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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Hardship leads to harder choices in Cambodia

Huot (second from right) with her youngest son (right), her two daughters (immediate left and center), and two nieces (left) who came to help prepare the family garden. Missing: Huot’s husband and 2 sons.

For more than 20 years, HOPE International Development Agency has been working with families in Cambodia, enabling them to lift themselves out of poverty and become self-reliant.

In a previous post, “A Field of Possibilities”, we shared the story of Nara and Chek and their journey to freedom from poverty.

Today, we bring you Huot’s story as we continue a series focused on how poverty impacts families around the world.

Huot’s story demonstrates how poverty defines people’s choices, and that no choice, small or big, is ever easy when you are trapped in poverty.

Looking at the recent photo of Huot and her family (shown above) you would never know that poverty had once nearly tore them apart.

Today, thanks to friends of HOPE International Development Agency, Huot, her husband, and their five children are thriving. They have a well that provides them with clean water every day, and a lush vegetable garden that supplies them with nutrient-rich food to eat. They also earn additional income by selling surplus vegetables from their garden at the local market.

Yet just a year ago, life was completely different for Huot and her family. Poverty had them in its grasp.

Huot’s family. Due to a family debt, their eldest son (far left) worked for another family as a domestic helper.

Shortly before this photo was taken, Huot’s husband had fallen gravely ill. As a result, the family was forced to take out a loan to pay for his medical treatment.

At the time, Huot’s husband was supporting the entire family on his meagre wages as a day labourer. The income he earned was simply not enough to cover the debt, but nonetheless, the debt had to be paid.

Huot and her husband were left with a choice no parent would ever want to face.

As the eldest child, Huot’s son (shown on the far left in the above photo) would have to leave home to live with another family in another community, as a domestic helper to repay the family debt. In doing so, he was unable to attend school or see his family or friends. Huot’s family tried visiting her son when they could, but they were only allowed to see him sporadically and the trip was costly and difficult for everyone.

Thankfully, because of the support Huot and her family received from friends of HOPE International Development Agency, they no longer live in this devastating situation. Huot’s son has since returned home and the family has successfully paid off all of its debt.

Sadly, the situation Huot and her family found themselves in is not only heartbreaking, but far too common in the developing world. Families living in poverty are often torn apart.

When deeply impoverished families like Huot’s are faced with crisis – whether it be health-related like a sudden illness, accident, or death or environmental like a natural disaster, fire, or crop failure – choices are limited and painful. The savings or credit needed for families to manage unexpected events or emergencies simply do not exist because of the depths of poverty they face.

Situations of utter desperation, like the one Huot and her family faced, force many families into extortionate financial arrangements that leave them with insurmountable debt and unthinkable choices.

With the gift of clean water and agricultural training, Huot and her family received, they are now much healthier and happier. Huot’s son and his siblings are able to regularly attend school with their friends and are eager to learn so that they have a chance at a better future.

Most importantly, Huot’s family is self-sufficient and able to save some of the income they earn through their gardening activities so that they are better prepared should they ever be faced with another family emergency.