Congratulations to the first group of Peace Corps volunteers in Cambodia! The swearing-in ceremony last week was really nicely done. It was odd, however, to be watching a ceremony and thinking of a time when life was so different, when I was so different.
Peace Corps says that it is the toughest job you will ever love and there is much truth in this. Although I definitely have my issues with the organization and think that more stringent screening process should be held for applications—I do believe that some volunteers are able to make a huge contribution to their villages or the people inside the villages. I also believe, that for many, the villages make an even bigger mark on the individual.
These two children are the reason that I am a social worker, the reason I am in the counter-trafficking movement.
When I was a Peace Corps volunteer I worked at a center for abused and neglected children. The center, which opened while I was there, could take 30 kids for a 6 months period. The kids would spend about 8 hours a day at the shelter, either after school or during the day. They would eat, get medical attention, see a psychologist, do group work, play, have arts and crafts time, receive homework help, and more. These two children were at the shelter for 8 months. After the first 6 months they were 2 of only 5 children who it was deemed necessary that they stay for more help.
I was really close to them as they were in my play group and I had done the home visit. When I met Roma, he didn’t know what a hug was. He was 7. He and his sister were eating raw noodles as they had been left to care for themselves while their mother worked. Although they were only 11 months apart, they had two fathers—neither of whom had a presence in their lives.
Their mother sold them. One at a time, she sold them. The above picture is the last time I ever saw Lenuta. That day her hair had been cut and dyed. She came to us crying. And then, she was gone.
After the kids were sold, I had a temper tantrum. Or, that is the closest thing I can equate it too. I was mad. I had pictures, which became posters. The kids, ultimately, were returned to their mother because I was such a pain. Lenuta, the girl, was resold and has not been found. The boy, Roma, we did find. He is living with his paternal grandmother who promised to keep him in school and never return him to his mother.