Child in Kratie slum
A year ago, our field worker (and church planter) in Kratie, Cambodia, a remote, impoverished province in Central Cambodia on the Mekong River, named Sambath, took me to see the slum area outside the town. Hidden behind a government building and just off the main road, I was shocked. Filthy ramshackle shacks built on stilits with no running water and often no electricity, they housed hundreds of Vietnamese and Kampuchea Krom (ethnically mixed VN and Cambodian) people, living in desperate circumstances. Needless to say, vices and horrors abound. In the first home, we met an 11 year old child born HIV positive. Her mother is dead of AIDS and the grandmother fears that she and her husband may be ill as well. “What will happen to my granddaughter?” she asked me in desperation. The little girl was extremely thin, had head lice and dressed in rags. She is forced, even when in frail health (HIV children have compromised immune systems) to gather cans and bottles to sell the recyclers. She is also malnourished. At that moment, I promised that I would help feed those kids …we identified 6 more, all we could possibly pay for at that time. Now one year later, our little feeding fund continues, though we found 14 more kids who desperately need that extra meal a day. $1 a day will feed a child. Help us feed our kids.
Two girls bought out of a coffee shop/brothel at the Saigon bridge, Phnom Penh Cambodia
The Saigon bridge is a word that is synonymous with horror in Phnom Penh. Everybody, everybody knows that it is where Vietnamese teenager girls are sold into the numerous coffee shops (read, brothel) along the Bassac river and enslaved virtually forever. A few weeks in a coffee shop changes not only a girl’s occupation, it destroys her soul. Girls “sold” usually by a parent or relative, usually for $50, may resist the male visitors’ attention for a short period of time, but nearly always are forced to bow to the pressure of the coffee shop. That’s in cases where the Vietnamese owner is a “softie” and doesn’t force the girl to begin prostituting herself.
I (Joni) was working with a family in the provinces, and found out that the parents, because of severe financial stress, had sent their two totally illiterate daughters to the Saigon bridge in Phnom Penh. The two girls, one 17 and one, 18, had no skills of any kind and had only lived on a fishing boat on the Mekong river their whole lives. Their mother bought them each a watch and some cheap jewelry and took them to the city, dropped them off and received $50. The usual price is $50 for one, so she got a bargain- two souls for the price of one. When I found out where the girls were, I immediately took one of my Vietnamese staff and went to the shop. Initially, it was a good meeting. The two girls seemed happy to see me. The owner and his wife were friendly. But when I stood up to say goodbye, one of the girls burst into tears. At that moment I knew I had to get them out. I immediately contacted a home for high risk girls and the director agreed to take them in that day. I went back to the coffee shop and tried to start negotiating. This almost immediately degenerated into intense conflict, even when I offered to pay back the $50 (which I did). Finally, though they had to bow to the power of the white westerner- they knew theycouldn’t win in such a situation. I removed the girls, to their great relief, and placed them in a home. A few months later, the parents shamefacedly took them back home to stay.
THE BOX PROJECT: Think outside the box, change a life! We at We Love Kids decided to try the old traditional way of raising money for our educational and feeding programs for our kids- we started placing donation boxes in businesses, with one new twist: we placed them in Asian restaurants, especially Vietnamese ones. We started in grubby, urban environment of Kansas City, MO, in a handful of Vietnamese restaurants and Asian markets around the city market area with NO idea of how these mostly Asian folks would respond. It’s been overwhelming…in one restaurant, when my friend came in to collect the money in the box, the owner walked up and handed him a $100 bill…in another restaurant, the cashier opened the register and handed another collector a $20. It’s almost as if they have been waiting for us to come along! We are placing boxes in Asian markets, Chinese restaurants, Laotian and Korean markets, and have been received with open hearts…what a blessing these guys are!
Thu (center) with her mom and our teacher, Mrs. Trang at WLK Center
Thu, (not her real name) one of the many kids who have been involved with We Love Kids came to us when she was nearly 12 years old. She was completely illiterate and started first grade. Little by little, we learned Thu’s story. Her father, a severe alcoholic, died when he fell down the steps of their shack in the slum near our center. Her older brother died earlier of a heroin overdose, and her younger brother was in prison for dealing heroin. Her older sister went to Thailand to get a job in the red light district of Bangkok, but was arrested and imprisoned. Every time we sat down to talk with Thu, she would burst into tears. She knew how bleak her future was. We shared the good news with her mother, who prayed with us, but couldn’t seem to believe that anything good could ever happen to her family. Thu’s future seemed destined to become a horror story.
After first grade, she dropped out, and began babysitting to earn a little money. We didn’t see her for nearly a year. But my teacher, Trang, and I continued to pursue her as much as we could, and prayed as much as we could! Suddenly, some months ago, she reappeared, and began attending the new discipleship group for our teenagers. We began to see hope in her. Trang noticed during visits to the shack that several prostitutes were hanging out around her house, and we feared for her. Amazingly, God opened a door for her to attend a one year hairdressing school run by Christians. Thu and her mother were really touched by this provision. She has grown in the Lord and was baptized in March. Her mother came to the baptism and was moved, though isn’t a Christian yet. Our hope is for Thu to move into our center with Trang to have a better environment as well as several others who are in great need. Pray for Thu and her mother!
We love kids was founded in 2001 when its founding missionary, Joni Wise, who had been working in Vietnam for nearly 10 years came to the realization that preaching a spiritual message about Jesus was important, but that we as Christians need to be the hands or Jesus also..surrounded by abject poverty. One of Joni’s donors came to her and said, “God has spoken to me, ‘Feed my lambs’ – I believe we need to start feeding hungry kids. So, WLK began its first Saigon feeding program for100 street kids. At the same time, we started a very small scholarship program for children who were from families in grave economic difficulty, many of whom were in areas which were not friendly to Christians, thus hindering any development possibilities. In our first year, we only sponsored 3 kids. But that dramatically increased in the succeeding years. Since 2000, we have sponsored or have helped over 500 children, all for at least 2 years, some for over 5 years.