Opened Eyes and Heart

Opened Eyes and Heart
      Vietnam and Cambodia
    June 11-23, 2006
By Mindy Chu

Senior, Monta Vista High School

in Cupertino, CA

On Saturday, June 11, I got the privilege of traveling to Vietnam and Cambodia with 8 magnanimous volunteers (comprising of medical and executive professionals from the United States as well as Vietnam and Cambodia) of Aid to Children Without Parents (ACWP), a 501(c)(3) charitable, tax-exempt, non-profit organization founded in 1988 dedicated to helping disadvantaged children in Asia. 

 The purpose of my trip was to learn about ACWP’s effort in helping victims of human trafficking, physical abnormalities and financial turmoil.  Human trafficking is an illegal practice in which girls and sometimes boys, as young as 4 years and as old as 20 years, are sold by their families or tricked by neighbors to brothel owners to be sex slaves for anyone who wishes to pay for their “services.”  Impoverished families, who cannot even afford to buy food, are forced to sell their daughters to obtain $100 or less which may partially cover some of the family’s medical expenses and about one month’s worth of food.  Despite this injustice, however, there is hope for these abused girls and their impoverished families.  ACWP is one of the organizations that steps in to help “one child at a time” whether it may be physically, educationally, morally or financially.  I am very happy and proud to attest to all the arduous life-changing work that ACWP does because I have participated in and witnessed first-hand the compassion and empathy which ACWP volunteers have shown to each child that they have helped; ACWP truly makes a difference in his or her life. 

Aid to Children Without Parents takes on cases of needy children that no one else takes on.  ACWP’s mentality in combating human trafficking and aiding children stymied by educational and financial turmoil and in need of corrective surgery is simple: education and inspiration.  The dedicated and non-paid ACWP volunteers believe that the best way to help children empowered to help themselves is to give them an opportunity for quality education.  With this belief, ACWP has built needed schools in rural and at-risk areas. The small Cambodian village of Svay Pak used to be crowded with brothels, but ACWP helped alleviate this problem by building a school. When possible, ACWP tries its prevention method of any of these unspeakably atrocious ways of life, but if not possible, ACWP makes sure that each child gets some moral and financial support so that he or she can   be healthy and feel happy attending school, learn a skill, and then join the work force to support his or her family.  ACWP’s goal in human trafficking is mainly to provide prevention: first identify the at-risk youths, pull them out of the situation or environment which may seduce or introduce them to “nghề” (prostitution), educate them and/or family and hopefully inspire them to become leaders in their community to help motivate other youths in the at-risk areas.

I also learned that parents suffering from severe economic hardships are compelled to sell their daughters, who are as young as 4-6 years, so that they can make quick money to brothels who uses them as sex slaves.  This practice is not only revolting and illegal under international laws, but it is a way of life and a means of survival for many girls in this area.  Some locals have a cultural belief that attending school takes precious time which is “lost” when the girls are not working and making money.  But, because of these girls’ cultural up-bringing for total devotion to their parents and siblings, the daughters will do anything, obey to even sell themselves, to directly “earn” a “living” to help their family get through their financial tribulations.  Despite the support from international organizations to aid victims of human trafficking as well as other salient issues regarding children, there is still so much work to be done.  One small but effective prevention method is providing educational opportunity. This is why ACWP has numerous educational and health programs to aid these children.

Never visited Cambodia or even heard about Cambodian food, I did not know what to expect for my first visit to Cambodia.  However, after setting foot out of the airport, I sensed that this country was not only hotter and more humid, but more impoverished than Vietnam.  During my 4 days in the capital city of Phnom Penh and surrounding villages in the countryside, I learned that 40% of the people in Cambodia were in poverty, meaning that approximately 5,552,570 of its 13,881,427 people in the population were living on less than $1 a day.  In Cambodia, we set up mobile clinics to give free medical and dental examinations to children.

In Vietnam, we visited some of the poorest villages of southern Vietnam that were heavily devastated by the yearly flooding.  Dong Thap and An Giang were two large towns near the Cambodian-Vietnamese border with many impoverished families that were affected by human trafficking.  In this area between the two bordering countries, ACWP has built several schools and indirectly rescued girls from being potential victims by awarding scholarships to at-risk girls and their families.  

ACWP operates in Central Vietnam in tandem with the Hue University Medical School to give hepatitis B vaccinations for children through their VaKC program.  This collaboration between ACWP and Hue University also allows for us to manage mobile clinics and provide corrective surgeries to children having physical abnormalities.  We visited children with deformities (cleft palate, bulled foot) which needed corrective surgeries and followed their post-surgical progresses.  Witnessing this process was most meaningful to me since as a Youth Leader of Stanford University’s Asian Liver Center, I raised funds for this ACWP VaKC project.

After our visit to Hue, we traveled up north to the capital city of Vietnam  -- Ha Noi and visited the beautiful Hoa Sua Culinary and Hospitality School where ACWP recently built a dormitory for students with physical disabilities.  Hoa Sua School is a state-of-the art vocational training facility where financially disadvantaged children from all over Vietnam come to study, or practice the art of cooking and hospitality services.  According to the Rector of  Hoa Sua School, because of the excellent vocational education & practice that they have received, all of these students gain employment after graduation. 

My 13-day trip to Vietnam and Cambodia was an incredible experience that I will always reflect upon as the pivotal catalyst in my transition from a mere high school student to a passionate and globally-aware young adult.  This wonderful trip was an exceptionally powerful learning experience for me and has helped me to realize all of the superfluous privileges that my peers and I have in this great country of The United States of America.  Before I flew out of San Francisco International Airport to Asia, I always wanted to buy things such as shoes and clothes, but I was surprised to discover that upon my return to the Bay Area, I no longer desire to buy any material items whatsoever.  Going to these two Third-World developing countries and helping those less fortunate than me has helped me see that a small fraction of my time and compassion can benefit countless people in desperate need of love and care.  If given the opportunity, I would humbly recommend a trip with ACWP or any other non-profit organization to Vietnam and/or Cambodia not only to aid people in need, but to help realize all the blessings that you already have and to give back what we sometimes take for granted.