“[The daughters] drop out of school. And the reason they do that is when their family has no money to pay back bank loans, or doesn’t have enough food, they need to earn money. Then the family sends their girls to work at the KTV’s [brothels],” Mom, a social worker with OM in Cambodia, explains.
Amidst the chaos that COVID-19 has caused and the economic strain that many businesses and countries have felt around the world, there is still a vast difference between families who have savings and a comfortable home, and those who don’t. Mom’s work has taken her into communities in Cambodia where entire families live in one-room shanties, alcohol and drug abuse are a common coping mechanism and desperate parents send their daughters to prostitute themselves in order to provide food for the family.
One such daughter is Luna*. A beautiful teenager whose father was abusive and imprisoned for his crime, and whose sickly mother was unable to work to provide financially for her two children. Luna and her brother begged in the local market to earn some money, and her mother told her: “that if you want to make money in an easy way, go sleep with a man.” Luna’s mother was doing the best she knew, but with no work, no government support and very little education, she was continuing a cycle of poverty for her children.
During COVID-19, Luna’s efforts to make money were even more limited and when the family couldn’t pay their rent, their landlord kicked them out. Familiar with OM’s efforts in their community to provide resources to those in need, they went to OM for help. Mom’s own extended family initially provided a basic housing option for the three, but when Luna’s mother’s illness worsened and she died, things got even more complicated.
The law in Cambodia says that orphans are to stay with extended family and those children with no extended family need a birth certificate to be placed in state-run orphanages – something intended to keep children with family. Unfortunately, too often, parents do not fill in the proper paperwork when they have children, which can result in a variety of negative ripple effects, including limited resources available from the government and not being able to apply for passports, which later opens the door to working or studying abroad.
Neither Luna nor her brother has their government IDs. So while Mom and her husband have agreed to take in the two children, it is a complicated process to legally become their guardians. Mom and her husband have a heart to extend God’s love to others in a big way. “By the goodness of God we can do it,” Mom says with a laugh. “But I think without God, we cannot help like we do.”
The couple has already adopted two other children, has three biological children and two of Mom’s sisters live with them as well. For a while, the household was living on only one salary, as Mom’s husband was furloughed from the dentist clinic when it closed during the country’s lockdown. They still found a way to provide a safe home for many and Mom is working with the local police to navigate the system in order to allow Luna and her brother to stay with their large family.
“I am helping them and supporting them, to provide other opportunities than they know so far,” Mom says. She has spent time asking the children what they want to do, teaching them that they have value and showing them that life is important. “They have no [government] papers, they don’t know how old they are, they have nothing. But God loves them, and so do I.”
Stories like Luna’s are unfortunately not uncommon. OM has a small team of social workers in Cambodia who engage in ongoing education and training with families in impoverished communities. There is an emphasis on prayer and providing practical support, and on sharing about how Jesus helps in situations where we don’t have all the answers.