Cuba: My Vicarious Nostalgia

I was born in 1978 in Miami, FL, exactly 18 years and 11 months after Fidel Castro’s revolución in Cuba.  My father, a political prisoner and member of the contra-revolucionario movement (the MRR), evaded his trial (most probably a firing squad) because Costa Rica granted him a visa.  He was 17 and that was 1961.  My grandfather, who was a sergeant during Batista’s regime and had retired by the time Fidel assumed power, also joined the movement after Castro took all of our family’s possessions.  That was the revolution, and that is my family’s history.

My father met my mother during a business trip in Colombia and shortly after they wed and had me.  I grew up between Barranquilla and Miami, “la otra provincia de Cuba.”  Papi and Abuelo Juan were very proud Cubans who made sure to keep their culture, traditions and history very much alive within me.  Papi would teach me Jose Martí poems, Cuba’s most famous poet, philosopher, and teacher, and proudly prompt me to recite them in front of my abuelo.  They taught me Cuba’s history and politics, how to smoke puros (they were tabaco farmers in Pinar del Río), play dominó and burro, and of course made food, traditions, and music an integral part of my life (I actually know the Cuban national anthem).

For over three decades, Cuba was this forbidden, magical, yet tragic place I deeply longed to see but wouldn’t dare to visit.  I was morally shackled to my family’s honor and couldn’t disrespect them by leaving our hard earned dollars in the hands of the Castros.  Years passed, my grandfather passed, my father’s health deteriorated and the situation in Cuba remained the same.  And so the day came when my father accepted the reality that he would never return and finally, finally gave me his blessing, “Loren, yo entiendo que quieres ver a tú ‘patría’…ves baby, porque yo me voy a morir sin poder regresar.”  And that, was all I needed to hear!

December 31, 2015 would mark my 40th country and most memorable trip.  I flew direct from Miami to La Habana and in 30 minutes was transported to another world frozen in time!  Before booking my trip, I vouched to stay only in casas particulares in order to be closer to the people and help them financially.  If I was going to Cuba I was going to live, eat and struggle like they do, a lo Cubano.  I wanted to experience their reality no matter how difficult it would be.

4 days in La Habana, 2 in Pinar del Río, 2 in Varadero and 2 in Cienfuegos.  Every moment in Cuba felt like home. I was living in this sort of vicarious nostalgia.  La Habana was incredible and insanely gorgeous, the most run down of neighborhoods were picturesque; so much beauty in those very traces of beauty.  However, life in La Habana is a hustle; resources are scarce and everyone is trying to make do with what they have.  One morning it took me over an hour to find breakfast and it was here where I learned a valuable lesson of resolver y conseguir.  Pinar del Río was hands down my favorite!  The guajiros welcomed me like one of their own.  The highlight of my trip was my visit to Consolación del Sur, the city where my paternal family is from.  I was able to find our family friends, Las Jimaguas Cabrera, who burst into tears when they realized who I was.  One of them, Teresa, lived in my family’s house for 43 years after they left.  She took me to “our” house and I was cathartic! I cried in disbelief, my two feet were actually planted on my family’s soil…right there right then.  Before leaving, el viejito Juan said, “esperar es tiempo…nosotros no esperamos, tenemos esperanza” and then he cried.  I sobbed uninterrupted the 45 km from Consolación to Viñales.

Varadero was beautiful but unfortunately had torrential rains and mostly cloudy. Cienfuegos and the famous El Nicho, pristine waterfalls in the middle of the mountains, were amazing!  I partied with some locals there, the WiFi card dealer, who had made two attempts to leave in a balsa, his wife and the vianda vendor who had done 8 years of hard time for robbing a tourist.  He said he did it out of la necesidad.  The WiFi dealer’s wife, said my father’s mother had brought me here and that she loved white flowers.  I cried.  Indeed, Abuela Clota loved gardenias and my Abuelo had even planted a tree for her in their house in Miami.  Although, Abuela Clota died when I was 2, they say the night she died I woke up screaming her name.  Abuela Clota, gracias por acompañarme en Cubados gardenias para tí!



