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Fair Trade Jewelry and Ethical Fashion

Every Woman Has a Name, Face, & Story

by | Founders

Her Name is Ya

Every woman has a name, face, and story. I met Ya a couple of years ago outside an airport in Cambodia. Although we had been working with her for years, selling ornaments and scarves she and her friends had been making, this was the first time I was able to hug this young woman and really hear her story. (Read Time: 5 min.)

This bubbly, passionate, kind-hearted woman has a story of acute suffering, betrayal, and strength. She’s lived through extreme physical pain only to find that she was an outcaste to society. But, where many people might have hidden in darkness, Ya made a decision to shine. She not only has rebuilt a life where she is surrounded in love and family, but she has encouraged other women to dig for strength and redemption. She encourages other women who also had acid thrown on them to find beauty and light in the world once again.

As Ya has rebuilt her life, she’s found and given hope. She is also now a wife and a mother. Ya is a hero. She has inspired me, and I hope she inspires you too.

Love, Gretchen

Her Story is Precious

We Must Handle With Care

One of our in-country missionaries wrote this about Jariya and the acid attacked women:

“I think the best way to explain what happened to these women is to think about a grief we have. Usually, we want to share our tragedy, our loss only with those with whom we choose. If we have been raped or lost a loved one, or our heart has been broken, we usually are very careful about who we share this with.

Ya, Artisan in Cambodia

But for these women, their greatest tragedy, their life-altering loss, is written on their faces. So for them to show their faces is not just a matter of someone else seeing their physical scars; it’s exposing this most personal tragedy to the eyes of everyone – the kind and understanding, and also the callous and uncaring, as well as the careless and oblivious.

We would be deeply affected were we to walk about wearing t-shirts that said, ‘grieving mother’, ‘rape victim’, ‘abandoned wife’, ‘unwanted child’, ‘unemployed father’.

The scars on these women’s faces are like those t-shirts, but they can’t be taken off. Everywhere they go, they are seen only through the lens of this life-shattering event. It becomes their identity, so they can’t just be another shopper in the market, or student in a class, or rider on a bus, or pedestrian on the street, or customer in the bank, or patient in the doctor’s office.

Always this part of their identity is emblazoned on their faces.

They each tell themselves that this wouldn’t have happened were they not poor, or had they had a father who protected them or had they had more personal value.

So, the scarring is not just an exposure of the shame of the event, but the exposure of who they are that such a thing could have happened to them. It “proves” that they are somehow worthless, expendable, unloved, unvalued.”

Her Story is a Story of Hope

“My name is Jariya. One day someone flung a container of acid in my face. It burned my face, and ran down my body, dissolving both my skin and my life. The excruciating extensive burns threatened to take my life for months and since then, I’ve had to endure numerous surgeries to attempt to re-make my features and face to be normal again.

I now have to live with the scarring of my face and body and also with the scarring on my heart. I’ve consistently been the subject of mockery, hatred, rejection, and curiosity, but rarely the subject of compassion or help.

I’m gradually trying to rebuild my life and to make a future for myself. But the only thing that gives me the courage to do that is that I know that I’m not alone and that I may be able to do something to help others.

I taught myself to make jewelry. I started this small business to make goods by hand so other women in my condition, many of whom are left to raise their children on their own, can have the chance to earn their own living in safety and some measure of self-respect.

When I can give work to others and see them smile, and when they see God in me and in all the Trades of Hope people. Especially, it gives me a chance to speak of God and His goodness.

“When they smile, it gives me hope – it helps me know I have a future.

I love to see their smiles!” – Ya

“I recently started a family with my husband Seth. We just had a baby boy and his name is Pratana.

Without support from Trades of Hope, I wouldn’t be able to have a family. Life would be difficult, and I would suffer from hunger.

This isn’t just a job. I feel like part of a community that sees me and the Artisans, and cares about us. 

It’s a matter of the heart, not just a business. And it brings me great encouragement.”

– Ya

“It’s started to wash away all the words that people used to speak over me and my life.”

– Ya, Artisan in Cambodia

Her Story Continues…

As Ya has rebuilt her life, she’s found and given hope.

She is also now a wife and a mother.

Ya is a hero. She has inspired me, and I hope she inspires you too.

Love, Gretchen

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1 Comment

  1. ShelbyBC

    I could read Ya’s story a million times over… time & time again, her strength & resilience inspires me. I’m grateful through partnering with TOH, I am partnering with Ya to encourage, equip & empower her to do the same for other women & survivors in Cambodia. I feel her strength each time I #wearHOPE with the Endless Earrings.


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Gretchen Huijskens

Gretchen Huijskens

Founder and CEO of Trades of Hope, Gretchen is passionate about helping mothers keep their children and for an end to modern day slavery.