Meet La

 

When we met La, the 11-year-old Vietnamese girl lived in the slums of Cambodia, surrounded by gambling, alcoholism, garbage, and extreme poverty. She had no education and little hope for the future. In fact, her further aspiration was to become a “garbage picker”, who sifts through trash all day for items that can be recycled or sold for a tiny profit.

Once upon a time, La dreamed of becoming a hair dresser. However, the circumstances around her taught La that she had little reason to hope.

You see, the little girl lived with her family and was expected to help them make ends meet. If La didn’t search through garbage, her father would beat her. Garbage picking kept La out of school, and her father’s abuse made the little girl hungry for love.

Sadly, when we met the little girl, La had begun wearing revealing clothing in an effort to gain some sort of affection. We worried that, as a result of that attention, La would be sold into the sex trade, which is a fate that many children like her have shared.

You see, La’s family is one of the many who fled Vietnam for Cambodia to escape debt or jail time for crimes committed. Cambodia does not welcome these people, and Vietnamese immigrants had great difficulty finding work from 2000 to 2010, a decade of economic downturn for Cambodia’s economy.

Some found work by collecting recycling, selling food, or working construction. Many, however, succumbed to the hopelessness and addictions that often go hand-in-hand with poverty and prejudice. Gambling and alcoholism were coping mechanisms for many Vietnamese people in Cambodia during that time.

The burden then fell on children like La to provide for their families’ needs.

That’s why children as young as three could be seen sifting through garbage for recyclable materials. Often, the oldest daughter was expected to care for her younger siblings, while her parents are incapacitated. That’s why few Vietnamese children living in Cambodia in the early 2000s had any education.

When worst came to worst, some parents became so desperate that they sold their children into sex slavery to pay off debt and to fund their gambling, alcohol, and basic needs.

That’s why Work of Your Hand began working with children like La, by teaching her and others like her how to make greeting cards—which we could then sell in North America for a profit that we could use to pay the children for their work.

Our prayer was that, by providing an alternative income, La and other impoverished Vietnamese children would be protected from the horrendous sex trade in Cambodia.

We are relieved to report that today, the economy has much improved in Cambodia, and so too has life for the Vietnamese community where La lived.

Today, La is no longer making cards for Work of Your Hand and we are thankful that circumstances have changed for her family.

However, please continue to pray for the Vietnamese population in Cambodia. This vulnerable people group faces many challenges and often struggles.

Our prayer is that God will provide for their needs and will protect them—and their children—from harm.