This is the story of Sukha, a woman from Cambodia who has found hope and opportunity through Nomi Network and our partner organization, Hagar International. Sukha comes from the Kampuchea Krom Province and is one of three children in her family- with one brother and one sister. When she was three months, old her parents were separated and not long after, her mother died. Her brother and sister left home to find jobs and she never heard from them again. At age 13, while living with her aunt in the Kompot Province, Sukha’s cousin raped her. This was the beginning of her painful journey through sexual exploitation and abuse. Later, Sukha’s own father raped her and she became very sick.
Upon discovering that Sukha had been raped, the aunt taking care of her asked her to leave the house. Having lost the only family she really knew, Sukha decided to look for her brother and sister in the Koh Kong Province. She begged a bus driver to take her to Kompong Som because she had been cast out of her own home without any money. He took her to a brothel instead. She was only 14.
In the brothel she was beaten regularly and also electrocuted. If she refused to sleep with a man, she was given injections of hallucinogenic drugs to render her incoherent and vulnerable to exploitation. Sukha was so battered that she eventually submitted to her captor’s demands and began taking clients. Often, she served up to ten men in one day and would fall unconscious during the rape. She also began to experience frequent bleeding and constant pain.
One day a man came and helped Sukha to leave the brothel. She thought he was kind. He told her that he would take her to be his wife. He took her across the border to Thailand where he had a home with his son and to her dismay, both treated her as a sex slave. Her situation there was even graver than it had been in the brothel in Kompong Som. After enduring continual abuse, Sukha made up her mind to escape and one day asked the man if she could go to the market. He would not allow her to go alone, so he sent a young boy to go with her. When they arrived at the market, she told the boy she felt sick and asked to go to the toilet. Sukha broke free and ran from the market, making it all the way back to the Cambodian border. Because she had no money, however, she had to have sex with four men before they agreed to take her by boat back to Kompong Som.
After returning to Kompong Som, Sukha began a relationship with a man and had his child soon after. He sent her to Phnom Penh to live under the care of his mother. At first, Sukha had a good relationship with the mother because she was able to help make and sell cakes everyday. When Sukha found a job at a garment factory, however, the relationship turned sour because she no longer had time to help. The mother became angry and asked Sukha to leave the house. Around that time, Sukha also learned that the man she considered her husband and who fathered her unborn child had taken another wife in Kompong Som. To make matters worse, the garment factory where Sukha had been working closed because no orders were coming in. Every glimmer of hope disappeared for Sukha, and she now found herself fighting for two lives.
In the midst of her suffering, a friend from the garment factory told Sukha about Hagar. Sukha came to the Hagar Shelter on her own accord and soon gave birth to her daughter. After an initial period of recovery, Sukha studied literacy and eventually trained in sewing skills. When she finished studying, however, she was unable to find a suitable job because her child was still very small. The Hagar staff saw that Sukha’s situation was very difficult and that she had no family to care for her so she was given a job as a cleaner at the Shelter and began earning $45 a month. Sukha now rents a room outside the Shelter, but because of her past trauma she relies very deeply on Hagar’s supportive environment for work and social life. She has recently been promoted to work part-time as a cleaner and part-time with a Hagar research group. She is very happy and is making about $100 a month. Sukha feels that she has changed a lot since her arrival at Hagar. She knows how to read and write, and receives constant encouragement from the staff. Believing that her inability to read and write as a youth made her more vulnerable to exploitation, Sukha became driven to continue improving her language skills.
Thanks to a USDOL grant, Sukha now studies English at the New York Institute. The fact that others have recognized her desire to study and improve herself, and have actually invested money in her education has given her even more confidence. Sukha aspires to become the receptionist at the Hagar Shelter and she has started practicing writing in English on the office computer with the encouragement of the administrative staff. She is at the top of her English class and in a recent exam she scored 43 / 50.
Sukha now looks to the future with hope, saving money for the education of her child who she wishes to become a doctor someday, and saving money for the purchase of her own land and home. When she speaks now, you can see in her eyes that confidence has replaced the fear, and hope, disappointment. In her own words, she claims powerfully “I have a new life now and I thank God for that.”
Join with us at Nomi Network as we make Sukha’s dream a reality and remind the countless other women who have come from her position how to dream once again.