Navi grew up in a province about two and a half hours away from Phnom Penh with her mother, stepfather, and two half-sisters. Her stepfather married her mother when she was three years old. He’s the only father Navi has ever known and Navi has never felt any different from her two sisters. While there was a great deal of love in their home, there wasn’t always a lot of food. Navi ’s parents struggled to provide for their children and when Navi was 12, she was sent to live with her grandparents as her mother and father sought work outside of their province.
When Navi arrived at her grandparent’s property, she discovered that more family was living there, including her uncle. About a year after Navi moved in, her uncle raped her. He threatened to kill her if she told anyone, and convinced her that if she told her parents, they would kill her too. Navi uncle told her that she wasn’t her father’s real daughter, so she didn’t matter. He raped her repeatedly over the course of the year, and Navi felt completely helpless.
When Navi’s parents came to visit, they noticed that something had changed in her. One night, her father dreamt that something awful had happened to his daughter and not long after asked Navi if something was wrong. She was hesitant to tell her parents about what her uncle had done, fearing for her life and carrying a heavy burden of shame. Navi’s parents told her that they loved her and insisted that they wanted to know the truth. Finally, Navi was able to get the words out about what her uncle had done to her.
Distraught, Navi ’s father went to her grandparents and told them that Navi should marry her uncle in order to preserve the family name. He saw no other way to stop the shame that would hang over the family if the community found out. But Navi ’s grandmother objected, saying that Navi was too young to be a useful wife and that she would only be a burden to her uncle. Navi ’s father then decided to approach the police, but he because he wasn’t able to pay them, he was refused assistance. After asking around for help, Navi’s family was referred to Hagar.
Navi struggled to say goodbye to her family when she first came to the Hagar shelter, but Hagar staff worked hard to make the transition a smooth one. They gave her clothes, provided her with excellent schooling, and made sure to help her keep in touch with her parents on a regular basis. At Hagar, Navi met other people who shared their experiences with her, and she realized she was not alone. When Navi graduated from grade twelve she received a scholarship from the Prime Minister of Cambodia to study English Literature.
Now, Navi is a teacher at an international school and her dream is to be the principal of a school like the one she currently teaches at. She’s also engaged and planning her wedding to a man who loves her very much.
When asked what her advice would be to others who have experienced abuse and trauma, Navi says, “Your story does not finish there. There is more for your life.” Navi is living proof that this is true; her story didn’t stop at age 12. She is confident and deeply proud of who she is, as are the Hagar staff who have walked the whole journey with her.