When I opened the email and saw this photo, I could hardly believe my eyes. Were these the same boys that captured our hearts last July? The sight of them in their clean white school uniform shirts brought a lump to my throat.
They’re okay, I thought. No, look at them! They’re better than okay.
We first heard the story of these three inseparable 11-year-old friends last summer. Our child protection team in Asia had identified the boys, Oury, Navin and Pandey, as being at high risk for trafficking.
They spent their days, unsupervised, digging through garbage at the city dump, looking for recyclables to sell. The orange tint to Pandey’s hair – a sign of malnutrition – indicated he wasn’t getting enough to eat. He is the fifth of six children. His father is disabled and drinks every day.
Their broken families and hardships brought them together as friends. Their will to survive bonded them. They worked together as partners, they said, because they could collect more trash and finish sooner. They dreamed of using their “profits” to become engineers and building skyscrapers in Cambodia some day.
We worked with them, slowly encouraging them to attend our School on a Mat program, knowing they would resist giving up their income from the dump. At first, they continued to go to the dump in the mornings and attended school in the afternoons. They learned about the dangers of trafficking and how to avoid abuse and exploitation.
Now they’re safe and attending school regularly. And, they’re one step closer to their dream of becoming engineers.