We recently spent a week in Siem Reap, learning the scary truth that virginity is for sale in Cambodia.
Meet Chet Mon – Her mother sold her virginity to a foreign businessman when she was 12 years old.
She spent her early childhood working in the streets, collecting bottles and cans, selling postcards, and collecting scraps of firewood to sell at the market. She did whatever she could do to help her family survive. She, like many other children in Cambodia, was never able to attend school. She never learned to read or write. She had no clothes and no shoes to wear in the muddy, trash-filled slums of Cambodia. Her family was stuck in the cycle of illiteracy, poverty, and human trafficking under a government that takes care of the rich and ignores the poor. Her father was dead and her mother had six kids to feed on her own, and one was already dead of malnutrition.
Her virginity was sold to a wealthy foreign businessman for $150.00. He took her to a hotel room, locked her up, and continually abused and raped her for seven straight days. When he was done using her small, malnourished, immature, 12-year-old body, he threw her out in the street and left town. Sadly, this is not an isolated incident; it happens all the time, even today.
What if someone offered you enough money to feed your family for years? Just think – $150.00 US dollars is 607,500 Cambodian dollars. Would you sacrifice one child for the sake of the other six?
Even though her childhood was stolen, and her virginity sold, she has no ill will, no hate, no anger… which amazes me. In Cambodia, your virginity being sold, prostitution, sex, violence, and death are normal ways of life; ways to survive.
In Cambodia, they have a saying – “Men are gold and women are cloth.” If gold gets dirty, you can polish it and clean it up, and it will be shiny again. If cloth gets dirty, well, it’s dirty and can never be clean again. Women are cloth to be used and discarded without a second thought.
Chet Mon was on her own at 12 with no education and no resources. At age 12, she did the only thing she knew how to do – become a prostitute. She worked in brothels and eventually became pregnant with a daughter of her own. In Cambodia, you can have sex without a condom if you just pay $1.00 more; remember, $1.00 is 4000.00 Cambodian dollars. Many of the girls offer this “service” even though AIDS and pregnancy run rampant. Too many girls in Cambodia end up in the streets and brothels, and this will continue if something is not done to change it!
Chet Mon eventually became the mistress of a powerful brothel owner and had two more illegitimate daughters. Her “boyfriend” has a life and family of his own but wanted Chet Mon for abusive sex at his beck and call. Instead of protecting her and helping her, he often showed up drunk. He would come into her one-room shack that she shares with her three daughters, drunk, to beat and rape her at 4 a.m. Sadly, there are no police, no protection, or anyone who cares; she is a woman; she is cloth and disposable. How does an illiterate prostitute with three daughters end the cycle of madness?
Now her daughters run the streets without shoes, clothes, or medical care. They cannot afford to go to school. Chet Mon has no way to break the cycle. There is no one to ask for help… until now.
“New Hope Cambodia” is trying to break the cycle prostitution, violence, illiteracy and women selling their virginity. I spent the day with the amazing people of this program and met the founder who grew up much like many of the families he now vows to protect. Sot Kemsour was a poor village boy who found a way to educate himself against all odds. Once he reached adulthood, and was fortunate enough to learn to read and write, he purchased his own tuk tuk, started his own business, and married his wife; however, the nagging remembrance of the plight of his people led him to sell his tuk tuk business and start “New Hope Cambodia” – a free school for all who want to attend. Not only is this a school but they offer free medical care and medicine.
They teach vocational training like woodworking, tourism, and restaurant training. They sponsor families with food and money to help break the cycle of violence, sex, and illiteracy. They find sponsors to help send kids to school and eventually to college. They house families of domestic violence. They put water filters in the streets of the slums for the people. The only rule for families who want to be part of the New Hope Legacy – no drugs, no prostitution, and your children must attend school. Education of the Cambodia people and its women are the only ways to break the cycle.
We met Chet Mon and her daughters through New Hope. She was brave enough to ask for help so her daughters could break the cycle. Chet Mon is now our family – her daughters are our daughters, her tears are our tears, and her plight is our plight.
They live in a one-room tin shack with no plumbing, no bathroom as we know it, and the streets are filled with trash, but her daughters are now attending school, they have clothes and shoes, and they smile. They made me smile and realize how lucky we are to have met them. We asked them what they needed, how we could help, and this was their list. Imagine such small things that can help change someone’s life: Two straw floor mats for beds; a tarp to put over the roof to stop the rain from leaking into their home; two mosquito nets to help sleep at night without the worry of dengue fever; and some rice to eat.
We sponsor Chet Mon and her family for $40.00 per month. It is amazing that with such a small amount of money we are able to help change the lives and future of an entire family.
I handed her a blue tarp to cover her house so she and the girls could stay dry. While the girls giggled and unpacked blankets and sleeping mats, Chet Mon hugged me, and with huge tears in her proud eyes she whispered to me, “Thank you. Thank you so much.” Honestly, I wanted to thank her for being strong, for asking for help, for not selling her children, for just surviving, and for being an amazing woman who can still smile.
I think of her every night when I go to sleep in my bed with my roof, pillow, and mattress. I wonder what I would have done if I had been born in Cambodia. Would I have been as strong as Chet Mon? Would you?
I have created a donations page where all proceeds received through my blog go directly to New Hope Cambodia. If you have a spare few dollars, anything helps, please help these families change for the better! We are hoping to reach a goal of $10,000 US dollars to help the program open their new public school.
You can donate, send books, shoes, clothes, and medicine. If you are in Cambodia, stop by and see the school and the people, and have lunch in their training restaurant. You will be glad that you did.
If you would like more information on New Hope, to donate, sponsor a family, work with the school, or volunteer opportunities, please go the website and contact them. They are the most amazing group of people I have ever met – http://www.newhopecambodia.com. I want to send a special thank you to Ron Carter who spent his day showing us all the wonderful accomplishments, projects, and people who make New Hope function on a daily basis! Big thank you to Cheryl Elliot who met us at 7:45 on a Saturday morning to take us to see the girls before we left town! Of course, a big thank you to the founder, Mr. Sot Kemsour, who found time in his busy schedule of changing the world to sit, talk, and have lunch with us!
I also want to thank Brian and Allan from Backpacking Bond, some of my fave guys. Without their story I would have never met Chet Mon and the New Hope Organization! Please stop by and visit their blog – they have some great stories to tell!
Please be advised – this story has been published with the permission of all those involved. Although it is sensitive content, this information must get out.
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