Her petite frame is something I noticed immediately the first time I met Somphors. As a young teenager, she was short even by Cambodian standards. She had come to our program asking for a job -- at 14 years of age. I agreed to meet with her; ready to gently disappoint her. You see, as an upcoming organization, we had a target market for women we wanted to hire, focusing on the demographic of moms or older women who lived in the village. In principle and policy, we sought to steer clear of any school age girls so as to encourage them to continue in school. A common occurrence in Cambodia, teenage girls drop out of school and begin working to support their family. Often, they succumb to the lure of 'better pay' and choose to cross the border into Thailand where they can find migrant jobs. They are at best, exploited; and at worst, enslaved.
I encouraged Somphors to continue in her education. As a new 9th grader, she had much to accomplish and a whole world of possibilities. I tried to paint a positive picture so she could see the potential, and worked to let her down gently. Then, I saw the tears brimming. And that's when I noticed her amazing eyes. Full of beauty, hope, and sadness. I probed to understand more and learned she was being forced to earn money for her family who were also pressuring her to quit school and find work.
Somphors reached out to us with desperation and hope that she could be employed by the little company that was employing other older women -- her own neighbors. And it was there that we had to consider the ramifications of our self-esteemed 'policies'.
It was here that we were forced to sit face to face with this small, wide-eyed young girl and realize the danger she was facing. How many young women like her had to leave the safety of their home and village to find work just to provide for their families? How many were forced to offer the most intimate parts of themselves in exchange for pay? How many faced horrors we can't imagine?
And it was here that we broke our policy and hired Somphors on the spot!
But this post isn't about that story, as good as it is! It's about what has happened since the day our policy was broken. That day, we began a new season in which we opened the door to hire school-age girls but also implemented a new policy. Any high school girl seeking employment must continue in her high school pursuits while they also work for Landmine Design.
Somphors jumped with excitement agreeing fully to our terms of employment. That was five years ago. During those years, Somphors has struggled immensely to find time to complete her assignments for Landmine Design while also keeping up on her school work and class schedules. I'm not going to lie and say it's been an easy road for her. It hasn't. What should have taken four years has stretched now into five. But today, Somphors is on the threshold of another first for us at Landmine Design. This year, 2020, Somphor will become our very first high school graduate!
We are simply undone by this reality for Somphors and for our organization. You see, when we started Landmine Design, we had no idea if this 'thing' would actually make it. We didn't know if we'd provide any sustainable impact. We couldn't determine if our policies would ever result in effective advancement in such a poverty stricken place.
But this year, through the graduation of our very first high school student, we are filled with such pride, hope, excitement, validation, and sheer amazement at what is happening in this little village on the edge of Cambodia.
Human trafficking isn't winning here!
Girls are graduating high school.
Moms are providing for their families.
Older women are learning a skill they never dreamed they could achieve.
And all are rising above poverty. All are staring at human trafficking with crossed arms in defiance. It is here human trafficking loses and we are so grateful to be part of the solution with you, our friends, family, customers, and supporters!