When I stepped off the plane and saw Cambodia for the first time a year and a half ago, I could feel the sadness. The pain of a country healing from such a violent history. Pol Pot. Khmer Rouge. Human rights violations. Exploitation. It was thick in the air. Oppressive sadness of a country groaning in despair.
I could only take 3 days here in the capital of Phnom Penh. Poverty. The human condition. It was so much…. darker than Thailand. I didn’t think I could make it here. Can’t handle what I see. I want to weep for every poor person, every child without shoes, or clothes, for all of it.
I felt safe in the walls of Hagar: an amazing NGO that is doing so much to help lift Khmer people up. At least at Hagar, I could see hope, life, the promise of a better future….
I didn’t think I would find my way back to Cambodia. I dreaded it when I saw it on the itinerary. Ok. 3 days. Eye exams. In and out. Quick like a band aid.
When I arrived, I was reminded of the girls I interviewed a few years back. There was one in particular: Lak. Her story touched my heart. I couldn’t wait to go back to the Hagar garment factory… maybe she would still be there. Maybe she would remember me… how is she doing?
100 degrees outside. We were inside: hotter. Screened 100 children. 35 pairs of glasses.
4 hour van ride to a remote village. Screened 60. 35 pairs of glasses.
Garment factory and aftercare girls… I heard that we had finished screening all the girls and I was sad because I was looking for one in particular. Where was Lak?
Ah five more girls… There she was… in all her radiance. Red collar shirt. Lak!!! I went up to her and asked her (with a translator) if she remembered me “yes”. I told the translator I was here a year and a half ago… and interviewed her. I told her that I think about her every day… I pray for her every day. I was so glad to see her and she looks very healthy. Not emaciated like before. Sabai dee (How are you? Everything good?) I don’t even speak Khmer but the words just came out. God is good. I am so thankful of Him for bringing Lak back so that I could see that she was ok. This is the reason I am back in Cambodia. To see that she is alright. And of course, she had perfect vision, and didn’t need me. What an amazing day. The perfect end to the perfect trip. I can leave Cambodia knowing that she is well.
One of the first things you notice about Cambodia is that it is much more poverty-stricken than Thailand. What really got me was some of the aftercare girls that we gave eye exams to. These were “The Girls” that I read about in books. The young little girls trapped inside brothels and rescued… and here they were, standing before me. Expression-less, completely void of emotion. I couldn’t imagine what they’ve been through and though I came to help, I totally understood if they couldn”t trust me.
But through it all you can still find beauty here. Below are some snapshots, most of which are with Hagar International – an organization that aims to fight sex trafficking by providing rehabilitation, education and job training for rescued victims. Hope you enjoy them…
Traffic is chaos here. Scooters rule the streets.
And there’s not a limit with what you can do with cargo.
A photo of Downy in Cambodia.
And a photo of bizzarro-Downy or perhaps a close relative?
The Hagar School where they provide education to at-risk and poor children.
The eye exams begin.
Wifey in action.
Some of the kids were shy.
Others, not so much.
Phil, doing what he does best.
Kevin, showing much excitement as we hit the road.
And making pitstops for lunch (yes, Anthony actually ate one).
A young beggar on the side of the road.
Our destination is somewhere on this 5 mile dirt path.
We arrive at a small village to give eye exams.
A curious face.
Kevin gettin’ in the groove.
Phil helping out with the vision screening.
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