Monday, March 19.2001: e-mail by
Dear friends and
I keep thinking that
I have seen it all; that nothing will shock me anymore but as usual,
I am wrong. Last week, I went to Kompong Som, one of our
Vonn started in
Kompong Som in late 1999 in a village called Phum Thmie. Now Kompong
Som is on the ocean and is a sea-port and like all seaports, the
community has a variety of industries geared towards the pleasures
of the seafarers. One of these industries is prostitution.
Vonn has a vision.
She believes that these girls are precious in God's eyes - that each
one is of great value. She believes that we can reach out to these
girls in a way that will give them the choice of remaining in
prostitution or returning home to a normal lifestyle. The way to do
this is through savings - helping the girls to dream about their own
future and providing the moral support to achieve those dreams
through savings. It is a bold plan for it involves convincing the
local chiefs and owners of the brothels that this is good and
convincing the girls that they have a choice in life.
Over the months since
Vonn started, she would talk about these girls - some were very
ashamed of their profession and asked to be listed as other than
taxi -girls, others didn't mind. What was common to all of the girls
was their shame to meet me - this they could not do. I respected
their wishes and stayed away. But Vonn talked about me and about
Miriam - my adopted HIV positive daughter who reverted to HIV
negative and has become a strong, healthy little girl.
Last month, they sent
a message - they would like to meet Miriam and me and so last week
we came. It was one of those glorious mornings - we had awoken to a
rain drenched land coloured by a double rainbow. It was the promise
of a good day. We met the chief and we all walked to the first
brothel. The building was a simple wooden structure with cubicles
claiming every space. We were a bit early, 10 in the morning, and
the girls were called from their slumber.
I was stunned by
their youth and their beauty - the average age was 15 - I greeted
them with deep bows and smiles and Miriam captured their hearts as
she mimicked me. They began to talk of how they had come in search
of work - for many their parents had brought them - their families
came from all parts of the country - Stung Treng, Kratie, Prey Veng,
Battambang - so many places, so many stories of hardship and pain.
They talked of how Vonn had convinced them of their dreams and how
they had saved. They talked of what their families had accomplished
with the money.
They talked of the 33
girls who had left already - the ones who had saved for a year - had
paid of the brothel owners, had bought cows and seeds for their
families, had saved enough to pay their own way home and had saved
enough to start their own small businesses at home. They were
excited about the 14 girls who had saved enough to return home to
get married. They shared about how the brothel owners insisted that
they save so they could return home - they talked of how the chief
insisted that each customer had to use condoms or be arrested - how
the HIV infection rate was dropping from a high of 70% to 30%.
When they were
finished, I talked of Miriam and how she came into my life. I shared
of Miriam's difficult first year - of how an HIV infant was not
necessarily infected with AIDS - and that they did not have to
"throw away" any of their infants. And as I talked, the
tears started - I did not dare ask why - too much pain, too much
suffering for these lovely young ladies.
We talked of why they
chose to join our program - a 14 year old answered for them all -
"You never say we do wrong, you don't condemn us, you don't
feel sorry for us. You let us decide what our dreams are - you give
me hope that one day, I too, can return and live a good life. I
dream that one day I can go home and get married and have my own
child. I think I can do it."
And then we parted -
they back to their little cubicles ready for another night of work -
ready to save and to dream of normal lives. As we left, I hugged my
little girl tightly and held her in my arms. Miriam's nanny held my
arms - her tears flowed freely - "that would have been me if
you hadn't helped me" - she sobbed.
My tears flowed as
well - without God's grace in my life - without you - our friends -
our supporters - we could not reach out in grace to these young
ladies. Thank you for that. Janne --
Ritskes, head of projects for the Tabitha Foundation, has
20 years of international experience with integrated community
development programs and cottage industry. Her programs and
projects continue, having proven sustainable among the poorest
of the poor in the slums of the United States, the
Philippines, Kenya and Cambodia.
of the Tabitha Foundation in Canada are volunteers and receive
no remuneration, ensuring that all donations and a high
percentage of the sales from the Cottage Industry go directly
Foundation is a Christian, non-profit organization, seeking to
help the suffering in various nations. The aim is to reach out
to the despairing in their own communities and enable them to
address their needs in a holistic and sustainable way, thereby
transforming their lives to fruitfulness dignity and beauty. For
more information go to the Tabitha Foundation's website.