In the Cambodian city of Poipet, extreme poverty can have a terrible hidden cost. Human trafficking offers families the false promise of prosperity if they, or their loved ones, journey across the border to Thailand with the traffickers. The truth of what really happens is very different.
Grace Merriweather is working alongside Tearfund partner Cambodian Hope Organisation (CHO) in Poipet – she’s volunteering for six months with Tearfund Go. Together they are helping educate families in Poipet about the lies that traffickers tell.
‘I arrive at the small school run by CHO to a welcome like no other. Surrounded by a sea of smiles my limbs go heavy, weighed down by all the children clinging to me. I crouch down and meet a pair of large dark eyes. These eyes, brimming with joy and paired with a beautiful smile, belong to a young girl in a cheerful blue uniform.
‘The little girl is happy and secure – things could so easily be different for her. The children at this school are the silver lining that exists on the edge of a very dark cloud in Poipet – the cloud of trafficking.’
Selling a lie
‘Education is precious for the children enrolled at CHO’s schools. It can lead to skilled employment, higher wages and a future that can lift whole families out of terrible poverty.
‘In Poipet, jobs are poorly paid and often insecure. For a struggling family, children can become a valuable commodity. Human traffickers claim that selling their child will lift the whole family out of poverty – their child will get to live a better life too, across the border.
‘But the reality is that the money they receive only lasts so long, and they often never hear from their children again. They never learn about the work conditions or hours, the mistreatment or the nature of the work their young children are doing.’
‘They think they have freed their child from poverty. The reality is that they have sold their child into even greater poverty – not only are they unlikely to earn any money of their own, they are also likely to lose their freedom, health and wellbeing. The staff at CHO are determined to break this terrible cycle.’
‘They think they have freed their child from poverty. The reality is that they have sold their child into even greater poverty.'
Grace Merriweather, GVT volunteer
Breaking the cycle
‘CHO work hard to protect vulnerable communities from the threat of trafficking. Through education and training, they offer families the chance to gain good, lasting livelihoods and brighter futures. Nobody has to leave their families out of sheer desperation.
‘“What’s your name?” I ask the little girl. Her smile remains unwavering, but her eyes give her away. They dart around looking to each of her friends momentarily, but none of them can help her as this isn’t a question that they have learned in class. Eventually her eyes find me again, the look of searching replaced with a steely determination. “Yes,” she replies with a nod of conviction.’
‘I pull my face into an exaggerated, quizzical expression. A murmured giggle begins in the crowd and quickly showers over the whole group like a fountain, before erupting into a wave of full blown laughter. I realise that I am laughing too. Their joy is so infectious that it lights up whoever it comes into contact with, as strong as the sun, blazing down from above.
‘This little girl is living at home and she has a bright future. This is how it should be for everyone in Poipet.’
Dear Father God,
I can barely imagine how a parent must feel when they hand over their child to a stranger, out of poverty and desperation. And I can’t conceive of how much your heart is broken, each time a child is taken by a trafficker.
In your mercy, please raise up many others like the team at CHO – to reverse this terrible trend. Let the light of truth and hope triumph over the evil of trafficking.
Want to learn more about volunteering overseas? Visit Tearfund Go for upcoming placements.