In order to renew our trust in the process of helping others -- to let these experiences with Somaly become a lesson in cautious optimism, not cynicism, I've outlined a few charities that I know are doing excellent work in Cambodia.
There are some things we now understand about human development. Besides the need for food and water and basic shelter, we humans are all the same in one fundamental way: we need to know love and be loved.
Right after the Chinese New Year holiday, our Half the Sky training team returned to the Huazhou orphanage to see how things were going in the new children's center.
A new preschool teacher said, "I think the children here have lacked love for a long time."
Even before the 10-day introductory training at Huazhou is over, small miracles begin to occur -- especially among the newest participants in Half the Sky's Infant Nurture Program.
Children who've spent their lives in Chinese orphanages often lack the resiliency of their little sisters and brothers who receive loving attention from the early years. Our Youth Service Program attempts to make up for a lifetime of neglect by offering such children caring mentors.
It is the Chinese who are transforming their own child welfare system. And without full government support, our 1300 caregivers, teachers, foster parents, trainers and support staff -- all of them Chinese nationals -- could not change a thing.
Director Li passed among the cribs, and as she explained the special care needed for each, she comforted the babies, held them, made small improvements before moving on.
Those of us still working to bring loving care to China's orphans know we've only just completed the first leg of a very long march.
I received a message from one of our supporters asking if there was any way that Half the Sky could help the children at a particularly troubled orphanage in southern China. The place, of course, was Huazhou -- the very place we'd failed to reach 11 years before.
No girl should be married as a child. No child should be a slave. No girl should be gang-raped. Let's make it a reality for these children to pursue their dreams, and stop being abused. Educate yourselves about these issues, and take a stand.
When we include girls in education, health and economic investment we have a better chance of preventing issues such as child marriage, teen pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and breaking the inter-generational cycle of poverty. Girls can't do this alone though.
No matter where you focus your attention, the issues affecting women and girls are vital to the well-being of our world. There are bold, resilient and powerful women right here in Chicago who are confronting these issues head on with innovative or proven solutions.
You can support solutions run by innovative, grassroots projects and organizations that are working to educate children, feed the hungry, build houses, train women (and men) with job skills, and hundreds of other amazing things.
I didn't have to win a trip abroad, get the internship or have much experience in this field to make my mark. Anyone can paint, and the more that do, the brighter the picture, the deeper our impact, the better our world can be.
I had never heard of issues like sex trafficking and obstetric fistulas, let alone how prevalent they are. I couldn't believe that so many girls and women suffered and the rest of us let it continue.