When Families Migrate: One Mom’s Story

When Ary migrated from Cambodia to Thailand in search of work, she wasn’t sure when she would see her children again. Then Holt sponsors and donors helped her come back home. 

The first time Ary and her husband traveled to Thailand in search of work, they brought their four children with them. Their youngest was still breastfeeding, and Ary couldn’t stand the thought of leaving her children behind. Migrating on foot, they eventually came to a fast-moving river. There was no bridge or ferry to take them across. They would have to swim.

“My children nearly drowned because the water was very strong,” she says.

When they arrived in Thailand, they had no place to stay, and virtually no food or water for two days.

Ary and her husband found work on a construction site. Their eldest son came to work with them while their 8-year-old looked after their infant daughter. Not long afterward, they were caught by the police. They spent seven days in jail and were then deported back to Cambodia — back to Battambang, where they had no way to earn a living.

After Ary got deported back to Cambodia, she had no money and no way to feed her kids.

But she was also afraid of what would happen if she stayed in Battambang.

Ary and her daughter.
When Ary left her children in the care of relatives, they pleaded with her to come back home.

Like her parents before her, Ary grew up in poverty and dropped out of school early to help support her family. She has only a 4th grade education but as a young mom, she tried her best. Long before she migrated to Thailand, she tried to start a small business. But like many people living in poverty in Cambodia, she had fallen prey to a loan shark and ended up deep in debt.

Afraid of the loan shark, Ary felt that she had no choice but to flee to Thailand.

After being deported back to Cambodia, Ary and her husband decided to try crossing the border into Thailand again. It was the only way to earn an income,  and the only way to escape the loan shark. But this time, Ary decided to leave all of her children in Cambodia — except for her infant daughter, who was still breastfeeding.

Two of her children went to live with her mother, who was in her mid 70s and not well. Her oldest went to live with her sister. Leaving them behind broke her heart. Her children would call her crying and plead with her to come back home.

“They would say, ‘Mom, come back,’” she says, her eyes full of tears. “But I had to tell them, ‘Mom can’t come back. I need to earn enough to pay back the loan.’”


Without their parents, Ary’s children suffered. Their grandma couldn’t afford the cost of school supplies, and soon, the children started missing school and their grades dropped. They never had enough to eat so the children would collect snails from the field, which gave them diarrhea. They rapidly grew malnourished.

“I felt so sorry and so much pity for my children,” Ary says.

How Holt Sponsors and Donors Helped

Four years ago, Holt Cambodia began working with migrant families in Ary’s community — to bring them back together, and to help prevent unsafe migration. Holt social workers would meet with each family, often the grandparents or relatives caring for the children, and help develop a plan for the parents to come back home.

Holt sponsors and donors would be critical to this effort. Through their gifts, they would help meet the most vital needs of the children — keeping them in school, and providing food and other essentials while their parents worked toward a more stable life.

Ary's daughter stands in the doorway of their home in Battambang.
Ary’s daughter stands in the doorway of their home in Battambang.

When Holt Cambodia learned about Ary’s family, they met with the children’s grandmother. Sponsors supported the children with emergency food, school supplies and clothing, and a social worker made sure they attended school. The family’s social worker also began working with Ary to find a way for her and her husband to come back home to their children. Ary’s mother had a small parcel of land, and she negotiated with the loan shark — offering a piece of it to pay off her daughter’s debt.

Once Ary came back home to Battambang, her Holt social worker then began working with her to develop a small business plan — one that would provide enough income to support her children, and that she could sustain without having to borrow more money.

Using her savings from Thailand, Ary bought a washing machine and started a small laundry service. Over time, demand grew for her services. And with money she saved and a small $170 microgrant provided by a Holt donor, she was able purchase a second machine — significantly expanding her business.

Ary washes clothes.
With the money Ary and her husband earn washing clothes out of their home, they can support their children — and care for them as they grow up.

Ary now earns anywhere from $10-$25/day, which is enough to meet all the needs of her children and have enough left over to put in savings. In fact, with her own savings, and a generous contribution from sponsors and donors, she just built a new house for her family.

“Before, my life was hopeless and I had no goal,” she says. “I thought I could never meet all my children’s needs and live together with them again … Thanks to sponsors, I am with my children and I am very happy.”


But most of all, she says, her children are back in school, they are healthy, and they are happy.

Ary's son.

“My kids were so excited to see us when we came back home,” she says. “They asked us not to go back to Thailand. In any situation, whether we have food or not, they just want us to be with them. They want us to be together.”

How you can help prevent unsafe migration and keep families together:

SPONSOR A CHILD: When you sponsor a child in Cambodia or another country, you provide monthly support to help keep their family together! Visit holtinternational.org/sponsorship or contact a sponsorship representative at 1-888-355-HOLT (4658) or sponsorship@holtinternational.org to learn about a child who needs your help staying in the loving care of their family.

GIVE A SMALL BUSINESS MICROGRANT: Your one-time Gift of Hope will provide the tools and resources a family needs to start a small business — helping them support their children and earn enough income so they don’t have to migrate to find work.

Read more about how unsafe migration endangers children in Cambodia.

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