Desperation is a specter that lurks in the slums of Poipet and haunts the poor who live there. The population of this once small border town has swelled exponentially because of the influx of poor families hoping to find work. These newcomers cannot afford land and therefore live in squatter communities out of sight of the main roads. Using found items and materials that they have been able to purchase, they have constructed their tiny hovels on stilts to keep them above rising flood waters during the rainy season. Every day, thousands of these poor individuals cross the border into Thailand to work as day-laborers, leaving behind their children. This morning I watched the masses leave Poipet on their exodus to Thailand like tide waters returning to the sea. And this evening I watched them walk back across the border, some as if on a death march.
Many of these workers suffer all kinds of abuses in their efforts to support their families. Today I saw two Thai government trucks transport dozens of these poor Cambodians back to Poipet. My friend Steve Hyde explained that unscrupulous employers will hire dozens of these Cambodian squatters to work at construction sites or other enterprises and then anonymously call the immigration police before they have to pay them. The authorities haul them back across the border and then these heartless employers repeat the process, essentially getting free laborers. As if that were not enough to contend with, the children that these workers leave behind have no opportunities to go to school. They wander the muddy streets of their slum neighborhoods and are easy prey to those who traffic in humans. Places like Poipet are a showcase of injustice.
The injustices that people in places like Poipet suffer are driven by world views that have little or no regard for the sanctity of human life. The poor who live here have a tough time trying to claw their way out of the hole they are in because the walls have been greased by the greed of those who care only about their own welfare and do not believe in paying fair wages for an honest days work. And so, the poor in Poipet live lives of quiet desperation. Life here is hard, but it’s the only life they know. And because they are resilient, they have learned to survive from day-to-day. Some have set up their own little businesses in the slums and have managed to hire others — as in the case of a woman we met today who has several sewing machines and hires women to sew an assortment of fanny-packs and messenger bags to sell in the markets. Others make a living by selling meats and vegetables and other goods to those who live in the slums.
My friend Steve is investing his life here to make a difference, especially in the lives of children. Beyond his Imparting Smiles orphanage, Steve is working with the poor to give them a hand-up and to help them find ways to support their families. And, for those children whose parents cross the border in search of work and never return, Steve is always on the look-out to rescue those kids and give them a home. Our missions ministry is also working with Steve on other enterprises to protect children and to give hope to those who live desperate lives in the slums of Poipet. What Steve is doing here may seem like just a small drop in the ocean but, as Mother Teresa once said, “the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” It’s easy for us to look at great need and do nothing, especially when what we do appears so small. But if each of us will do one small thing, then all of those drops put together can become an ocean of blessing and turn the tide for those who live lives of quiet desperation. I am determined to add my drop to the ocean.