Open letter to Cubans & Cuban-Americans

Open letter to Cubans & Cuban-Americans with love and respect,
I’m the granddaughter of Sargent Juan Medina from Consolación del Sur, Cuba who served under Batista and retired when Castro assumed power. He later joined the MR-15, the contra-revolutionary movement against Castro, when they took our family’s properties. My abuelo was very well-respected, some say even feared, and high in the ranks of the movement. I’m the daughter of Jorge Medina, who fearlessly joined the MR-15 at the young age of 15. Both were imprisoned for fighting for freedom and at 17 when the regime sought after my father to send him to a firing squad, he fled. With that being said…
If you left in the 60s or you’re a Cuban-American who has never stepped foot on the island, then maybe you should re-consider your position on Obama’s visit & his attempt to restore a relationship with Cuba. Yes, Cuba oppresses its people, yes they violate human rights, yes there is no freedom of speech. Similarly, China, another communist country, oppresses their people and US Americans have been doing business with China for decades. There are approximately 62 MILLION Chinese girls missing due to their 1-child policy law who are literally left on the doorsteps of orphanages or even on the street but who cares right because we are not Chinese? Well, I care and so should you! So, if you’re an advocate of human rights then be fair and be an advocate across the board, go ahead and throw all your electronics and half the clothes in your closet in the dumpster and moving forward only purchase fair-trade items made by people who are truly FREE! Bienvenidos to capitalism my friends, a not-so-perfect system where divide and conquer is our foreign policy and a land where most of us pledge allegiance not to “god” but to Benjamin Franklin, a country whose national anthem should be changed to Wu-Tang’s “C.R.E.A.M.”
Perhaps, Obama is having a dialogue that could potentially give people an opportunity to rise above, not just financially but maybe even with a revolution. Indeed, with or without the embargo the Castros will continue to benefit financially BUT without the embargo the people will have a chance to rise above and have access to technology. Fax machines changed the course of history in Germany and Twitter did that for Egypt. There is hope for Cuba.
I agree with Presidente Obama, let’s leave the past in the past. Us Cubans should pat ourselves in the back for all we have accomplished. Miami is proof of that. The past was unfortunate…don’t forget but let it go and let’s think about how we can help the Cuban people rise above!
And before you give your opinion about a place that you haven’t been to or lived in for 50 years, I encourage you to go to Cuba yourself and have an open dialogue with a lot of people who are surviving due to tourism for one. This is not black or white, it’s grey and all 50 shades of it.
Don’t think for a second that the situation in Cuba doesn’t break my heart because I was there 9 days and cried every single day…but fair is fair, so if you’re going to stand for freedom then let’s be a voice for ALL who don’t have it.
Loren Medina

“HOld That Thought”

It wasn’t until I met 107 girls as young as 6 years of age who had been victims of sex trafficking in Cambodia and teenage girls who were conned into prostitution in the Philippines, that I started to empathize with women “in the life”, strippers, prostitutes, and those pigeonholed as “hoes.” During the 10 days I volunteered at the three shelters, I got to spend time with these beautiful girls, ALL who had been victims of rape, who were incredibly loving and resilient. I also witnessed how hard life is for people in general in an impoverished country such as the Philippines where for grown women, prostitution is a viable option to stay afloat economically given the high demand for it. And it was on that 33-day journey through southeast Asia in 2014 that my entire perspective about “hoes” changed, an experience that would mark me for life.

Most of my adolescent life I, along with almost everyone I grew up with that went to Catholic school, was quick to point the finger at the other girls deemed as “hoes” who were sleeping around with boys they weren’t in relationships with or lost their virginity in middle school. We made fun of “hoes” and frowned upon them. The guys who seriously dated “hoes” were considered weak and dumb because it was common knowledge that “you can’t turn a hoe into a housewife.” Looking back, I feel ashamed that I perpetuated the mistreatment of girls who were most probably victims of child molestation or rape, didn’t have great role models, were neglected, or whose low self-esteem led them to make decisions that lost them the respect of their peers.

