Meet Ki

 

When we met this little Vietnamese 12-year-old, we were shocked to learn she was only in first grade. However, we soon discovered the reasons behind Ki’s struggle to remain in school.

First, we learned that Ki’s family was barely surviving financially and was constantly at the mercy of their landlord. Even more stress was added to the little girl’s life in the form of their home, which was a makeshift shack where rats bit in the night and which could at any time be demolished if the landlord decided to develop the land for more profit.

In light of their poverty, Ki’s family put pressure on the little girl to help them survive.

Ki’s grandmother, for example, expected Ki to help with the family business, while the girl’s mother expected Ki to care for her baby sister.

All of these factors collided to create a wall between Ki and her school attendance—which resulted in the girl being in just grade one, though she was almost a teenager.

The girl’s story is one we have heard time and again.

You see, Ki’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 Ki 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 Ki, 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, Ki 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 Ki lived.