Rescue Mission

Lesley and Alexis were chatting over breakfast with Hayley from AFESIP when I was introduced.  The Frangipani Hotel is a little way across the river and not a little upmarket from Smiley’s Guest House.  I sat patiently in the foyer until a kind receptionist took me in hand and led me to them. I had downloaded from iTunes the latest album, On Your Roof, and listened several times, enjoying the style of music and Lesley’s lovely voice.  On the website site I also discovered the connection with St Louis, Minnesota, where Andy my son-in-law was raised.  I went there once to visit the HQ of Cerner on a trip to research health care information systems for the NHS.  Armed with these tenuous connections I felt a little more prepared to hitch a ride on their tour of the AFESIP centres.

Acronyms are very popular here.  Agir pour les Femmes en Situation Precaire is a rather cumbersome name for an organisation which helps rescue, support and reintegrate victims of the vast and powerful network of people traffickers for the sex industry which exists in Cambodia but which has ties throughout South East Asia as girls are sold or kidnapped and transferred across the borders of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Burma.  Started by Somaly Mam, herself a victim, the organisation currently has three centres doing outreach into the brothels and parks, educating, providing condoms and health checks, and offering a life-line to those who need rescue.

We travelled in a tuk tuk across the city to a quiet quarter where, enclosed by a wall and barbed wire fence, a garden compound with several buildings and a catfish pond provide sanctuary for some of the 200 women and children currently in the programme.   We had a guided tour and met the residents in the sewing room – where 20 or 30 treadle operated machines were used to teach tailoring and dressmaking skills, in the kitchen – where the women take turns in preparing food for the community, in the classroom – where lessons in several subjects are offered in lieu of the school education most of them missed and in the nursery – where we sat and played with the little children for a while.  These are children of the residents and staff, including one little boy who is in need of heart surgery and is small for his age and unable to join in any active games.  Here I felt at home, missing my grandchildren acutely and feeling able to relate without the need for a common language and without the awkwardness of our intrusion into their safe haven.

Alexis makes a friend

In truth we were welcome here and not intruders at all.  As I sat on the floor listening to Lesley’s singing, watching the women, so many of them still teenagers, enjoying and responding to the music and appreciating her expression of concern and support for them, I found myself dissolving into laughter at the antics of the girl holding the microphone, a natural comic who provided hilarious gestures and facial expressions to accompany the reading of the lyrics in Khmai.  Afterwards I talked with some of the girls who asked about my family and I played more children’s games before we ate lunch as their guests.

The process of healing will never be complete for most of these people here.  Sufficient perhaps to know their common bond and to journey together into a more hopeful future, no longer alone and afraid.  Counsellors and psychologists are working in the project too but the combined psyche of Cambodia is to leave the past buried, to keep silent and try to move forward.  It is better not to unearth what you cannot handle.  It is a big challenge to find the best ways to help the healing process in this culture.  Only those who have themselves been personally affected can really understand and they too are still dealing with their own issues.  The problem of people trafficking is not going to be solved quickly either, as long as there is corruption and collusion at high level and across borders.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Rescue Mission

  1. Eva Gingerich

    Hi! We enjoyed reading your blog so very much! Our family has been living in Siem Reap for 10 mo. now & have been getting into the heart of Cambodia & the people! We enjoy them so very much..but at times feel so overwhelmed too with all the needs..the corruption,etc.! We do alot of English teaching & here recently one of the pastors we work with wanted us to care for some women that had bad sores on their legs in his neighborhood. It ended up that we’ve been caring for 4 regular people. But! we are not skilled in this area & there are some that I told they need to go to a Dr., but they will not as they don’t have money. One man has a large growth on the left side of his jaw & it’s very hard. He says it became like this in 1 wk…but I have to wonder! The pharmacist we work with who is also an intern put him on Erythomicin for 1 wk., it does look as if it got smaller some..but redder. There is also a small girl..5-6 yrs., not normal, she has brain damage. They say something about fever & when she sleeps getting seizures. I’ve been observing her when she comes..she’s a very tense,scared little girl & eats very little, mostly drinks. Would you have any ideas?? How long will you be here yet? It has been so interesting reading of your experiences…sounds so typical of Cambodia! We would enjoy meeting you 🙂 Larry & I have 7 children but only 6 are here with us. We will be going home for our oldest dau.’s wedding July 4th & we will be home for several mo. for that. Thanks! Eva Gingerich

    • Hi Eva, Thank you for your kind comments. I am leaving for the UK next weekend – my placement here was short term, just a little over 3 months, so hard to make any real impact and who knows what will continue if anything of what little I have contributed. July 4th is my grandson’s 3rd birthday and I’m missing him so much! I am in Bangkok this weekend catching up with a friend from Med School I haven’t seen in 35 years but I fly back into Siem Reap Sunday evening arriving 8pm so we could meet up for an hour or so if that works for you. Monday morning I need to catch the first bus back to Banteay Meanchey for my final week in work.
      As for the little girl the excellent facilities in Kantha Bopha (Jayarvaman VII) are just what she needs. Poor Cambodian children are treated free of charge. Best regards, Adrian

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