.  These children are the hope of Cambodia.

These children will never sell their children into the sex trade.

These children will never force their own children to dig through trash at The Dump or beg on the street corner.

These children will live with the same loving parents and siblings until they go to university.  These children will grow and share love with others.

This picture was taken the night I had to say goodbye to the children. We all cried. I left Cambodia but my heart stayed behind forever connected to these lovely children.

Since my trip, our church has adopted and is supporting four children of our own in Cambodia. Gabby is leaving today for Cambodia and will be the first from our church to meet them. She is a brave young woman and I pray that she has a blessed and joyful trip. I wish I were traveling with her to dirty, hot, sweaty Cambodia!

Sorry this was the size of War and Peace!  Thanks for being a part of my journey. This was really only the tip of the iceberg . . .

Part III: Schlitterbahn, Cambodian Style

Life with Jeannine

Lastly, if you want to read a blog that will be life changing visit Jen Morgan, who lives in Cambodia and works with these precious children and also others who have not had the fortune to be saved from poverty and the sex trade. She is making a difference in this world!

These are both excellent books:

When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers (P.S.)

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

maryanne June 25, 2010 at 7:11 am

I’m so glad there are people making a difference for these children! I’ve put a request in for that book you recommended. I remember that one of my favorite books as a teen was Linda Crew’s “Children of the River”, about a Cambodian refugee. It was fictional, but well-researched.

Marla Taviano June 27, 2010 at 8:01 am

Hi, Jeannine! I’m Marla, and I popped over here from Jen Morgan’s blog. I attend Vista Community Church in OH (Jen’s sending church) and my husband and I are heading to Cambodia on July 7 with the 2nd team from Vista. SO EXCITED!! Can’t wait to see what God will do!!

Heather September 1, 2010 at 10:56 pm

Thanks for sharing the link on this. I was not familiar with Cambodia’s history. Very sobering and yet so encouraging to hear of the work that God is doing over there in the face of such tragedy.

Heather @ Cultivated Lives November 9, 2010 at 8:56 pm

Thanks again. I read When Broken Glass Floats last month as we were finishing up our study of Asia. I cried, wept and prayed for the people over there who lived through that…

Jeannine November 11, 2010 at 5:50 pm

I’m so glad you had an opportunity to read When Broken Glass Floats. It is a tough read and very eye opening to the history of Cambodia. Everyone I know who has read it has had the same reaction as you . . . They cry and then they pray.

Khmer music May 17, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Although extreme poverty and the lack of law enforcement are mainly to blame for child sex trafficking in Cambodia, I think the Cambodian people’s casual attitudes toward sexual predation also contribute to the problem. Cambodians generally look up to foreigners, especially Westerners, as wealthy and benevolent. It’s unfortunate that some foreigners are in the country to take advantage of children.

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