Monday, December 13, 2010

Fwd: Meet Channy. She's 17 and this is her story.

From: Yeo YA
Date: Mon, Dec 13, 2010 at 3:06 PM
Subject: Re: FW: Meet Channy. She's 17 and this is her story.
To: Foo Wan Yueh

... wow. thanks for sharing this with us sis. :\ tight-throated. reminded again that this going out into all the world to extend His kingdom is no mere talk. it is a matter of life versus death, of heaven versus hell, of darkness versus light. thanks again sis.

On Mon, Dec 13, 2010 at 2:59 PM, Foo Wan Yueh wrote:
A story from Riverkids in Cambodia,

When I met her, Channy was twelve, turning thirteen. I have a photograph of her that day because we were setting up our very first Get Ready for Girls group and we'd put out the word that we were going to teach teenage girls. 
Families started turning up with their daughters, a few of them holding precious documents - school records, birth certificates. Channy's mother didn't come. But Channy did. 
She wasn't noticeable then, just another sweet-faced quiet girl in grubby clothes and flip-flops. But at the coffeeshop we went to write down all these girls names and figure out who'd gone to school, who could read and write, who couldn't - she put up her hand and said she wanted. Wanted what, I asked? To go to school. To learn.
We got her mother's reluctant permission to enroll her, once we'd explained that the girls would be bringing home a food box - rice and basics - worth $40 each month to replace the lost income they'd earned gathering trash on the streets. 
Channy worked hard. She'd had barely any school, so she struggled to read and write in khmer but that was what she did - struggle. She kept on trying, patiently over and over, and slowly, slowly, Channy began to blossom. The other girls trusted her because she was gentle and kind.
Then she started falling asleep during class. We had literacy and social skills in the morning, sewing and other hand skills in the afternoon, and Channy would end up curled up in a corner, fast asleep before lunch. 
The other girls tried to cover for her at first, but after a few days, Channy admitted what was happening. Her mother and stepfather were making her work after she got home from a full day at school. She'd take an old rice sack and set out at dusk and walk down the streets until late at night when she'd filled her bag, then come back exhausted and hungry, sleep for a few hours then force herself to get up for class. 
What choice did she have? Her mother didn't work regularly - headaches, she would say one day, or her pregnancy, or no work - and her stepfather was either away or 'difficult', as the neighbours politely put it. 
Channy didn't complain. 
We did. We argued and begged with her mother and step-father, finally getting them to sign a document at the local songkat that they wouldn't make Channy work at night on the streets. 
Some weeks, Channy would come and ask to stay in our weekly boarding. She didn't want to say why, but it was common knowledge among the other girls that she was being beaten and whispers of worse. 
She certainly didn't want to be home with her stepfather. 
Her mother said it was rubbish, when we asked. It was because their house was so small, just one room. 
But the other houses, we pointed out, they have only one room, and the mother sleeps between the husband and the children.
She has to share, her mother said. It's none of your business. 
And Channy refused to talk. She was brave, so heartbreakingly brave to dare to defy her mother and go to school, to try - but to talk about what happened at night? She'd learned early on in her life not to complain. 
So she ran, and she would stay with us for a few days, a week or two. 
But her mother would turn up, sometimes drunk, sometimes simply angry, and yell at our gate until Channy came out and agreed to come home. 
We had to ban one of our staff from talking to Channy's parents, because - well, when you've had a 13-year-old shaking in fear and weeping in front of you, then see her quietly gather her things and walk slowly back to the people hurting her, it's hard not to lose your temper when the parents make yet another excuse. 
We made another deal with her mother, now heavily pregnant. If you let Channy continue, let her stay in weekly boarding, we'll train you in making handicrafts and buy them from you to sell. 
Her mother had a difficult delivery and Channy had to stay home to help for a while, but oh, her baby brother! She was in love and he was a beautiful healthy little boy. 
The Get Ready program was coming to an end - we'd lost one girl to trafficking, another had dropped out to work, and we were worried about Channy's future. 
She couldn't go back to school, not when she was still barely reading and writing. We decided she should repeat the program with the second cycle, and then we'd see about vocational training.
A wonderful french NGO, Pour Sourir des Enfants, had vocational training programs and we applied for a place for her. 
Things got better for a while, then worse, then better. One week, her mother would decide to sell the house, then that she wanted to leave her husband, or to start a new business....
And slowly, it unravelled. Channy started skipping class to work. We had her work for us part-time, but then she started skipping even that. Her mother started gambling again. 
