I sat with Sarah* in our neighborhood cafe, where she works full-time. Even though she was willing to share her experience as a Cambodian migrant with me, there were moments too difficult for her to talk about. At one point, I watched as she reflected her past; her eyes filled with tears and her lip quivered as she tried to form a sentence. Eventually, she told me “I don’t want to think about my past, it’s sad, and there is a lot I don’t like about it, it makes me angry".
For many of us, our experience of school began at the age of 5 or 6. We would have a difficult time remembering our first day of school, but not for Sarah. She has little difficulty because even though she is 18 years old, her first day of school began only 5-years ago at the age of 13.
Sarah was 4-years old when her family decided to migrate to Thailand. To this day, Cambodia is still recovering from its civil war, which resulted in a mass genocide. According to the UN, the year Sarah's family migrated to Thailand, 31% of the Cambodian population was living below the poverty line and 65% under the age of 30.
Often we forget (or at least I do) that violence and war have a generational impact. Because of Cambodia’s civil war, Sarah’s mom never attended school, and her dad had very little. Lack of education and a broken country led to the decision to leave Cambodia and start new in Thailand. Her family began a small business, selling flowers to tourists in the red light district, an understandable option for a family in their circumstance.
Sarah was 12 years old when I first met her— a shy 12-year-old girl selling flowers late at night on an overcrowded road lit up by neon lights. When most kids her age were getting a good night's sleep before school the next morning, she, along with her younger brother were working. Her schedule began at 9:00 pm and finished at sunrise, just after all the bars and street vendors closed.
In 2013, a short while after meeting Sarah for the first time, Creative Life Foundation began a small education program specifically for her and her siblings.
Within the first year attending our school, we saw what positive-impact education and a safe environment can have. In addition to schooling and extracurricular activities, Sarah was getting something else. CLF’s staff and volunteers, along with her teachers from extracurricular activities, were providing Sarah with positive role models- people who wanted to see her excel and thrive - and that's what happened! Over the last five years, we have seen a significant change in Sarah. The lost and shy spirit that once existed in her has been transformed with confidence and purpose.
Today, you can find Sarah working full-time at a coffee shop, using her free time to draw and study. Currently, she is working with our team towards receiving her U.S. GED.
We envision a more equitable and just world free of exploitation and risk. Through our holistic programs, we use education, advocacy, and resources to create a path to freedom and prevent human trafficking for children and parents from under-resourced communities in urban and rural Thailand.
*not her real name