This morning in Cambodia, we met four-year-old Reatrey!
Last month, her father left for Thailand to work and send money home, but this plan is risky and could put her family in a difficult situation.
Let's imagine a better story for her future … let's make it happen.
This is Reatrey. She is four and lives in southern Cambodia with her family. A month ago, her father went to Thailand to try to find consistent work to support them. So far, he hasn’t sent any money, so in order to have food for her family, Reatrey’s mother, Sokhen (pregnant with her fifth), has borrowed money from a middleman, which she will pay back when her husband finally sends the money from Thailand. (Though he found work quickly, the money hasn't come because he was cheated out of it by his employer, an all-too-common occurrance for Cambodians trying to work abroad).
Around the world, this situation is fairly common: that one parent will leave and go to another country where the jobs, economy, or wages are better and send money home to support the family. We hear this kind of story in Latin America and Eastern Europe—when I met my sponsored child Hovhannes in Armenia, I learned that his father spends 7-8 months each year working in Russia.
It’s a common story here in Asia, too, as people go to neighboring countries like Thailand to work and send money home. Economically, it can make sense, but this kind of arrangement isn’t without its risks. When I heard Reatrey’s story, I began to think about all of the ways this situation could go wrong … and unfortunately, those worries are realistic.
Imagine with me for a moment a few of the ways that her parents’ situation could hypothetically unfold …
First, ideally, money from Thailand will arrive soon, her mother will repay the middleman (along with interest), and the arrangement will work out.
Second, what if the money doesn’t come soon? This scenario puts Reatrey’s mother at the mercy of the middleman, leaving it up to luck whether he is lenient and reasonable with her. Because if not, then she is indebted to him, and in a worst-case scenario have little or no say in how she repays that debt.
The third scenario is the worst of them, suggesting that her father won’t be able to send money at all. When better jobs are promised across the border, some people arrive to find that they have been tricked into a trafficking circle, leading to forced labor and wages far too low to be able to send money home. If (again hypothetically) this were the case with Reatrey’s father, her mother would end up with five young children, no income, and a debt to a middleman. And the fact that he has already been cheated out of his wages once isn't a good sign.
I don’t want to take this scenario too far down the rabbit hole, but you see my point. There is a very real possible outcome for this story that could put Reatrey’s family in a very difficult place.
This hypothetical story is an example of why World Vision’s community development and child sponsorship model works toward empowerment, addressing the root causes of poverty rather than its symptoms.
For example, through microfinance and economic trainings, we empower people to earn better living wages, which in turn means that they don’t have to leave their families behind while they work. And the interest that entrepreneurs pay for these micro loans is a fraction of what they might pay to a middleman (sometimes as high as 50%).
We met Reatrey today, and just as she is in this photo, in person she is full of life—beautiful and energetic and playful. My hope for Reatrey—and all children—is that she has the opportunity to be a kid while she’s still a kid. In Cambodia, 19% (almost 1 in 5) children are “economically active,” meaning that they work in some way to help support their families. And children who work miss out on a lot of what is important about childhood, including going to school.
Our motto is: “For every child, life in all its fullness.” I want a full life for Reatrey, I want that impish smile you see above above, not the hardship that comes from working too young, the missed opportunities from an education cut short, or missing an absent father.
In general, World Vision believes that a child’s parents are best suited to raising her, and when possible, encourages parents to find good incomes close to home. And we give them the tools they need to do this. That’s why community development works. That’s why child sponsorship works.
So instead, imagine with me a father who stays. A father who doesn’t leave for Thailand, who doesn’t risk being tricked and trafficked and kept away from his family; a father whose wife doesn’t need to take loans from middlemen or raise five children alone; a father whose daughter comes home from school every day, proud to show him what she’s learned.
Join us in empowering a child like Reatrey and her family! Give a child in Cambodia a full life today.
Follow our bloggers trip this week as we write from Cambodia!