Coming from a place of compassion towards myself, I now understand that I can’t blame myself entirely for having grown up feeling this way about “hoes.”  In part, my Catholic school girl guilt got the best of me, it only took 30 years to shake it off and not believe I was a horrible human being for having pre-marital sex and sex with more than one person. Beyond my personal experience, this ignorant widespread belief about women who sleep around being “hoes” has very very deep roots.  Since the beginning of “man”kind the double standard rule, which overtly rewards men and punishes women for having multiple sex partners, has been at the forefront of societal values.  In fact, it is still very much alive and well today despite what the feminist movement accomplished in America in the 60s and 70s. It still stands in most corners of the globe that women who sleep around, strip, or prostitute themselves are worthless “hoes” and deplorable human beings. At the end of the day, does it matter how many sexual partners a woman has had? Does that really define a woman’s character? What about the women who have had no prior sexual trauma and feel liberated acting like their male counterparts and sleeping with who they choose whenever they want? Personally, I know women that have this attitude about sex who are exceptional, educated, and kind-hearted human beings. How sad is it that we as humans have forgotten how to empathize? How sad is it that we are quick to throw a stone at someone that causes no harm to others?

There’s a popular proverb that says, “you can’t really understand another person’s experience until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” And so I’m asking you to walk with me…walk with me through the life of a 14-year-old-girl who endured close to two years of being sex trafficked and raped by hundreds of grown men. Since October of 2015, I’ve been mentoring a 16-year-old girl who was previously trafficked by a pimp who recruited her through Facebook. The pimp, who was a 23-year-old gangbanger, told my mentee, who was 14 at the time, that he was 16. He courted her; she fell in love with him; he bought her all the things she never had, took her to places she had never been. Then one day, he told her the money had ran out and that she needed to help him make money. Initially when he proposed that she sell her body she refuted the idea but he took advantage of her love for him and manipulated her into doing this one favor for him, after all, he had done so much for her. Confusion and the fear of losing him set in. Reluctantly she agreed, marking the onset of what would be the worst moments of her adolescent life.

Her first day, she made her pimp $900. She came home that day and cried in the shower for hours as she scrubbed her body almost to the point of making her skin bleed. Little did she know this was not a one-time ordeal. He asked her to do it again and at first, out of the fear of losing him, she agreed. Her pimp sold her during the day when she was supposed to be in school; he sold her on Craigslist, Backpages, on Sunset and Hollywood Blvd, in Vegas, and out of different houses (brothels) all over Los Angeles. When she finally resisted, he kidnapped her for four months instilling fear in her and destroying her family. She was devastated, broken and alone in a world she could not escape. Her mother couldn’t find her anywhere because her pimp moved from house to house so she never knew exactly where she was nor did she have access to a phone. One day it was downtown and the next day it was the valley. Ironically, the best thing that ever happened to her was that she got arrested one night while she was on “the track” and taken to jail.  Shortly after, and thankfully, her pimp got arrested for doing a home invasion and currently, mind you, he’s still in jail for the home invasion but not for statutory rape, kidnapping, and prostituting a minor. And it was those two events, which occurred back to back, that eventually catapulted her on the “right track.”

