The Day I Understood

May 16, 2012

Following Joanna, our guide and World Relief staff member, we walked about 200 yards along another dirt path lined with trash, emaciated cattle, and bright green blades of grass. For the first time since arriving in Cambodia I felt the heat. I knew it wasn’t the hottest time of year, but my Southern California weather wimpy skin could tell this was a different –  more intense and moist kind of heat than I had felt before. I took a long breath in as I ducked under the doorway of a shack following the rest of my group and found a small corner space on a red mat lying on top of the dirt floor to sit. Even though we were only outside for thirty minutes or so, it felt nice to sit in the shade of whoever’s home we were visiting. I was thankful to be there with a group of other women, some of who seemed much more relaxed and at home amongst strangers sitting on the floor than I did. I sat in the back, smiled at everyone I made eye-contact, but had no intentions of trying to hold a conversation or volunteer for anything. As much as I like to yack it up at home, I switched to my”observer only” role – one I have used only a handful of times in my life.

It was at this meeting I would learn that in standing with the most vulnerable in Cambodia, World Relief provides an essential aspect in the fight against human trafficking: prevention. Sitting shoulder to shoulder on the floor with women of all ages we listened as a World Relief training coordinator explained today’s lesson would be on learning different ways people in their community could be trafficked. I had read in my research that there are often about five different ways people are trafficked, but this lesson included nine different ways that people in that particular community could be trafficked. Witnessing the living conditions, seeing malnourished children, hearing of stories of disease and relocation, I was beginning to understand how easy it is for human traffickers to deceive people.

beautiful Cambodian women with new friend, Melissa at human trafficking prevention meeting

It has been almost six months ago since I went to Cambodia, but sitting crammed on the floor of that house shoulder to shoulder with all those women and children feels like yesterday. I can still smell the musty cool dirt under where I sat, next to our fearless leader, Nancy. I can see the women leaning against the wall to my left with the most beautiful brown skin and with large smiles revealing both joy and decaying teeth. I can see to my right two of the oldest women I would see on that trip sitting next to a beautiful little girl who reminded me of my neighbor’s daughter at that age on one side and Melissa, a new friend who was in our group on the other.  I can hear the kids and the men outside chatting curious about what we were doing and some peeking through the door frame. I remember the few brave women of our group who actually volunteered to do a roll play up front. I was so relieved I didn’t have to move at that point.  It is a wonderful snapshot of a memory I will replay over and over when I think back to this trip.

Walking back into the bus that day I didn’t think my life had drastically altered. I didn’t vow to return someday. But that would be the day that I understood. I’ve read a lot about human trafficking and modern day slavery. I’ve read a lot about poverty and education. I thought I had understood what poverty was. It was this day that I understood I don’t know much. I was given a glimpse and I was humbled.