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Cambodian Slave Trade True Story

April 25, 2012 By Guest Blogger 0 Comments This is a guest post by Myles Hallin. When Vannak Prum dreams of the sea, he awakes drenched in sweat. He sees himself swimming alone in the middle of the ocean, with no prospect of rescue. The former slave finds his rest only when he rediscovers his wife Srey Khem breathing next to him. He spent almost four years locked away, unable to make contact with her, or anyone else. Since then he hesitates to leave his wifes sight and spends his days close to her, recapturing the experience he has survived through his art work. (Its been) two years, I cannot find work in this area. A NGO motivated me to start drawing my experience as victim of human trafficking, says Vannak while he works stoically on his latest picture. Vannak Prum is a 35 years old Khmer with a quiet and sensitive demeanor, living in the Battambang province of Cambodia. His goal is to become a professional painter. In a small wooden hut where he cant even stand up straight the quiet man is developing his artworks about his forced work for a Thai commercial fishing fleet and his daily life since his return. Vannak says, Painting helps me to overcome this time, full of pain and suffering. It was mid June 2006, Vannak Prum left his pregnant wife alone and went to the Thai border to work on a farm. He planned to gain money for the expected child. As his job didnt pay well so he began to look for another one. In the Cambodian border town of Malai he was told that he could work in a fish processing factory in Thailand, where the wage is generally higher. As he agrees he has no clue what is expected of him. Days after travelling he finds himself on a boat belonging to a Thai commercial fishing fleet being treated like a slave and never receiving any salary. Vannak said, at the beginning I felt bad, because I was worried about my family. But when I saw other workers committing suicide I decided to focus on work. For three years he experienced mistreatment, hunger and solitude. Finally he saw a ray of hope: One of the captains, a Cambodian, told me Three more months and you can escape. Fortunately he was right. Three months later, just minutes before the boat docked to pay taxes, Vannak and another Cambodian jumped into the sea, near Sarawak in Malaysia.

Despite the bold escape Vannaks relief was short lived. To go home he still had to earn some money and so on the hunt for work another next broker in human trafficking picked him up. He told me that I have to earn money to return to Cambodia and brought me to an oil palm plantation. Vannak followed him and was ripped off again. Working together with Indonesians, Thais, Burmese and one Cambodian he hardly received any salary. They paid the Thais and the Indonesians, but we received only 10 Dollar from time to time. He again worked very hard, day and night, desperately trying to find his way back home. I hoped to get compassion from the employers. Four months later the situation escalated. After having got drunk on rice wine two workers attacked each other with machetes, Vannak and his Cambodian friend tried to calm them but in turn they both ended up seriously injured. In desperation the owner of the plantation dropped them along a deserted road at the dead of night. After his recovery in a hospital he still had to stay seven months in prison until it was possible for him to return home to Cambodia in May 2010. He was happy when he returned to the house of his father in law, saw his wife and for the first time his four year old daughter. Vannak Prum then started painting. He is talented, seems to have a nearly photographic memory and it makes him feel better. The only thing missing is the knowledge about art. His family was never able to afford a good education or materials for him. Despite this set back he says when he was a child, he often sat there with a cane and drew pictures in the sand. His passion for art blossomed when he had the opportunity to draw on a temple wall. I want two things from life: I want to stay with my wife, and my family and I want to earn money with painting. He has found a NGO who is supporting his new career choice. His pictures are helping to identify the exploiters, even if there were no consequences for them. He also helped them to get a picture of what is happening behind prison walls. In two days he can finish a picture that seems like a window to another reality. But he also knows that, to continue, he has to learn more about arts. I want to develop myself. It doesnt matter whether I draw landscapes, portraits or my history after I feel relieved and free. Myles Hallin is a freelance journalist and writer from Melbourne Australia. He recently spent several months in Cambodia, mainly in Phnom Penh, and fell in love with the country and, in particular, the people. He is especially impressed with the amazing Khmer art and music scene. During his stay he was fortunate enough to experience some of the music, writing and art being produced in Cambodia. He plans to move back to Phnom Penh in the coming months with the aim of helping to encourage, where he can, Khmer music and art. Hopefully by creating a space which can provide an opportunity for more people to experience modern Khmer art and music culture.

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