My mentee is back in school and excelling with perfect attendance. She completed a court program called “Ending the Game”, is in a mentorship program with me and soon will be joining a job academy program to help her get ready to obtain a job. I see her twice a month and do a series of activities to empower her and take her to do things she’s never done before, both fun or outside her comfort zone. She recently got an ID card because she had never had one and we are working on getting her to pass her Driver’s Ed course so I can teach her how to drive. Step by step and through time it is my hope that I will be an integral part of her restoration. But unfortunately, there are a lot of things beyond my reach. And so I ask that you keep walking in her shoes…

I think about her going forward and how much shame she must feel at the very thought of being in a relationship with a young man in the future and having to tell him she got pimped for two years. Imagine how difficult it would be for her to confess to a potential love interest that she was forced to sleep, or better yet, raped by hundreds of men. Or would a better option be never telling him what happened to her, keeping that very dark past hidden? What about all the post-traumatic stress that comes with being raped, especially that many times? And all the psychological issues she has which she is not being treated for at the moment? I’m no psychologist but with a B.A. in Psychology and two decades of street smarts, I can already see some of these issues manifesting. Sit with this for a moment…because this is the case of about 100-300,000 children in the U.S.

Please continue to walk with them…

  • 1 in 5 girls is a victim of child sexual abuse
  • Self-report studies show that 20% of adult females recall a childhood sexual assault or sexual abuse incident
  • Children are most vulnerable to sexual abuse between the ages of 7 and 13.
  • Many women who become prostitutes have been victims of childhood sexual abuse. To cope with the trauma of sexual abuse and the stress of prostitution, many turn to drugs and alcohol, which further complicates their problems.
  • Sexual abuse can cause the following: sexual anxiety and disorders, including having too many or unsafe sexual partners, difficulty setting safe limits with others and relationship problems, poor body image and low self-esteem, and/or unhealthy behaviors, such as alcohol, drugs, self-harm, or eating problems. These behaviors are often used to try to hide painful emotions related to the abuse.

Molestation or rape at a young age can lead a girl to make some pretty bad decisions in their adult life. Because there is so much shame and sometimes even threats to keep quiet when sexually abused, in many cases the victims do not receive adequate treatment when it actually happens. Instead, these issues start revealing themselves during adolescence and adulthood. Young women who choose to strip and prostitute themselves have a story…and most of the time it’s a story rooted in abuse, rape, neglect, low self-esteem, drugs, and/or violence. So before you call another woman a “ho”, HOld that thought, and imagine why she may possibly be acting that way and know that there’s a possibility she was a victim at some point in her life of some pretty horrible circumstances.

So I ask that you please don’t stop walking in her shoes until you reach that mile…


Travel With Purpose – Finding Hope in Battambang (Cambodia)


She was f-o-u-r. 4 years young. At the end of the infant spectrum, a toddler transitioning into a child who probably barely fit into a size 3T. She was four. 4 years young.

At 4 years of life, a child is still developing their personality and temperament. At four, a child is discovering the world around them, displaying behaviors that mimic those of their parents or caregivers, a time when family genes and traits surface, a stage where love is reciprocated verbally especially from child to parent. Think for a moment about your 4 year old daughter, niece, or grandchild…how tiny they are, how soft their hair and skin is, how cute they are when they laugh, how fun it is to see their personality unravel, and how eager they are to learn about the world. Four is supposed to be a fun age for parenting. An age that marks the beginning of autonomy, learning, dialogue, and expression. Four….four was the age of the youngest girl brought to the shelter at Battambang. She was four when she got sexually assaulted. Four. Four years young.

My stomach turned sitting on the back of the motorbike as we drove in the dark on an unpaved and bumpy road heading towards my hotel. I was in so much shock that still I haven’t been able to digest it or even wrap my head around it. The director of the shelter elaborated that her case is so severe she can never go back to her family. She was four when she arrived in Battambang.

The director picked me up at my hotel around 4pm on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, two days before Christmas. When she knocked on my door, I hugged her right away. We had been communicating via email for months so I already felt like I knew her. A tall thin blonde with crystal clear blue eyes from Iowa with beautiful energy. We packed up all the gifts for the staff and headed to the shelter. Along the way we chatted a bit. She told me her parents had moved to Battambang and had done a lot of work for the shelter. I shared my experience with her about Siem Reap and spoke to her about my goals with Travel With Purpose. Then we arrived at the main shelter, a beautiful and enormous compound that can accommodate up to 120 girls with a garden to grow their own fruits and vegetables, a playground, a study and computer room and a shop with over a dozen sewing machines so the girls can learn to sow as a vocational skill. In addition, they recently had acquired another house down the road for the girls with special needs. She gave me an extensive overview of what the organization does for the girls from housing to counseling to education to helping them and their families seek justice to vocational training in order to successfully integrate them back into society. It really is a happy place and it reflects on the girls’ attitudes, especially in their smiles.

