Sun Rae* is 13 years old and was born in Poipet, a city in northwestern Cambodia on the border with Thailand. When she was still a child, her parents separated, her father married another woman and then moved to Phnom Penh, losing contact with the family.

Sun Rae’s mother was poor, she did not own a house, nor could she afford to rent a room. Thus, following the departure of their father, Sun Rae and her mother walked the streets every day begging for alms to be able to buy something to eat. Then at night, they would look for a shelter or a public garden where they could sleep until the next day, when they would resume begging until late at night.

As if that was not enough, Sun Rae’s mother had problems with alcohol and when she drank she became nervous and sent Sun Rae to beg alone. One day, however, the local authorities found Sun Rae on the street and, after realizing that she had no food or shelter, they directed her to the Damnok Toek reception center where she was interviewed by staff and members of the Department of Social Affairs.

In the reception center, Damnok Toek’s staff found that she was malnourished and without strength. She had difficulty remembering past episodes and was afraid to speak. Sun Rae was quiet and shy with the other children in the center and kept asking to go back to her mother, but Damnok Toek’s social workers could not find her, also because the child did not know where she could be.

After staying in the center for a while, Sun Rae one day told one of the staff members about an incident that happened to her while she was alone begging. She said she was sexually harassed by a man: she was afraid of him and she was too scared to alert the authorities. The coordinator of Damnok Toek, having learned of the incident, immediately reported it to the police, but unfortunately they never managed to find the man who abused the child.

Sun Rae is fine now, and the Damnok Toek center offers her a safe place to live, three meals a day, medical treatment, health checks and education. Thanks to the lessons, we learned that Sun Rae is a good student: she can read and write, draws and enjoys various activities. She also loves singing and dancing traditional Khmer pieces (the most populous ethnic group in Cambodia).

“I would like to thank Damnok Toek who saved me and provided me with many opportunities to learn – says Sun Rae – Now I am strong and brave after living here. In the future I want to be a pop singer. My big dream is to go back to live with my mother and take care of her”.

The Damnok Toek reception center is supported by Mani Tese through the “Children safe in Cambodia” project which aims to welcome and rehabilitate children who are victims of trafficking and abuse. Find out more about the project and make a donation if you want to help the children of Cambodia too: https://www.manitese.it/en/project/children-safe-in-cambodia

*Invented name to protect the privacy of the child.

Here are some photos from the Damnok Toek reception center:

Traditional Khmer dance
A bit of gym class
Activities in the vegetable garden
Awareness-raising activities on Covid-19
Damnok Toek operators teach children how to wash their hands properly
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