By Katrina Gliddon, ACCI Field Worker and founder of Mother’s Heart
When Mother's Heart started in 2010 it was the first crisis pregnancy service in the whole of Cambodia. In 2017, it remains the only service of its kind.
Before starting Mother’s Heart, we spent a year researching the situation in Cambodia and found:
- 21% of maternal deaths were from abortion-related injuries;
- there were no social services for girls and women who faced an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, and no reproductive education;
- gender disparity in Cambodian society meant the blame and responsibility for pregnancy was often placed solely on women, even if it was the result of rape, incest or trafficking; and
- women who faced crisis pregnancies often saw abortion or abandonment of their babies as their only options.
We know that pregnancy among teenagers is also increasing. This year, in its “End of Childhood Report”, Save the Children reported that pregnancy among teenagers in Cambodia had increased to 52 births for every 1,000 girls; with the majority of teenage pregnancies occurring in rural areas. In fact, just over the last year, we’ve worked with 20 pregnant women who are teenagers – which was nearly 50 percent of our total clients.
I believe God really gave us a unique opportunity to work within the systems of Cambodia to reach out with His love to these precious girls, women, babies and their families. Without Mother’s Heart, these girls and women would be overlooked, shamed and ostracised by society. With the help of Mothers Heart, they are given access to counselling, free medical care, housing, food, vocational training, job placement, childcare, education, and support to reconcile or reintegrate with their families and communities.
As well as meeting their material needs, our work gives us the opportunity to show our clients that they are valued, loved, respected and that they have a hope and a future. Many have never heard or experienced this. Many of our clients are underage and have been trafficked, raped or sexually exploited; some have disabilities or suffer from trauma, addictions or HIV/AIDS. Others have been orphaned, abandoned, abused or are suicidal.
Our work also gives women and girls choices when they are facing an unplanned pregnancy; something that was simply not there before. And as the story below illustrates, when all of these things work together, it can change everything …
Srey Kuaj’s story
Srey Kuaj was convinced suicide was the only option.
She was five months pregnant and her brother – who had raised her since their parents died of AIDS – was furious. She had tried to hang herself twice but her brother had intervened in time.
Srey Kuaj would have aborted if she could but at five months, it is illegal. Her brother wanted her to give the baby to another family once she delivered; Srey Kuaj was a minor, and not very mature, and there was no one to help her raise her child. She knew that her brother was right but she wanted to keep her baby.
Full of shame for herself, the loss of face for her family and knowing she couldn’t even keep the baby, Srey Kuaj could only think of death.
It is extraordinary how the most tenuous connections can avert a crisis. A moto taxi driver on the street heard outreach workers from another NGO speak of the suicidal girl, who they were unable to help. He immediately referred them to Mother’s Heart and Srey Kuah soon came to be one of our clients.
Mother’s Heart arranged for Srey Kuaj to stay in a shelter for minors and to receive counselling. She was also placed under observation in case she tried to commit suicide again.
When she delivered, Srey Kuaj fell in love with her baby and her brother soon felt the same way. They simply could not picture giving the baby away.
Soon after giving birth, Srey Kuaj decided to return to her home province to live with her older brother and reintegrate into her community. Mother’s Heart continued food and counselling support for her there.
It was on the second last visit by Mother’s Heart staff that Srey Kuaj revealed the baby’s father was back. He had been working in Thailand. Although he was from the same town as Srey Kuaj, she hadn’t wanted this known in case her brother made trouble for this man and his family.
Srey Kuaj and her partner began to repair relationships, both with each other and with his family – asking their forgiveness. The family invited Srey Kuaj to live with them so they could help look after their grandchild. They were so pleased to see how healthy and big the baby was and, like Srey Kuaj’s brother, were full of thanks to Mother’s Heart.
Now, Srey Kuaj is rebuilding her life. Her partner works hard, wanting what is best for Srey Kuaj and their child. There is a wedding on the way! Srey Kuaj will be marrying her partner and Mother’s Heart staff are invited.
To Mother’s Heart Srey Kuaj says, “I would have killed myself if I had not had your support and encouragement. I thank you. I thank you so much.”
And thank you to all the supporters of Mother’s Heart who make stories like this possible!