She had a huge fight with her husband who came storming into our offices to explain why his son, Channy's little brother, was doing so badly - she was selling the milk powder for drugs. 
Channy turned 15, and then dropped out of school. She needed to work, she said. It was too far away, and too difficult and boring. 
Someone hired Channy and some other girls to hand out drinks and keep customers company at their little gambling den. Easy money, he said, short hours. Not sex work, just hostessing. 
Channy earned in two weeks as much as she'd have earned in two months at a safe job. 
She came back sometimes for dance class, for english class. Sometimes just to talk to her old teachers. 
But in January this year, a woman rented a room in the slums, another single mother with a child, we thought at first. But she wasn't. She watched and waited, and once she knew who the families in trouble were, she befriended them. 
I'm like you, just trying to make ends meet, she told them. You have all this debt, so many problems. But maybe, I have an opportunity for you.
She was clever. She made sure that every girl she targeted was over 16. She didn't hurry - why would she? She was just talking, it was just a business deal, a job at a hotel. Nothing illegal - yet. 
We went to the families and to the girls, offered shelter, help, anything, but the trafficker had chosen well. 
In February, at least six girls went with her to a hotel in Phnom Penh. 
They were virgins. The men who bought the right to rape them for a weekend would have paid at least $2,000 each, more for the younger and prettier girls. 
Channy brought home $700. The trafficker would have taken at least that amount, the pimp who brokered the deal with the hotel and customers another chunk. 
Her mother paid off her moneylender debt, bought a TV, fixed up their house. 
Channy got some new clothes. 
At the coffeeshop with the girls who would join our Get Ready program
Here's the photograph of that day I met her, all those years ago. Channy is cropped out for her privacy, but she was just off the side. 
I wish so badly I could turn back time somehow, go back and say to her "Leave, honey, just pack your bags and go. We'll find you a foster family - someone, someplace safe."
But the truth is we did try. No-one in the community would take her in because they were afraid of her parents' tempers. Without Channy's consent, we couldn't remove her from her family without a court order, and that would've required a lot more than bruises. 
We did a lot. But we didn't do enough. And every time I look at that photograph, I can't think of how much we did do - the times we stopped her being hurt, the shelter we provided, the years she got to study and learn, the hospitalizations, the friendships, her little brother's brighter future -
I think of Channy crying silently as she walks away from us, all those years ago. 
And that drives me to improve our programs, to do more, to figure out new ways and better ways to reach these families, to help the kids who are trapped, who are so hurt that they can't escape even when you hold the door open. 
Because of the lessons we learnt with Channy, we can do so much more for the girls like her that we meet now - better counselling, stronger family intervention, tougher legal measures. 
We've had more than fifty girls in our Get Ready for Girls programs since Channy, and we've been able to send almost all of them to school, training or safe jobs. 
And now?
Channy's mother stayed home until the money ran out and now collects rubbish for recycling. She's been clean from drugs for a while, although she still gambles. 
Channy's little brother just started at our kindergarten. He's a strong healthy little boy, doted on by his big sister. 
Channy's at home. Her most recent job, hostessing with sex work on the side at a night club, ended when she was cheated by the owner out of a month's salary. She's lost weight, and she looks -
She looks tired. She looks old. She looks like a 17-year-old who's been hungry, beaten, and hurt. 
We're still hoping for her, still visiting her and her family often because that's the promise we made when we first met her. That we wouldn't give up on her, even if she did. That's the promise we make all our kids. 
This year, we're opening our Butterfly Club program, a weekly outing and self-help group for teenage sex workers. We hope Channy will be one of the first girls to join. 
We hope that with friendships from other girls in the same horrible situation, with support from trained local mentors and counsellors, that Channy will find the courage she had all those years ago again, and she will enter a residential shelter for the care and help she needs, with our support. We believe in her. 

To help girls like Channy, the very best way is to donate to us regularly. Monthly donations mean we can keep programs running and offer stability in the chaos of slum life. 
Tomorrow, I'll tell you about Dara, a 9-year-old boy, and his family. Dara lost his mother earlier this year. 

Thanks for reading,
Dale Edmonds

(Channy is a pseudonym to protect her privacy)
"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." ~ Jim Elliot

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." ~ Jim Elliot

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