I want to tell you about the man who put me in the sack,” said a Cambodian boy. Pointing to one figure in his painting, then to the other, the child told his teacher about the man who’d kidnapped him when he was 3—and about the man who’d rescued him and returned him to his village.

Child trafficking is routine in Cambodia, and young people know that they may be kidnapped at any time. A great number have lost one or both parents to AIDS; many are themselves HIV positive. Yet when they come to Valentina DuBasky’s art class, they are all smiles and determination.

Having worked with humanitarian projects throughout Cambodia in the 1990s, DuBasky founded Art in a Box in 2005. Named for the bright boxes holding the art supplies, the program (artinabox.org) now reaches five countries. In Cambodia, it targets the slums of the capital, Phnom Penh. It also gives classes in a hospice for children with AIDS, some of whom can’t leave their beds. “It’s about testimony through art,” DuBasky says. The approach is suited to Cambodia’s low literacy rate and rich visual culture.

One girl DuBasky interviewed, age 10, lost both parents to AIDS. She can’t remember their faces but says that her father was a construction worker and that her mother sold bananas on the street. Another girl said that she wished Cambodian children could work less and go to school more. But she was also eager to talk about her black cat, which she’d named Prosperity.