On the border of Cambodia and Thailand lies a village. A village in a country that saw a genocide 40 years ago, leaving the majority of the population under 30 years old. 500 families call this village home, built on land no one wants, that was previously filled with landmines and has just recently been cleared.
There is no electricity, little clean water, and very little to eat. This is the MineField Village.
This border is one of the most human trafficked borders in the world. It is next to impossible to find decent work – often villagers have to travel to neighboring Thailand in order to work in a field for $1/ day – barely enough for a bit of rice and eggs.
I wonder what it was like for Vurn when she said goodbye to her little ones to walk across the border, willing to endure abuse, hoping she would return….but never having that certainty? She didn’t have the luxury of wondering why life was this hard or why she had to endure such suffering. She had to feed her children. She had to stay focused. She had no other option.
Poverty is the most significant cause of sex trafficking in Cambodia. Vurn didn’t know those mornings she would leave her family for months at a time to work in a different country, that she risked becoming one of the 27 million enslaved people on the earth today. Or did she? And even if she did….what choice did she have but to cross one of the most heavily trafficked borders in the world because if she didn’t, her children wouldn’t eat? No one in the world should have to make those choices.
There’s so little work, no education, and the desperation to live leads to much border-crossing. The level of poverty and struggle for dignified work perpetuates the problem of danger in trafficking. Then comes the idea of making money through slavery, cloaked as an opportunity. But there really seems to be no other option.
LandMine Design – Beautiful Things Out of Dust
This is where organizations like LandMine Design are stepping up and into the gap – to provide working opportunities for women who otherwise would be in danger of being trafficked – to provide for their families learning valuable skills not only for the workplace, but also at home, as well as receiving education, for themselves and for their children. What began as a job creation program has evolved into something so much greater, with benefits that could never have been imagined. Co-founder Karla is deeply involved in the lives of these families as she and her own family visit them every summer.
There’s 16 year old Volek, who lives with 9 family members in a 2-room hut. She’s a hard worker, doing her chores and helping around the house, then working on LandMine Design jewelry until about 1 pm, where she heads off to school. With the money she makes, Volek buys food for her family.
And Som Kim. She and her husband live in the village with their 4 children.
One of their sons was born with a rare blood disease and was able to receive life-saving surgery. She really enjoys making jewelry for LandMine and has an eye for the creative. Recently, because of the money she and her husband were able to save with her work at LandMine, they opened up a noodle shop in their home. It’s small, but it’s an amazing start!
LandMine’s creative director, Kristie, graciously answered some questions I had about LandMine Design and the difference they are making in the lives of the families in MineField Village.
How did you hear about the families living in the landmine village?
LightBridge International is a non-profit caring deeply for the orphan and the poor. It is the organization from which Landmine Design originally stems. It was five years ago that LightBridge International witnessed about 500 families living along the Thailand-Cambodia border on top of a former minefield with no resources, water, education, or opportunity for work. It was poverty most of us don’t know how to comprehend.
It was here LightBridge International became deeply involved in the community development of this village, and began caring for its residents and their basic needs. Today, there is a road, school, medical clinic, water filtration systems, and a job creation program: LandMine Design.
Why was Landmine Design started and how do you work with LightBridge?
LandMine Design was started out of raw need. The women of the village truly have no options for employment in the village, and it was not an option to witness this need and turn our heads. It was a call to action.
When asking the women in the program how LandMine Design has affected their lives, one of them said this with tears streaming down her face,
“I am so relieved. Relieved that I don’t have to work as a slave in the fields across the border. Relieved that my disabled husband doesn’t have to work to provide for our family. Everything has changed. I am earning an income and receiving an education to care for my family.” (more on the LandMine blog)
Seeing the need for sustainable jobs within this village brought many questions of what that could look like, or what could be done. In thinking through available resources and realistic development of necessary skills, LandMine Design landed on paper beads – where paper has been turned into profound purpose. What begins as a sheet of paper turns into many beautiful, handmade beads ultimately turning into a modern piece of jewelry for a U.S. marketplace.
It took much trial and error and intensive training to make it to where we stand today, and for that reason, we’re very proud of our products.
What is the goal and impact of LandMine Design on the women working and their families?
LandMine Design creates high quality products for a modern marketplace, however, there is far more to our program than simply producing jewelry for you (even though that’s the fun part).
LandMine Design is a job creation program affording the women employment, education in health and hygiene and financial management, training in using and maintaining a clean water filtration system, and Christian discipleship. The hope and goal is that our women may come to deeply know Christ, to be educated, financially responsible, and within 4-5 years graduate from our program sustaining themselves and their families.
Dreams are coming true.
While LandMine Design is a baby of a company, the growth of our women has been nothing short of a miracle. They walk with confidence, they have the freedom to work from home and care for their children, they’re coming to know the Lord, they’re saving money, and some have even started their own businesses! It is our hope this is just the beginning.
How would you encourage others who see a need and want to make a difference in the lives of others, but aren’t sure where to start, or are afraid to take the steps necessary?
Someone once told me you have to start right where you are with whatever you have and I can’t back that statement up enough.
While the forest of a vision seems vast and impossible, when you begin focusing on the trees (the small tasks, the baby steps) it suddenly moulds and builds.
And you must ask yourself the why – why are you chasing something? You must find that place of authenticity, and do your best never to stray from that place. When your vision is heartfelt, authentic, and powerful you’ll naturally possess the patience, discipline, and hard work that must be invested to visibly and powerfully impact human lives. When others sense authenticity it’s contagious, and when there is a contagion there is assistance in propelling the vision – and we all like a bit of assistance in chasing our dreams.
You can take part in the amazing work LandMine Design is doing! The women in the MineField Village make stunning jewelry, and when you purchase these items, you are helping continue to break the cycle of poverty and human trafficking in Cambodia.
As well, LandMine Design is partnering with LightBridge International, International Justice Mission, the A21 Campaign and many other organizations in the #enditmovement to shed light on the state of human trafficking across the globe. They want you to know just how bad it is. And they want you to know just what you can do about it.
Check out LandMine Design’s End It page for how human trafficking is affecting many people and learn how prevention is the cure for the end of the sex trade.
Go to EndItMovement.org – a coalition of the leading organizations in the world in the fight for freedom. Learn about what these organizations are doing right now, on the ground, to stop human trafficking and what you can do. Stop turning away – yes, it’s hard to see and hear, but we are in such a position of privilege and opportunity in North America that there is so much that we can do to help – either by giving of our time and resources, or simply by being a voice for those who have no voice.
Refuse to sit on the sidelines. Jump in the fray and stand up for the 27 million!
On February 27th, join with thousands as we Shine a Light on Slavery – wear a red X on your hand and share what you’ve learned and how to get involved. #enditmovement