9 years on, rescued Cambodian beggar girl blossoms

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In 2005, a young Cambodian girl named Waeow was rescued by police from a begging gang in Pattaya allegedly run by a Thai woman.

The story, first reported in the German-language Pattaya Blatt, and the Rotary Club of the Eastern Seaboard was asked to bring the girl into its Operation Smile program, as her face was badly burned.

(From left) Martin Brands, Sunshine Director Geraldine Cox, Waeow, Rudolf Hofer, Thy and Horst Schweitzer. Geraldine Cox, the very colorful director of Sunshine Cambodia, will be in Pattaya for a few weeks later this year to prepare her next book.
(From left) Martin Brands, Sunshine Director Geraldine Cox, Waeow, Rudolf Hofer, Thy and Horst Schweitzer. Geraldine Cox, the very colorful director of Sunshine Cambodia, will be in Pattaya for a few weeks later this year to prepare her next book.

Back then, she was grotesquely disfigured and had lost one eye. Austrian Honorary Consul Rudolf Hofer and two friends collected 235,000 baht and donated it to the club on her behalf on March 8 that year.

With the help of Diana Group Managing Director Sopin Thappajug, a family court judge at the time, the girl was allowed to stay in Thailand at a government shelter in Banglamung while she underwent surgery sponsored by Dr. Patrick Lahusen of Switzerland.

Over the next two years, Waeow underwent six operations performed by top plastic surgeon Dr. Preeda Itthithammaboon at Sappasit Prasong Hospital in Ubon Ratchathani.

Surgeries completed, Waeow had to return to Cambodia, but not to the parents who had sold her not once, but twice, to human traffickers. Instead her homecoming was arranged by the human security ministries in both countries. She first was placed in a government home, but didn’t like it. With the help of RCEB friend Horst Schweitzer in Cambodia, Waeow was brought to Sunrise Village near Phnom Penh, operated by an Australian foundation.

That is where she has been for the past 9 years. In August, she will complete high school and then go to university on a scholarship provided by Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is close to Sunrise Village.

Waeow is second in her class of 41 pupils. Bright and positive, she speaks English very well. When people stare at her or make comments, she simply says “how I look is not who I am”.

Hofer visits Waeow several times a year, becoming kind of a surrogate father to the girl. Waeow was allowed to visit her parents during the past dozen years and has made peace with them.

Waeow is not the only Cambodian girl Hofer has helped. Another youngster, Thy, suffered a cruel acid attack that killed her mother. She is the same age as Waeow and is 20th in her class. But she is very quiet and does not speak English well.

The RCEB will get both girls an aptitude test. Thy likely will go to a vocational college, but the club has discussed sending both girls to Australia for a year to improve their English.

Both also were promised a motorbike if they finished 12th grade. Final exams are coming up in August and both are expected to pass.

After meeting both in Phnom Penh, Sopin donated US$100 for Waeow plus a Diana Group shirt while Hofer, Schweitzer and the RCEB’s Martin Brands donated more than $700 so each would have enough money to buy a motorbike.