Our adventures through SE Asia continue to thrill, intrigue and impress us with the variety of exquisite tastes, beautiful sights and exciting cultures that we have been introduced to. We have travelled with Destiny Rescue’s Tony Kirwan (as seen in our last blog entry in Bangkok) to Phnom Penh in Cambodia, overland to Siem Reap via Kampong Cham to see DR’s work there, departing Cambodia far too quickly, arriving in Laos two days ago.
On many levels, each of Thailand, Cambodia and Laos have so many great things to offer and have given us a feeling that despite various degrees of poverty and corruption, they are all very much livable places that we would seriously consider leaving Australia for, at least temporarily. The challenge then would be living with what lurks beneath the sunny, easygoing veneer of this region, which of course is the reason we are here.
The work that groups like Destiny Rescue do are vitally important and become increasingly so in our eyes the more we learn about the cultural ways of these countries. Generally, it is accepted practice to force/guilt your children into labour at an early age, with this coming in the form of trafficking/selling your child in particularly poor areas. It is quite surprising how often this story has been told and re-told to us by victims. It seemed strange to us that parents lean so heavily on their children to support the family until we learned that the average life expectancy in Cambodia, for example, is 45 years(!). So many people would be ailing from illness and dying very young, thus requiring this financial support. Immediately this shines a light on poverty as a major contributor to the reason why trafficking and working in the sex industry becomes an reluctant option. There is a cycle of poverty, lack of education, health issues, abuse, drugs and police/government corruption that dictates a lot of families’ path in life here. Take poverty out though, and you fix a lot of those other things.
There is so much beauty and hope in these countries despite all this, and we have been elated to meet some exceptional people along the way. The generosity of time and spirit of the folks at Destiny Rescue cannot be overstated as they have bent over backwards to help ensure we have met and spoken to the right people, been introduced and immersed into the culture and areas they are seeking to help out the most, taken their valuable time to guide us around and ensured that we were well looked after. The local people we have met are lovely, generous and kind-hearted, leaving us with an overwhelming sense of hope and that goodness in their lives will prevail if given a chance. Everyone we have met recognises the work that we and the support organisations are doing to improve their lives, and we feel very fortunate to have been able to witness firsthand what life is, and could be like here.
Red Earth would love for everyone to be able to visit places like Cambodia, Laos and Burma to see how great they are, and why they desperately need people in wealthier countries to care enough to want to help get them on their feet (while preserving what makes them so vibrant in the first place). There are so very many people suffering through desperation of poverty that is making them do terrible things and fracturing families. Many Cambodians, for example, would make only a few hundred dollars a year in income. In the West, we have fallen prey so much to consumerism and self-serving lifestyles that we have left no room for contributing to reverse the trend of suffering of our neighbouring countries. We would encourage anyone reading this or who are already supporting our project to give a close look into the work of Destiny Rescue, particularly their 26-second project; all they ask is that you make a one-off or monthly contribution which goes to many of their prevention or rescue programmes, then – and most importantly – you tell 2 people about it. The key to combatting this cycle of poverty which leads to human trafficking is getting as many people rallying around the problem and providing support to these types of organisations who are working closely at the ground level with the local people. The relatively minuscule amount of financial sacrifice required by a person from a typical first-world country is all that is required to make a massive difference to many people’s lives. It sounds like something you’ve heard before, but it’s true and we’ve seen the work and the desperate need firsthand.
Jason and Mike head back to Thailand tomorrow via a traditional Lao riverboat along the Mekong River en route to the Philippines on Wednesday. There we will be meeting with FOCUS, another aid organisation (albeit much smaller but very close to the ground with Filipino child sex workers) and spending some time exploring this issue from another perspective.
Goodbye for now from Luang Prabang in stunning north Laos!