When we walked in, a group of young ones ran towards us hollering the director’s name and without an introduction, three of them jumped on me and started hugging me. The littlest one, which I’m guessing was about 5, climbed on me as if I was a tree (I am taller than the average person in this part of the world so perhaps I reminded her of the giraffe she always wanted to climb). Then we walked over to the house down the street that accommodates the special needs girls. My first interaction was with a witty and eloquent girl who was legally blind. She has partial vision in one eye and a glass eye in the other, the org had paid for her surgery. Her English was nearly perfect and jokingly she told me her name was “Pineapple” and I, being fluent in banter, introduced myself as “Dragon Fruit”. She laughed. The banter went back and forth for a bit about our monikers…I am “Bird”, “Milk Fruit”, “Crocodile”, “Linda” and so forth. She told me she was the president of the Kids Club, a prevention program that strives to create awareness amongst young kids about sexual trafficking and rape. She had also mentioned she wanted to become a teacher. Sadly, the director later told me that “Pineapple” possesses real leadership skills but because she is partially blind she is marginalized by the society there, so the chances of her realizing her dream of being a teacher is not likely. Another girl who was fully blind was also introduced to me. She hugged me and felt my hands and wrists and in Khmer told the house mother to tell me that she could make the bracelets I was wearing. Lovely she was.

Just like the shelter in Siem Reap, the love that flows through this magical place is unbelievable. After the tour, I played Cambodian “hacky sac” with a few of the girls who eagerly invited me to join them. Then, a sudden impromptu photo shoot happened in which I became the photographer, taking about 57 pictures of the girls in their best model poses and 87 selfies with special requests to take individual pics with just me and one of them. It was hilarious watching the girls push each other out of the way when one or two tried to photobomb our pic. It was absolutely adorable! Unfortunately, I had to delete all the pics due to the confidentiality agreement I signed and primarily for the girls’ safety. Oh how I wish I can show you what the face of an angel looks like!

The next day we had an early start. The director picked me up at 7:15am on her motorbike and we headed to the shelter for the morning devotion with the staff. During the devotion we were asked to share what the greatest gift we had ever received was. I told the director I had been given the gift of being able to travel the world and that Honda 70 ATC my dad bought me when I was 5 that I was obsessed with and cried for two weeks when it was stolen. Then I paused…and with tears in my eyes told her that as cliché as it may sound, meeting the girls has been the greatest gift I have received. She smiled, she smiled because she felt the same way…she empathized what I was feeling…because she was lucky enough to be showered with the girls’ love every single day. After they discussed the bible, sang, and said their prayers, the director introduced me to the group. I was asked to say a few words to them. I told them that they were beautiful people for the work they did, that because of them the girls will have a better life, and that lots of people in America are supportive of this cause and really care about what’s happening. I also told them that the gifts I brought them were a small token of appreciation for their labor of love. They all clapped and smiled incessantly. One of the staff members, a man with a gentle face who spoke English fluently, said he wanted to say some words to me on behalf of the staff. He expressed his gratitude for all I had done, how happy they were that I came all the way from America to visit them and that they wished me health and happiness and wanted to bestow their blessings upon me. My cheeks were frozen because I couldn’t stop smiling. In that very moment I was enveloped in their love…I felt like I belonged there, despite the fact I look nothing like them, despite that my skin is white and that I don’t speak Khmer and that I have everything they might ever dream of having. But I was welcomed…I was addressed as “sister”…I was important to them…they loved me no matter who I was or what mistakes I’ve made or whether I was a Christian or not. It was so humbling, I wanted to stay in this moment forever.

