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A Mother's Heart by Ratanak International

THE TUK-TUK TAKES US TURN AFTER TURN, each street narrower than the one before, until we arrive in a small alley. We go up two flights of steel stairs and enter a shared living space. Printed photos and pictures are taped to the walls. We’re with a social worker who leads us into the corner room where a young mother sits, rocking her 8-month-old child. The baby is peacefully sleeping in a hammock that hangs from the window to the other end of the tiny room. We sit there for a few minutes —me, another Ratanak staff member, the social worker, and mom—cooing and smiling over the baby.

Reaksmy* grew up in rural Cambodia, and at a young age had to stop going to school so she could help support her family. She worked as a house cleaner until her mother forced her into a marriage, perhaps because she thought it would give them another chance to escape their life of poverty. But she was beaten and suffered violent abuse, lonely in a loveless relationship.

Reaksmy ran away and returned to her family, but knew she had to find a job to survive.

She decided to move to Phnom Penh to find work, like so many other Cambodians her age. Desperate, alone, and without an education, many end up working where they are vulnerable to exploitation: garment factories, beer gardens and karaoke TV bars. Away from their families and communities, a staggering 20% of these young women are estimated to have unplanned pregnancies.

Months later, Reaksmy was alone and pregnant. Her boyfriend had left her at the same time her father passed away. “I spent days in this room, crying and unable to sleep,” she told us. She felt so alone.

That was when she heard about Mother’s Heart. “They took care of me, taught me, and gave me hope,” she said.