Enslaved and Lost at Sea

A Son’s Journey Back Home

Sonith is polite and respectful, persistent and patient, attentive and hardworking. Love for family means everything to him, and he’s made many personal sacrifices to care for his aging mother.

Sonith’s family had no land for farming, and his father died when he was a child. At a young age, Sonith told himself, I have to take care of my family.

Instead of going to school, Sonith worked in the sugar cane fields with his mother. Sonith’s mother did everything she could to feed her two sons, whether she needed to take jobs cleaning or working on farms. But as the years wore on, her health declined. Eventually, she couldn’t work in the fields at all.

Sonith stayed with his mother, providing for her. But no matter how hard Sonith worked, he could never get ahead. It was a welcome relief when he heard about an exciting job opportunity in Thailand.

After taking time to consider the offer, Sonith, along with 20 other men from his village, decided to accept. But everything changed when they arrived in Thailand.

Sonith’s excitement turned to fear when he was sent to work on a fishing vessel where he knew no one. He couldn’t contact his mother, and once their vessel reached the open sea—it never returned to shore.

Conditions on the boat were extreme and inhumane.

Sonith and the other fishermen were never given the wages they were promised, and they worked non-stop, only permitted to rest for meagre meals.

“One day, I was so exhausted and fell asleep while pulling the fishing net. They threw water on me and forced me to work harder,” says Sonith.

His captors were merciless, beating him savagely on four occasions.

Sonith felt guilty for leaving his mother and ashamed he hadn’t sent her money. Lonely and hopeless, his heart was heavy. But as the months dragged on and on, Sonith never accepted defeat.

I knew my mother was waiting for me to come back. This gave me strength while I was lost at sea.

A year and seven months later, their boat came back to shore. When his captors were distracted, Sonith fled and a local organization helped Sonith return to Cambodia and connected him to Ratanak!

Sonith’s guilt for leaving his mother was an anchor, dragging him down. But when he returned home, that all changed. When she opened the door and saw him, her hand flew to her mouth, and tears began to stream down her face. His mother hugged him and Sonith realised he was crying too. His mother was alive and well, and for the first time since he was trafficked—his heart felt light.

Today, Sonith is receiving ongoing support from Ratanak. He uses a bicycle provided to him by Ratanak to travel to work, and he’s receiving comprehensive training from our economic empowerment team to help him pursue his dream of raising cows.

As a dedicated Ratanak supporter, thank you. Your generosity is faith in action, reuniting families and providing hope for a new life.

*Names, images and/or some details have been altered as appropriate to protect the identities of those in our care.

Helping Cambodians in Crisis During COVID-19

Many of the people we serve have been affected by COVID-19, some losing their jobs and businesses, some earning less and struggling to pay off their debts.

In response, our Economic Empowerment team has undertaken a few short-term solutions. We’re collaborating with local authorities to provide agricultural and livelihood resources such as chickens, fruit and rice to help support vulnerable families. Our team also met with loan officers to help people in urgent situations to negotiate their debts—even carefully providing a loan to one individual in need!

The Economic Empowerment team also connected with employers, particularly factory owners, to negotiate and ensure salaries are still being paid. And in order to help people get back to work as soon as possible, our team is monitoring the vocational training providers so that we can inform our clients right away when programs have reopened.

Your generosity has enabled us to offer immediate and personalized assistance to Cambodian trafficking survivors in need—thank you for your compassionate support!


Update on Thom

Do you remember Thom from our spring newsletter earlier this year? Thom was trafficked to Malaysia and forced to perform slave labour for five long months. Upon his return, Ratanak provided him with counselling, and economic empowerment to build his farming business.

Today, he’s the proud father of a newborn son and doing very well. On his farm, he’s raising cows and chickens and is able to harvest crops three times a year. This means he is able to put aside savings after expenses, which has even allowed him to purchase a motorbike to transport his new little family!

Your support is changing lives. We’re so grateful for your partnership!


Sarah Rides for Refuge!

We’re so thankful for the many Ratanak supporters who participated in the Ride for Refuge on October 2nd! Their incredible efforts helped trafficking survivors return home to freedom and provided them with access to counselling and job skills training, so that they can rebuild their lives. Volunteers like Sarah, who are passionate about helping trafficking survivors in Cambodia are making a huge impact.

“Participating with Ratanak in the Ride means trusting God. This is a time when I feel challenged to make Him the centre of the effort and to make His children the reason for all that we’re doing.

Because it’s easy to get carried away with all the exteriors of fundraising, but it’s about trusting God to show what only He can do through the fundraising. It’s about doing it for these people we all love, who are recovering from trauma and abuse.

I want to shed light on trafficking, because it’s on people’s hearts here in Canada and America, but I think we need to be the beacons to make the connection.”


A Message From Brian

As I wind down at the end of a busy day, I often sit and contemplate Cambodians who are enslaved on fishing vessels. This is particularly true when I watch the sunset. I wonder about those young men held captive under that same sinking sun and I pray for them. How overwhelming it must be to have lost sight of land and hope… I really can’t comprehend how hopeless it must be… as I sit with freedom and watch the changing sky.

We know about Sonith and Thom in this newsletter but there are many more still enslaved. God knows them intimately, by name, but we don’t – yet! With your help, those toiling under the sun will soon be known to us and find their freedom. Thank you for making that possible!


Brian McConaghy

Founding Director

Names, images and/or some details have been altered as appropriate to protect the identities of those in our care.