The women and children of The Minefield Village have my whole heart. They’ve had it since I first stepped foot in the village two years ago. I’ve developed deep love for the people. I’ve learned from them and my heart has been ignited by their strength too many times to note. I’m still human however, and naturally we connect and draw close to some individuals deeply - deeper than we ever anticipate.
My closeness was in the company of a young girl named Srey Mom.
I met Srey Mom two years ago when she was just 16 years old. She’s the same age as my youngest sister, which I believe lent to the deep affection I possessed immediately. Or maybe it was the dimples; the smile and dimples on this girl could melt the world. Whatever it was, Srey Mom was family in my eyes, one of my greatest gifts in the journey that has been Landmine Design. Truly, one of my greatest.
Srey Mom was a hard worker. She is one of nine children and lived life with this contentment I still think about to this day. She worked incredibly hard yet had nothing to prove. She faced challenge yet smiled endlessly. I watched her in awe with every day I got to spend by her side. When I’d give lessons, she’d sit so near to me; she’d trace the patterns on my dresses and tickle me any chance she got. She’d whisper “sa-at naa” which translates to “very pretty” as she’d grab my face in love. In too many moments to count, the presence of this girl was nothing but a treasure. Watching her not only come to understand her own worth, but also teach all the young girls surrounding her theirs, was nothing but a dream come true.
As perhaps you’ve been anticipating, a dramatic shift happened. It came one day when I received a call from one of our in-country managers sharing with me Srey Mom had left home in the middle of the night. She left with her husband no one knew she had; a young boy from the village she had secretly wed and planned her runaway with.
My heart shattered into a million pieces. And it shatters all over again writing these words.
Where was she? Was she safe? Was she coerced into leaving? How will we ever find her? The questions were endless. Fast forward to today, they’re still just as endless.
We’ve come to learn that Srey Mom and her husband ended up on a banana plantation in Thailand. This meant nothing but uncertainty to me until I was educated further. Leeta, our in country manager, shared with me that they’re undocumented which typically leads to severe abuse. Abuse in the form of no pay, long hours, physical abuse, and in severe cases - death when it comes time to paying the plantation workers. Even now, I realize I’ve convinced myself these things are not true; I’ve convinced myself I’ve fabricated this story somehow and that they’re safe and just earning a living somewhere far away.
The reality is, that’s not the case. They’re undocumented, and their safety is unknown. And the amount of times I’ve sat and daydreamed about traveling to the plantation to find them is endless. I’ve realized I’ve been coping; I’ve been surviving her absence, but it is a deep wound in my heart and it’s still bleeding.
So what does this mean for us as a staff at Landmine Design? What do you do when you were running full speed towards one of your favorite success stories, a dream, that becomes a nightmare overnight? Because that’s what this is for my heart, a nightmare.
The only thing we know how to do is keep fighting. Srey Mom was becoming a leader, a young influencer to whom young girls of the village were turning. Yet, Srey Mom has only ever witnessed the cycle of poverty. Every single one of her older siblings had left the village because there was no opportunity, there was only desperation. Srey Mom wasn’t even aware of the fact that a new story was being written, that with everyday she was becoming a leader and single handedly challenging the very cycle of poverty her family had been living in. In honesty, they were not living in it, they were merely surviving.
She didn’t even know. So she ran, she did the only thing she’s ever known. Tears stream down my face as I type these words because truth be told, I don’t have a pretty bow to tie this story up within. I desperately wish I did, but I don’t.
The last time I saw Srey Mom was the first time I ever slept in The Minefield Village. Myself and about nine young girls all crammed into the medical clinic, laid blankets on the floor, and stayed up until the sun rose. We did our best to teach one another our languages, we sang songs, braided each others hair, and played games under the stars. These girls had never heard of a slumber party before, but that’s exactly what we had under that stars in that village that night; further affirming my belief that us as girls, we’re all just the same - we desire to be captivating, and we desire to love.
As the sun rose that morning, Srey Mom shook me awake and told me to come with her. She held my hand as we walked outside. There, she just started running and waved for me to follow. I chased after her and we just ran together. We circled around the soccer field laughing endlessly. She shared with me she ran every morning, that as the sun rose, it’s what made her feel alive.
My prayer is that somewhere in Thailand, there is a young dimple cheeked girl rising with the sun feeling truly alive. My prayer is that we, at Landmine Design, may develop young leaders more quickly to ensure the cycle of poverty is no longer the only horizon young, deserving eyes may see. My prayer is that the baby, we’ve learned Srey Mom is four months pregnant with, may grow up learning what it means to dream. For this baby's 18-year-old mother, Srey Mom, the reality is struggling every day laboring to merely survive.
Young girls are rolling beads and assembling them into designs for you. They’re working hard, receiving an education, earning an income, and beginning to develop ideas in their minds that their lives could be something more than survival. They’re beginning to see they could be a part of great, pivotal change for a generation.
Your purchase matters. Your purchase provides these young girls an income. Your purchase mobilizes them towards a landscape beyond the cycle of poverty - for it’s the only horizon they’ve ever know.