“I have always worked as a volunteer and evangelist. In the beginning, at Belo Horizonte, I worked with women prostitutes and our job was to value them regardless of their profession. I come from a family that is engaged in social work, I grew up in this environment and I see myself as responsible for the change.
One day I saw a documentary about the textile industry which showed how people make and exploit garments. Production took place in Cambodia and was in my head. I thought I could do more for these kids. I called my husband and told him we had to go.
At first he thought of staying for a month, but I said it was for a living. We worked on the Mariana (MG) after the dam burst, and then I thought we could work in Cambodia. That’s when we moved to the country six years ago and now live here permanently. We knew nothing and went to try to understand the culture and language a little bit.
When we got there, we were already looking for places that acted as red light zones and were called karaoke and massage parlors. The name of the brothel is forbidden here. At first we stayed in the town of Siem Reap and then we went to Sihanoukville.
‘Prostitution finances foreigners’
We started trying to do our job and we met a young man who said he wanted to work with the kids. We offer our homes and start supporting them. We realized that prostitution started a long time ago and for some children it was even more difficult. We have heard stories that some people exchange one sack of rice. We went through a situation where they wanted to sell us a baby.
This is not a Cambodian culture. It is a country that is undergoing reconstruction and still has remnants of genocide. But we understand that those who finance this prostitution bar are foreigners. He sees weakness as an opportunity. And many women are unaware that they are being raped on the street.
In the beginning it was a lot of information for us. When we move to another city, we actually start working against prostitution. We are beginning to understand the role and abuse of employers.
We stopped going to brothels and realized that helping children would break a cycle. We realized we could do it differently. When we were in Sihanoukville, some children would come to our house to learn English and eat. There, we learned some stories and saw that we needed more.
‘We created our NGO and today we have a home’
Since 2016, we have created our NGO and called it a safe place. In 2018, we opened our home in Compote. The shelter acts as a permanent place and there is no rotation.
There are currently 15 children and they came from the foundation. The most common children who came from families in risky places and vulnerable situations.
Here, they go to a bilingual private school, learn Portuguese and eat food.
Reaching the idea is helping 30 children. When we reach that number, we will open a new unit. They have to develop, go to the job market and make a living.
We try to help indirectly and whenever we get a report, we go there to verify the incident and call the local authorities. This is a very serious and very careful job.
‘Children don’t know what a hug is’
There are several stories that caught our attention, but one in particular fascinated me. We got a report from a little boy and went to investigate the case. He lived virtually alone and had only one grandfather, who was hit by a bomb and had scars on his body. But the boy was always on the street, with wounds on his back and lying in a sack of rice. We have reported and the authorities have realized that this is a risky situation.
Although he was five years old, he still did not speak, walked like a dog and wanted to sleep outside. He looked like a mogul. We were with her for a year and three months and it was a baby that identified me the most. When we took him to the doctor, the doctor said he was five years old, but probably older. However, due to the malnutrition process, he did not develop as much physically as intellectually.
These situations are very difficult to see. We need psychological care for the whole team, because it is not easy. These are the stories of children who have come from trauma, who have no love, no affection and do not know what a hug is. It’s nice to see how much these kids grow up on their own.
‘Education liberates you’
Our dream is to establish ourselves in Cambodia. I would like to open an educational institution that has a very strong foundation and welcomes children who have come from risky situations or who have never had a good education.
Many of them are in seventh grade and cannot read or write. I believe that education sets you free.
The task is difficult, today all our resources come from abroad and 70% from donors. There are several employees who know our work. Our goal in the future is to welcome more children. “
Quésede Egehr, 37, Creator of NGO Safe Place in Cambodia