Proof that love can overcome any hurdle.
I had the pleasure of meeting Naret and Rick while traveling Cambodia, they have a shop dedicated to helping disabled people called “Genevieve’s Fair Trade Village”. There are so many people that are still suffering the effects of war, losing limbs after setting off an unexploded land mine or being born disfigured due to agent orange. Naret’s life growing up was far from easy, but against all odds she fought hard to survive every single day, and kept her heart open.
To fully understand what they have gone through together I must first give you Naret’s backstory, so here is her story. Ryan and I were trying to learn more about the person who had made a beautiful handmade wallet from recycled tire tubes, but the lady who was helping us had limited English. She fetched a man from inside to talk to us, imagine how embarrassed we were when we realized the lady helping us was in fact Naret, the talented seamstress who made the wallet! After chatting with the gentleman who spoke English for a short while we discovered he was married to Naret! The gentleman’s name is Rick, and happened to be from Saskatchewan, Canada!
Naret was born without half of an arm, as well as a mark on her face, likely caused by agent orange used during the Vietnam War. Her father sent her and her mother away, as it was a disgrace to be born disabled. In Cambodia disabled people are seen only as a burden. Their religious belief is that to be born with a disability means you were bad in your past life, and now you’re on your own to make up for it. When her mother remarried years later, the new husband also wanted nothing to do with Naret, so she was sent to live in her father’s village with her aunt. When she finished elementary school she needed a bicycle to get to the village her middle school was located in. Despite her father being one of the richest men in the village, he would not support her by buying her a bicycle, from then on she would have to make her own way.
One of the ways she would support herself included going out to collect fish, frogs, insects, and any other food she could find to bring back to the village to sell. At the time of Rick finding her she was working in a brick factory, this incredible woman was doing back breaking work 6 long days a week and making less than $150 a month. Naret was cautious when Rick asked her to work for him, so she started part time, after finishing her long day at the brick factory she would go work for him in the evening. Eventually she left her job to work at Genevieve’s full time doing what she always dreamed of! Growing up any spare money she ever came into she would pay for sewing lessons or material to sew.
Shortly after she started full time, Rick contracted a bad foot infection, spending some time in the hospital. The doctors told him to go to Bangkok’s hospital since they didn’t know how to help him, and suggested amputating his foot. Naret decided to do her best to help him, for months she treated him with local medicine. In the end he only lost a tiny bit of his pinky toe, she had nurtured him back to full health when doctors wanted to chop off the whole foot! Through the 3 months they had come to care about each other quite a lot, although, they could barely speak a word to each other.
Rick didn’t know any Khmer, and Naret barely knew a word of English. Since then Naret has learnt a lot of English. Rick told us about a conversation they had a month ago that really puts things into perspective. One morning Rick had complimented Naret, calling her beautiful, and Naret’s response will pull on your heart strings. She said “I wasn’t beautiful three years ago”. Her whole life people treated her as a burden, unworthy of love, ugly, that she should be ashamed she wasn’t normal. It took another person seeing her as beautiful, someone else loving her for her to love herself and finally see herself as the beautiful woman she is inside and out!
Naret & Rick are not legally married, it is Cambodia law that no foreigner over the age of 50 may marry a local. They decided to declare themselves married, and that was enough for them. The entire time Ryan and I were talking with them you could see the love in their eyes, and the way Rick talked about Naret like she is his whole world. What is Rick’s story? What made him move here from Canada? Rick was moved by the number of people in need of help in Cambodia, he chose to focus on helping disabled people make a living. During a terrible drought that was taking the lives of many country side people due to dehydration he sprung into action. He started fundraising and delivering truck loads of water to the villages. Soon after he also started sending truck loads of rice to get them through until the drought was over, thankfully rain came fast. He continued to deliver rice as even though they now had water, they still wouldn’t be able to harvest their fields for weeks.
They have helped many disabled people make a living, giving them a way to do what they are passionate about and sell their creations in the shop. I’ve taken pictures of their shop and the stories of other’s like Naret, please read their stories below.
The biggest thing that helps them out is exposure, so if you want to help these wonderful people and know someone headed to Cambodia, mention checking out their store!