This is the tough decision facing Huong as she joins her new sisters in the OBV Cambodia house.
Huong comes to the OBV Cambodia house under challenging circumstances. A teenage child between two divorced parents, Huong lived with her mother in Vietnam until this fall when she escaped a potentially treacherous situation and found refuge with her father in Cambodia.
Earlier this year, Huong's mother was visited by an old family acquaintance, a young Vietnamese woman who had moved to Malaysia in recent past. Adorned in nice clothes with fingers decorated in gold rings, the young woman explained to Huong's mother that she didn't have to do much to earn her money, that she just "stayed at home." The opportunity for Huong to gain similar riches came up in the conversation; the opportunity for quick money piqued Huong's mother's interest. Without bothering to inquirer further, Huong's mother insisted that Huong join this young woman back to Malaysia.
Huong had the presence of mind to think otherwise. She feigned interest and convinced her mom to let her visit her dad in Cambodia to say goodbye in the early part of autumn. Her plan would be to stay with him and not return to Vietnam.
Huong's father lives in a small Vietnamese village. Although most villages speak Khmer, work is scarce because most are without Cambodian citizenship. Going back to Vietnam is also not an option, as many are also without Vietnamese citizenship. Typical work for men involves low-wage construction labor. Making ends meet is always a challenge. Houses in the villages are makeshift at best, but the family makes due with whatever resources and materials they have to make their house a home.
Once Huong arrived at her dad's house in Phnom Penh, she explained her situation to her dad and his family, and they immediately agreed to keep her in Cambodia and protect her from whatever plan her mom had to send her to Malaysia.
Huong did well in school back in Vietnam. However, with no Cambodia citizenship and with no knowledge of the Khmer language, Huong had to trade education for safety.
Chi Nga, a One Body Village volunteer, got word of Huong's situation and visited the family to see if OBV Cambodia could lend a hand. After a few conversations, chi Nga was able to make an agreement with the family to have Huong stay with OBV Cambodia. Huong would receive food, clothing, shelter, education provided the family could provide the appropriate documentation, and, most importantly, a safe and healthy environment.
The following is a photo report detailing the day that Huong would leave her family and join the OBV Cambodia house.
Our first stop during our first full day in Cambodia would be to pick up chi Nga, an OBV volunteer who helps us connect with families in Cambodia who have daughters that we could consider ideal candidates for the OBV Cambodia house.
Chi Nga took us to the home of Huong's father. Huong would be coming home with us after our visit. This pick-up was already planned, coordinated, and agreed upon in advance between Linh and the family, with Nga as the intermediary and occasional interpreter for Vietnamese and Khmer.
We made our way through a small residential corridor and arrived at a cluster of makeshift houses.
There we would meet Huong and her family.
Before Huong was allowed to come with us, we had to settle the matter of her birth certificate. Huong's birth certificate would allow her to attend regular school, which is an important part of being a member of the OBV Cambodia house.
Birth certificates for Vietnamese refugees in Cambodia aren't readily available nor sought after much. They cost tens of US dollars. This may not sound like much to the rest of the world, but it is actually a sizable amount of money for these families, many of whom work construction jobs that make very little money. A birth certificate for their child who already isn't accepted into regular Cambodia society is a mere luxury.
Huong built a relationship with chi Nga during the progression of this arrangement for her to come to the OBV Cambodia house.
Huong's bags were already packed by the time we arrived; she was excited to start a new life with OBV! We took a family photo with her guardians before we left. Her uncle would accompany us to the OBV Cambodia house so the rest of the family knows where to find her during visitation days.
We boarded a tuk tuk and made our way home. Huong would miss her family, but she was thrilled to embark on this new adventure :)
Huong and her uncle meet chi Phuong, the OBV Cambodia house mother, for the first time. Chi Phuong welcomes Huong and explains what her new life will be like in the new house.
Linh then presents the uncle with a standard OBV Cambodia contract (one side in Vietnamese, the other in Khmer) for him to take home and have Huong's guardians sign and return. This contract explains the terms of Huong's stay, the visitation policies, and other obligations involved for both parties.
OBV takes housing the girls very seriously. OBV's growth and funding depends on their ability to follow through on their commitments with the girls. All parties have to agree and abide by the rules that OBV establishes.
One of the OBV girls prepares Huong's new bed while chi Phuong empties a drawer for Huong to place her clothes and belongings. This would be the first time that Huong meets her new sisters.
Huong (yellow) meets the rest of her new sisters when they get home just as dinner is being finalized. They take a liking to each other pretty quickly. After a few hours, it almost feels as though Huong had been living at the OBV Cambodia house this entire time.
Later that night, all of the girls would have a scheduled call with Father Martino. This would be the first time Fr. Martino and Huong meet.
Part of Huong's transition into the new house would involve her learning Khmer, as all of the other girls in the house speak both Khmer and Vietnamese fluently. The next night after Huong's arrival, Linh asks Huong if she feels comfortable in the house given the language situation, and if she would consider the OBV Vietnam house instead since everyone there only speaks Vietnamese.
As much as Huong likes her new sisters and enjoys staying in close proximity to her father, she will have to decided between her new life in Cambodia which includes falling very far behind in school due to her inability to speak Khmer, and returning to Vietnam to continue her education but live far away from her father.
Photos of family members and OBV girls are edited and names changed for their protection and privacy.
Jesse Robbins (original link)