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i was adopted when i was barely five.  my memories are scattered and few, but they are distinct and important in my mind.  often times people ask me what i remember and want to know about the country i came from.
my reply most of the time is, "it was grey."  they seem confused.  but the same picture arises out of dust.  the misty hills, dewy stones, dark leaves of fall and echoes of industry behind me.  the scenes are wonderfully
ashen colored and i find it beautiful.  i think back and see the girls i used to play with and the rusted teeter totter we almost broke.  i look at the real pictures of where i came from and most of the time want to cry. 
it seems as though it's not my memory.  the pictures are colorful and annoyingly bright.  sort of like they've been colored over.  but my korea was quieter, serene and wonderfully greyish silver.  if i lapse back far enough
i can feel the mist behind me and the orphanage furnace in front of me.  i have a picture in my mind, and it won't change with time.  i have a quiet korea that lies in me.  it's the only thing i have to where i came from,
the wonderful grey land.

Monday, March 19.2001: e-mail by Janne Ritskes from Cambodia

Dear friends and supporters,

I keep thinking that I have seen it all; that nothing will shock me anymore but as usual, I am wrong. Last week, I went to Kompong Som, one of our newest program areas.

Vonn started in Kompong Som in late 1999 in a village called Phum Thmie. Now Kompong Som is on the ocean and is a sea-port and like all seaports, the community has a variety of industries geared towards the pleasures of the seafarers. One of these industries is prostitution.

Vonn has a vision. She believes that these girls are precious in God's eyes - that each one is of great value. She believes that we can reach out to these girls in a way that will give them the choice of remaining in prostitution or returning home to a normal lifestyle. The way to do this is through savings - helping the girls to dream about their own future and providing the moral support to achieve those dreams through savings. It is a bold plan for it involves convincing the local chiefs and owners of the brothels that this is good and convincing the girls that they have a choice in life.

Over the months since Vonn started, she would talk about these girls - some were very ashamed of their profession and asked to be listed as other than taxi -girls, others didn't mind. What was common to all of the girls was their shame to meet me - this they could not do. I respected their wishes and stayed away. But Vonn talked about me and about Miriam - my adopted HIV positive daughter who reverted to HIV negative and has become a strong, healthy little girl.

Last month, they sent a message - they would like to meet Miriam and me and so last week we came. It was one of those glorious mornings - we had awoken to a rain drenched land coloured by a double rainbow. It was the promise of a good day. We met the chief and we all walked to the first brothel. The building was a simple wooden structure with cubicles claiming every space. We were a bit early, 10 in the morning, and the girls were called from their slumber.

I was stunned by their youth and their beauty - the average age was 15 - I greeted them with deep bows and smiles and Miriam captured their hearts as she mimicked me. They began to talk of how they had come in search of work - for many their parents had brought them - their families came from all parts of the country - Stung Treng, Kratie, Prey Veng, Battambang - so many places, so many stories of hardship and pain. They talked of how Vonn had convinced them of their dreams and how they had saved. They talked of what their families had accomplished with the money.

They talked of the 33 girls who had left already - the ones who had saved for a year - had paid of the brothel owners, had bought cows and seeds for their families, had saved enough to pay their own way home and had saved enough to start their own small businesses at home. They were excited about the 14 girls who had saved enough to return home to get married. They shared about how the brothel owners insisted that they save so they could return home - they talked of how the chief insisted that each customer had to use condoms or be arrested - how the HIV infection rate was dropping from a high of 70% to 30%.

When they were finished, I talked of Miriam and how she came into my life. I shared of Miriam's difficult first year - of how an HIV infant was not necessarily infected with AIDS - and that they did not have to "throw away" any of their infants. And as I talked, the tears started - I did not dare ask why - too much pain, too much suffering for these lovely young ladies.

We talked of why they chose to join our program - a 14 year old answered for them all - "You never say we do wrong, you don't condemn us, you don't feel sorry for us. You let us decide what our dreams are - you give me hope that one day, I too, can return and live a good life. I dream that one day I can go home and get married and have my own child. I think I can do it."

And then we parted - they back to their little cubicles ready for another night of work - ready to save and to dream of normal lives. As we left, I hugged my little girl tightly and held her in my arms. Miriam's nanny held my arms - her tears flowed freely - "that would have been me if you hadn't helped me" - she sobbed.

My tears flowed as well - without God's grace in my life - without you - our friends - our supporters - we could not reach out in grace to these young ladies. Thank you for that. Janne --

Janne Ritskes, head of projects for the Tabitha Foundation, has 20 years of international experience with integrated community development programs and cottage industry. Her programs and projects continue, having proven sustainable among the poorest of the poor in the slums of the United States, the Philippines, Kenya and Cambodia.

All members of the Tabitha Foundation in Canada are volunteers and receive no remuneration, ensuring that all donations and a high percentage of the sales from the Cottage Industry go directly to Cambodia.

The Tabitha Foundation is a Christian, non-profit organization, seeking to help the suffering in various nations. The aim is to reach out to the despairing in their own communities and enable them to address their needs in a holistic and sustainable way, thereby transforming their lives to fruitfulness dignity and beauty. For more information go to the Tabitha Foundation's website.

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