One day on her way home from school, she was offered a ride back from a neighbour. But he rode straight to a coffee plantation and raped her....
There were two beds in a bare wooden hut with walls raised about a foot from the ground. The whole place smelt of urine. Her mother held a baby girl hungry for milk in her arms, sitting on a blanket on one of the beds. On the other bed sat the 7 year old girl, although she was no larger than a 5 year old. She looked out the 'window' at people walking by in the street.
She was the first born child to her 28 year old mother, the eldest of three children. Her younger sibling was attending kindergarten when her parents divorced. The mother then re-married and gave birth to yet another baby. The family was now 6 members strong, all squeezed into a small, dilapidated wooden hut. With a disabled leg and four small kids, her mother shuffled around their 1000 square meters land, given by her grandmother. Her step father went to Saigon to work as a bricklayer, since his earnings weren't enough to feed his family.
OBV openly welcomed her, and promised to raise her well if her family agreed. She would go to school as she so desired. Her dreams were finally coming true! From the deserted red hillside, to possibly waltzing into a classroom and going to college 10 years beyond that...what great milestones to achieve! It was be a miracle, the results from hard work and kind hearts.
Amid a luxurious coffee plantation was a wooden house, hidden behind a tall fence. The soil in this area was so fertile that coffee plants often produced good crops. Red chilis spotted the lush green plants in the garden, rows of eggplant bushes mixed in with the pillars supporting the pepper plants. Len, was a 14 year old girl that was lived in the beautiful and romantic scene. She had quit her education for she had become a mother over a year ago.
Her mother, who had 2 sons of her own, had adopted her. Not so poor, and very healthy, her foster parents were hired as servants at the coffee plantation. Her foster father often complained about working at the plantation until sunset, and had asked her to serve them dinner at the plantation. She doesn't remember exactly when and where the evil acts happened to her, as she was not mature enough to understand.
She was in the 7th grade, where she started to fall behind, and get weaker and weaker, eventually collapsing in class. The teacher became suspicious, and speaking privately to her, discovered she was 7 months pregnant.
The foster father went to jail. Len quit school, gave birth and continued to live with her foster mother and two younger brothers. She and her mother were hired to work at another coffee plantation, while her baby was cared for by her two brothers at home. Life continued to roll forward.
Would you be able to hold back your tears, if you saw a very young mother of 14 breastfeeding her baby? Len's life was a chain of tragedy, distress and misfortune, and I couldn't help but wonder where was God for her through all this?
Her life already had a bad start. At the age of 7 or 9, she was sold to her foster mother, who already had 2 boys of her own. According the local customs of continuing the matriarch lineage, she had no choice but to buy a girl. The seller asked for $220 USD, but she could only afford $120 USD (*). That was the moment Len became an adopted child, for the cost of a family meal. We had assumed the seller was her birth mother, but when asked, Len denied it. The seller had bought her from someone else.
A seminar about the prevention of sexual exploitation presents by OBV staff on Oct 2016
Living with her foster mother, Len grew up learning and speaking in the E De dialect. With tangled hair, she shyly nodded her head when asked if she wanted to go back to school. She was still a teenager, after all, and was eager to have what was left of her childhood. Her eyes shone with hope when we showed her pictures of our other girls in their school uniforms.
Why did OBV have such a long list of heartbreaking stories all happening in the highlands? Two sisters were raped by their biological father. others by their step fathers, grandfathers, uncles...We've traveled deep into the mountains, through coffee and pepper plantations and through the wilderness of remote land. Mother Nature had done a fantastic job with the sweet floral backdrops, but darkness covered the human heard.
It was always the same situation repeating itself: poverty, the father (or stepfather, uncle, neighbour etc) was an alcoholic, death threats against the child and her family; a mother who couldn't take care or protect her child because she was always working.
Evil people could really be anyone. Ready to strike at anytime. Or it could be a work in progress. 'H' harmed his 13 year old step daughter by plotting for 2 years. He started by luring her into watching pornography with him, eventually toughing her inappropriately. The distressed mother had divorced her first husband after he raped her sister. This was her second husband, sexually harassing her daughter. She had attempted suicide three times, each time failing.
The limited knowledge of parents prevents them from being of any guidance to their children. Schools also don't provide students with any kind of much needed knowledge for self protection. In a survey, it was found students had not been trained in any form to fight against sexual harassment.
Whenever we outreach to the families of children of sexual abuse in the mountainous regions of Dak Lak, tears are still flowing. In a rich village, Cu M, an eight year old girl lived with her father and stepmother. She was raped by her biological father for an entire year. Her mother committed suicide by swallowing pesticide when she discovered the betrayal and horrific act by her husband.
Between being beaten and sexually harassed at the hands of her father, she was scared and ran away, hiding at her uncle's home. One day, she walked to the authorities of the village and filed a complaint against her father. The officer investigated the claims and was able to put the man behind bars. But what about the little girl? It was impossible to find a psychiatrist or any form of mental help in this remote area. She continued to live with her demons.
The children are thoroughly instructed in the skills they need for life
I held her in my arms and whispered in her ear, to be more friendly, and to open her up. "You are a good student. You love to read books, and you'll love going to school in Saigon". She tucked herself in my lap and looked around nervously. I gently asked why, until she opened up "I'm scared of my father showing up!"
"You can read as many books in Saigon as you like," I said, changing the subject. "There are even books about god and angels. Do you believe in angels?"
"You should. Angels are beautiful, and they can perform miracles. Later I'll have to leave, but the angels will stay with you and protect you. And you won't have to fear anything anymore."
But do you know what her reply to me was? "If fairies, angels and Gods exists...why haven't they looked upon me and protected me?"
I was dumbfounded.
(*) To get a better understanding of what that $120 is worth, let's compare that amount of money. In American, the average income works out to be $8/hour. Could you buy a meal with that? Of course, a Big Mac meal, for about $6. In Vietnam, the average salary in these regions work out to be $100 or if they're lucky, $150 USD/month. While a bowl of pho (standard breakfast/lunch/dinner meal) would cost as little as $1, there are other costs to think about: school for the kids, if any. Food for the month. A child being sold for $120 is essentially one month's salary, considered to be a lot of money.
Nov 7, 2016
By Hoang Xuan
Translated by Mr. Phung and Jacqueline Huynh. The original version in Vietnamese entitled "Nhật Ký Hành Trình Dak Lak - Phần 3: Sao Cô Tiên Không Nhìn Thấy Con Bị Đày Đọa?"