“We took her in and had to keep her safe. She was very afraid and it was clear to me that she had been mistreated…” said village chief Chhun Ngonn when he came across young Sophea.
Sophea was only four years old when her father sold her into slavery. She spent most of her young life doing hard labour, tending cows and being mistreated by the families she served. She never had a chance to get education and had to endure abuse and violence at a young age. After many unsuccessful attempts to escape from the abuse, Sophea finally took a bicycle and rode as fast as she could until she was stopped by some people who were concerned about such a young girl riding alone in the dark. Those people took Sophea to Chhun Ngonn who provided protection to Sophea, allowing her to stay with his wife in his home for a couple of months until he referred her to Hagar’s care. “She would run and hide in our house and it took a while for my wife and I to earn her trust. She was anxious and any sound would make her afraid. The poor girl had never been shown any love. She would run and hide under the table. It was like the reaction of a girl who had received such terrible violence against her. No-one knew where she came from and they treated her as sub-human. Village children tortured her, pushed her in the mud and called her “ugly child”. The families she worked for beat her.”
By the time Sophea came into Chhun Ngonn’s care, his own children had grown up. He knew that if Sophea stayed with him and his wife, she would be alone. He also knew she needed special care to overcome the deep trauma she had experienced. He explained: “After I asked about how Hagar would ensure her safety, and what services they would provide, I agreed for Sophea to be sent to Hagar. They would be able to provide the much needed recovery services for her to heal emotionally and would also provide good schooling.”
The day Sophea left for Hagar, family relatives and local community members came over to see her off, but Chhun Ngonn was too emotional to bid farewell. “I love her like my own daughter even though we’d only cared for her for two months.” Chhun Ngonn is so happy that Sophea is doing so well. “Now, she has grown up. She is a young lady and doing so well for herself. She’s a successful student and I’m so happy to hear that she’s giving back to the community, helping empower young girls like that little girl, hurt and abused, that she used to be.”
Sophea is now in her third year of university and focused on her dream of helping other girls like her. She and Chhun Ngonn are planning to meet soon. “I can’t wait” says Chhun Ngonn.