From Helplessness to Hope
When I first started going overseas almost 20 years ago, I encountered an all-too-familiar sight of children begging for money. Like so many, my first inclination was to dig into my purse to help out, but a visit to one particular city opened my eyes to the horrific realities of many children on the street.
I will never forget getting out of the taxi and having children who were painfully thin begin to crawl towards me, pulling themselves by their arms. Many of the children’s legs were bent in such completely unnatural ways, and I stupidly asked my guide why so many in this one location were severely disabled. She whispered to me that there wasn’t an orphanage in this region, and so it was secretly known that gangs would pick up any abandoned babies and children to use for begging. To make the children even more pitiful, she told me that “bad men” would break the children’s limbs repeatedly so they’d be more effective beggars. It took me a few moments to even understand what I was being told about the group of children staring up at me, and I remember feeling so completely helpless as a visitor. This was before LWB even existed, but I have carried those nightmarish images in my heart ever since.
I’m sure many of you have perhaps seen the movie Slumdog Millionaire, which has a similar scene from India where gang members do unthinkable things to children to create more sympathy when they’re forced to beg. I could barely watch it, honestly, since I’d seen for myself firsthand the depravity of some adults when it comes to profiting from children.
On my last trip to Southeast Asia, it all came full-circle for me when we saw a young child begging who was being terribly abused. It was clear that the child was purposely being starved to look more emaciated and hungry to foreigners. The “owner” was roughly dragging the child through the streets, and the little child was scared and crying. It was clearly a “lose/lose” situation for this vulnerable one. If the people approached didn’t hand over money, the child was beaten. Of course, any money given all ended up in the man’s pocket.
This time was different, however, as we no longer felt powerless. We finally had the resources in place to help children just like this little one through our Safe Haven program for trafficked and abused children. Our incredible team on the ground took all the necessary steps to have the case reported to the authorities, and it was such a wonderful relief when the Anti-Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Unit approved LWB to take this small child into our care late last month.
When I spoke with our director in Cambodia following the initial medical exams, he soberly told me, “There’s no other way to say it…this one’s life was a true hell on earth.” His next words filled me with hope, however, when he said, “Now there is safety, and we will do everything in our power to help with healing.”
Today, I just want to give thanks again to everyone who supports our Safe Haven foster care program in Cambodia. I know it’s not an easy topic to even think about, because it hurts to realize that so many children around the world are being trafficked into forced labor or sexual exploitation. But I also know that we have to do everything in our power to help as many children as possible escape that horrendous life.
While I’ll never fully understand how an adult can be filled with so much evil, I will never stop believing that kindness, love, and compassion can ultimately win. Today I’m so grateful that the newest member of our Safe Haven family is finally free.
I know it’s not possible to magically erase what this precious child has endured, but now with a loving foster mom, steady nutritious food, and lots of encouragement, we’re seeing beautiful smiles and even giggles emerge. An innocent victim with a new chance at childhood…that’s surely a joy to hold onto.
~Amy Eldridge, Chief Executive Officer