Right after the closing prayers, we brought the gifts out of the storage room and I handed out the gifts to each of the staff. They all said “thank you” in English and I replied “Ah Kun” (thank you in Khmer) and with my hands in prayer formation bowed my head. They took turns hugging me, complimenting me, taking pictures with me, and three of the women said “I Love You Sister”. I was so moved, so deeply humbled. Later on, the director mentioned to me that the staff hardly ever gets presents. Usually when people come to volunteer, they only bring stuff for the girls; hence, the reason they were so overjoyed. I’m so glad the director asked me to get them gifts as well because these men and women sacrifice so much of their lives for these girls. Each and every one of them is a selfless and humble human being who cares deeply about the hundreds of girls who haven been broken and marginalized, seen as damaged goods, dirty and useless by the rest of society. They are the real heroes, not me.

I retuned to the hotel around 9am. Walked over to the café across the street and checked in with the fam back home. I called my mother first, being that my maternal instincts had been brought to life. I needed my mother…I needed her to tell me everything was going to be okay, just like I told my “daughter” at the Siem Reap shelter. Mami expressed her sentiments about my previous blog, said she read it twice and couldn’t stop crying. I re-lived the entire experience with her over the phone, sobbing in front of a handful of tourists having breakfast, only pausing to sip my lukewarm French pressed coffee. (I’m sure everyone around me loved having breakfast watching me cry and attempting to stop my snot river). I expressed to my mom my desire to continue to do this and to adopt a girl. She was so supportive and really understood how this experience had profoundly changed me. Then I FaceTimed with my dad. I needed a laugh so I had to see his face. We exchanged some banter and he kept telling me how ugly my glasses are and that I’ve been gone for so long I’m starting to look like a “China” (a Chinese woman). I laughed so hard and at this point the customers of the café were for sure trying to decide whether I was Bipolar, delusional or simply bat shit crazy. I asked him if he read my Siem Reap blog and he said he couldn’t talk about “esas cosas asquerosas” (those atrocious things) and that if my grandfather, who was a sergeant in Cuba, was still alive he would have hung them all. I laughed because I know that this was his Cuban redneck’s way of showing me that he cares about what’s happening here. I paid the bill, looking like I just stepped out of a psych ward, and returned to my room to spend the next 3.5 hours putting together the gifts for the girls.

One of the staff came to get me around 2pm. We went to go buy the bicycles for the girls. At the shop I realized I had about $200 USD extra so I was able to get them 2 more bicycles, 7 in total. We waited for a while at the shop as they polished, cleaned, and installed new pedals and baskets on the second hand bikes made in Japan. We dropped off the bikes and headed to the Kids Club Christmas party. “Pineapple”, the proud president of the club, was happy that I came to check out the event she worked hard at putting together. We walked around side by side embraced in a hug exchanging our usual banter. Some of the volunteers were passing out soda, curry soup and bread. I asked her if she wanted to eat and she said no because it was only right she ate when the staff ate. So cute. I sensed her thirst and hunger and told her “I” was cool with her not eating right away but that she had to at least have soda. She laughed and reluctantly drank the soda I handed to her.

After the Kids Club party we headed back to the shelter. As the girls did arts and crafts, I splurged in the sewing department’s shop where I bought a ton of beautiful gifts that were hand made by the girls…lap top covers, aprons, scarfs, headbands, ties, purses, wallets, etc. Some of the girls learn sewing as a vocational skill and they get to keep the proceeds of whatever they sell. I swear I wanted to buy the entire shop! And due to my shopping spree I would now have to buy a small suitcase. Great…because I already look like Erykah Badu’s backpacker version of “Bag Lady” carrying around 2 backpacks (one large, one small) and a large hand bag filled to the top with “stuff”. Smh.

