Efren and Becky Roxas relocated to the slums of Phnom Penh from the slums of Manila in 2006. With their wisdom, maturity and experience they have been a huge blessing to the Servants team in Cambodia. In particular Efren has become a good friend and inspiration to me. Currently he is working with the TASK Teenage Drug User Rehab project (TDUR). The following is a story from Efren illustrating the vulnerability of life for the urban poor…
Vee is perhaps the “most promising” client of TDUR. At 16, he was addicted to amphetamine & started to have heroin shots once in awhile together with his friends from the restaurant he was working. He was 17 when he entered the TDUR program last year. He stopped schooling at grade 8 and had stopped working by the time he joined us.
Last year Vee was very diligent in learning English & basic computer skills, and because he was 18 this year he would be able to go to the vocational training program which TDUR is networking with. We helped him prepare to enter one of these training opportunities and after a year of preparation it pays off. He was the only one accepted out of our four clients who applied. We strongly believed that after two years of full rehabilitation & vocational training, a healthy community integration would be possible for him. During this time he also professed to be a Christian and began attending a local church.
A day before going to the vocational training center to study for two years in Hotel Services something terrible happened. One of Vee’s friends from his old lifestyle committed a crime by killing a man and robbing the victim of all possessions. Vee’s family was dragged into this problem when this friend phoned Vee’s sister on the victim’s cell phone, asking permission to come to their house and change his blood-splattered clothing claiming that he had been involved in a fight. So he came, changed clothes in Vee’s home, then left to hide.
The telephone call was traced later, leading to Vee’s sister & two cousins being picked-up by the police, and imprisoned. By this stage Vee was living at the training center, some 40 kilometers out of the city, but with the perpetrator out of sight, Vee became the prime suspect of the crime.His mother was forced to negotiate for his capture in exchange for the subsequent release of the three relatives in jail. The decision was hard to accept, but it happened.Our “innocent” man has now been languishing in jail for more than two months. He describes the jail conditions as terrible.
Licadho, a Cambodian human rights organization reports that for Cambodian prisons, “Limited access to food and clean water, overcrowding of prison cells, routine denial of quality medical services and violence towards prisoners from prison officials and other inmates is a part of everyday life.” http://www.licadho.org/reports/files/116LICADHOReportPrisonMotherChild07.pdf
Vee and 16 inmates are incarcerated in a cell with barely enough room to lie down. He has scabies and is fed mostly on rice porridge. Although we are allowed to visit him, we need to shell out $2.50 for the main guards and a little bit more for the perimeter guards and if we take any extra food it will not be allowed as it disrupts the guards business. They sell extra food to the prisoners at grossly inflated prices.
In spite of his innocence, it wont be until November, six months after his arrest before his case is heard. The evidence of three witnesses will be required for him to prove his innocence and be set free. In the meantime, however, the murderer has not been found, the trail has gone cold and the police have closed the case.