A Cambodian family is transformed when physical abuse leaves their home
Yan Lot’s cream-colored makeup splattered against the wooden wall when her husband came home in a rage and knocked the bottle from her hands. The stain remains, as do scars from years of physical and emotional abuse from her husband.
Lot, 42, married Phan Eap when she was 21 years old. Most of their married years have been anything but marital bliss. Eap was physically abusive to the point that families in their Cambodian village and even the police were afraid to intervene.
“My husband started drinking and gambling with his friends,” Lot said. “We had no money for food. When he came home and there was no food in the house, he started arguing with me. He started beating me.”
Eap’s ongoing struggle to find work escalated his anger and violent behavior.
“The fighting started after two years of marriage and continued until Samaritan’s Purse came to this village,” Lot said.
Samaritan’s Purse is helping break the cycle of domestic abuse and gender discrimination that’s prevalent among Cambodian families and being passed from one generation to the next.
Our Ending Violence Against Women project in Cambodia teaches families how to become healthy, loving families that value respect and honest communication. We’re also training and empowering women to share what they learn from our staff with other women and families in their villages and communities.
Living in Fear
Eap’s anger wasn’t reserved for his wife. He tried to keep his children from going to school by hiding their bicycles. The children had no other way to get there because the school is far from their village.
Their son, who was 10 at the time, desperately wanted to end his father’s rage.
“My son took a knife and tried to kill my husband,” Lot said.
Afraid for her children’s safety and unable to meet their basic needs such as food, Lot made the painful decision to send them away for a period of time. Her daughter moved in with a family member, and her son went to live at a Buddhist pagoda. It’s not uncommon in Buddhist countries for young boys from poor families to live and serve at a pagoda or temple.
Lot and Eap continued in poverty, and Eap’s abuse didn’t let up. Lot sunk deeper and deeper into despair until she saw no way out.
“I thought I would kill myself,” she said. “I thought that one day I would buy gasoline and close the door and let it burn myself.”
A Sister’s Love
Neighbors were concerned about Lot, and the village leader tried to talk with Eap.
Lot’s sister, Leak, was especially worried.
“I could hear the conflict in their home because I live next door,” she said.
Like others in the village, Leak feared for Lot’s safety—and her own. The yelling, shouting, and screaming coming from next door was intimidating. But love for her sister compelled her to action.
Leak attended a Samaritan’s Purse training about healthy, Biblical marriages and families and then shared what she learned with her sister.
“I wanted to help them understand about forgiveness,” she said. “I wanted their lives to change.”
Lot listened to her sister, and, with time, so did Eap. He didn’t just listen—Eap changed. He stopped drinking and gambling and transformed into a patient, loving husband and father. All those years of anger, hatred, and abuse faded into the past.
When Eap’s physical violence ended, Lot began to feel safe in her home for the first time in years.
“We stopped fighting and arguing,” she said. “I am very happy now.”
It’s not unusual for Cambodian homes to be stained with domestic abuse and largely void of love or respect. The brutal Khmer Rouge regime that wiped out a generation of educated citizens also attempted to tear apart families and terminate all meaningful relationships.
“The regime told people there’s nothing called love,” explained Tharanga Diyunugala a Samaritan’s Purse program manager. “They told them there’s no value in family.”
So for couples like Lot and Eap, “basic instincts” about developing healthy relationships and family dynamics just aren’t there, Tharanga said. Women are especially hungry to learn how to improve the quality of life for their family, which makes projects like Ending Violence Against Women a great way for Samaritan’s Purse to enter a community.
“Couples tell us they didn’t realize how important it is to have a healthy family or to resolve conflict in a good manner,” Tharanga said. “Violence happens when they don’t know how to solve their problems.”
Our staff also taught Lot and Eap how to save and manage their finances, and, once they applied those principles, life changed even more.
“We started saving money, and with this we bought a motorbike and built a new house behind this small house,” Lot said. “We have money for the kids to go to school.”
Lot described her family as the “village example” for how ending domestic violence and developing healthy families can transform—and save—lives.
“I decided to be a volunteer in our village with this project and share what I learned from staff with other people,” Lot said. “The people in this village want to learn.”