During arts and crafts two of the girls made ornaments and gave them to me. It’s so incredible that they’re so giving. I smiled, thanked, and hugged them. Then it was time for the gift giving ceremony to commence. One of their peer leaders, a strikingly beautiful long haired 16 year-old who looks more Vietnamese than Cambodian and fluent in English, lined them up into groups. Timidly one by one, a total of 70, came up to me to receive their presents. They bowed with their hands in prayer formation and said thank you and then sat back down in their assigned rows. Once they opened their gifts the excitement ran rampant and most of them came back to me to hug me, climb on me, to say thank you or “I Love You”. It was so beautiful, so so very beautiful.

Some of the girls stayed and hung around me for a bit, some just kept hugging me. One in particular stole my heart, again. It was the 16 year-old peer leader. She was eager to converse with me and share her lifelong goals. She wants to be a teacher and continue working as a peer leader. I expressed to her that she possesses real leadership qualities and that she would make an excellent teacher one day. She wanted reassurance from me that God has great plans for her and I validated her belief. She hugged me, very tightly. She said God had sent me here and that she was so grateful for what I had done for the girls. Then she asked me for a pen, I said I didn’t have one but in the pencil case inside her gift bag there was one. She immediately grabbed it, took out the pen and started scrambling to find paper. She ripped a page from the notebook inside her gift bag and told me to wait, that she needed to write me a letter. I smiled, doing my best to prevent the Mekong from overflowing out of my tear ducts. After she handed me the letter, I asked her if she wanted me to read it then or later…she said later and boy was I glad because I already knew what that would do to me. I asked her to do one thing for me before I left, I asked her to write the word “LOVE” in Khmer on a piece of paper. She did, and taught me how to pronounce it, “Sro Lan”. I thanked her and right away I knew I would be tattooing that on me the minute I returned home. We hugged, tightly….for a long while and again I told her how beautiful she was and what a great life she was going to have and what an amazing teacher she would be. I told her I loved her and kissed her head and she said…”I love you too sister…please come back, please don’t forget us.” I nearly died.

I took the director to dinner that night, it was Christmas Eve. We got to know each other a bit more. We talked about how else we can work together in the future. I told her about my plans for Haiti and showed her my blog on Siem Reap which she felt was very powerful. I expressed to her how grateful I was that she let me in their beautiful world and the impact it had had on me. Then we said our goodbyes and I stayed near the restaurant to explore the area and have that much needed glass of wine or two. Later that evening while packing, I decided to be brave and read the peer leader’s letter. “Dear sister, I would like to say thank you so much for your spending your time with me and with our girls. I’m so glad that I met you sister. I will do remember you and pray for you all the time. I love you so much. I wish you have good health and more beautiful and beautiful. I hope that one day you come back to Cambodia again. May God bless you! Love your sister.” I lost it…and after hyperventilating fell into a deep slumber.

Over the last 10 years a lot of progress has been made in Cambodia regarding the sexual trafficking situation. Tons of non-profits have been working relentlessly in order to create a real change. They’ve done so by partnering up with local police in order to teach them how to deal with cases properly, working with the government in order to seek justice for the victims, creating prevention programs for children, and more importantly, spreading awareness amongst the community about this issue. Regardless of the progress, there is no spiritual or cultural justification as to why this happens to children, especially a four year old. I will never believe that Christianity’s God allows this to happen to a child in order to learn a valuable life lesson, nor will accept Buddhism’s karmic policy that the reason such atrocities occur is because of a past life situation. The ONLY consolation I have found is that these horrific and traumatic things that occur to young girls in Cambodia can possibly land them in a little piece of heaven such as the shelters I worked with. And although they may have been usurped from their families and villages due to such horrible events leaving everything that is familiar to them, there’s a chance that they may end up in a place where they are showered with love, are able to pick up the broken pieces, healed, educated, and integrated into society with a real chance to succeed in a country where the majority of people live below the poverty level, are uneducated and will never have a real chance of moving forward in life. Battambang gave me hope. And I will never forget them.