Dreams can come true?
Cam was a little girl with big dreams. Dreams that transported her far from the North Vietnamese mountain village she was born into. She watched the boats go up and down the river far below from her vantage point on the hillside and met the occasional visitor to her village. She had just a few more weeks of school left and what then? Surely not everyone worked the rice fields from dawn to dusk, not everyone struggled with hunger and lack of food and not every girl ended up with a husband and babies. So she dreamt of sailing out of her village, down the river to something completely different.
Then one fateful day she came home from school to find a strange man talking to her father. Her father explained that he had come to their village looking for suitable girls to work for him. The man looked at her and said she might be what he was looking for but needed to talk to others in the village. Cam felt excited and hoped she’d be successful. Perhaps her dream was coming true!
The next day she found herself packing her meagre possessions and setting off with four other girls from her village. She could hardly believe that she’d been chosen. Butterflies danced in her stomach.
Cam had never been on a boat but she loved the movement of it on the water. She sat on deck and devoured everything she saw. The journey was long but she refused to close her eyes in case she missed something, even though she was tired after a sleepless night. When they finally reached their destination it was dark. She was sorry to leave the calming ebb and flow of the water but bubbling with anticipation about her new life.
They were taken through the emptying streets of the town to a building that appeared to be quite a distance from the river. The man told them that they would have their own rooms and that he’d lock their doors to keep them safe. As he showed Cam into her room she asked him when the training would begin and what they would be doing. He assured her it would start soon and to rest. Cam examined her sparsely furnished room and sat on the bed. A bed to herself! A room of her own! It was a world away from her village hut where the family lay on the floor.
The long day crept up on her and she lay down on the bed. Her eyes were just closing when she heard a scream and muffled shouts coming from below. She sat bolt upright on the bed, wide awake now and curled up her knees. Every nerve in her body jarred and her heart thumped in her chest. HER door flew open at that point and a man she’d never seen before strode into the room. She saw the look on his face and reversed up the bed as she broke out in a cold sweat. He told her to do what he said and she wouldn’t get hurt. She recoiled as he approached her but he caught hold of her roughly and dragged her towards him. His grip tightened as she struggled. Suddenly he slapped her and for a split second she was stunned by his brutality. Then, fiercer than ever, she fought ... her instincts telling her this was not good. But the more she fought, the more he beat her, slapped her, punched her ... and then finally raped her.
That was the beginning of Cam’s nightmare. She lost count of the men who came through her door and learned to comply to avoid punishment. She lived from day to day in a haze of disbelief. She only left her room to go to the bathroom and then she was always accompanied. Her door was kept locked and the window was bricked up. She lost track of time and sank into despair as she longed for her mountain village.
One night as she succumbed to sleep, tired and hungry, a thunderous bang jolted her awake. Shouts followed and doors banged everywhere. Recalling her first night she began to tremble as she heard heavy footsteps on the stairs. She pulled the bed cover around her as her door was flung open. A man in uniform stood on the threshold and then carefully checked behind her door. Cam was terrified and whimpered with fear.
Finally the man spoke. He told her that she was safe and to accompany him. Accustomed to doing as she was told, she climbed off the bed and went with him. She was filled with trepidation, remembering another man she’d trusted once before!
That night ten girls were taken from the house. Cam recognised two of the other girls from her village. Petrified, none of the girls spoke. They were taken to the police station. A woman later came to the station and explained they would be taken somewhere safe. She said they’d be cared for and protected there. Cam didn’t dare believe her ordeal was over.
Slowly, very slowly, Cam began to recover at the shelter. She began to trust the people who worked there and feel safe. She began to eat better, sleep better and believe that she mattered. She was able to look at herself in the mirror without feeling shame. She began to feel alive again, smile and even laugh. She was less easily frightened and walked a little straighter, a little taller. She was taught new skills that she could use to make a living and was introduced to Jesus. She had changed dramatically from the little girl that had walked out of her village with her head full of dreams and expectations.
Yes, Cam was a very different girl, but now she dared to dream again. This time, however, something told her the dreams were actually achievable.
Through projects based across Asia, Hope and Light supports and enables outreach to girls just like Cam. Our partners help them find alternative safe work and new opportunities for a more fulfilled life – to bring Hope and Light.