Saturday, May 19, 2012

Coming Home

Well, we sadly finished our work in Cambodia and it was time to leave and get back to our lives.  The playground is complete, and though many of our team stayed, many left when I did, leaving on a 2 hour bus ride to Siem Reap to begin the homeward journey.

Unexpectedly, Bryan and I had to stop in Phnom Pehn on our way out of Cambodia, before we even got to Singapore for a 12 hour layover, followed by a 25 hour flight to Houston with a brief stop in Moscow.  We decided we needed to get out of the airport during that 12 hour layover or we'd go absolutely nuts, so other than making sure we didn't need visas to get into the country, and making sure there would be no problems getting back in, we knew very little about where our Singapore extravaganza would take us.  We got into the subway station directly from the Changi airport, mastered the system of buying a subway ticket, and hopped aboard the next one that came by, still unsure of where we would go.  We had heard of Orchard Street and made sure we were on route to head that direction, when I spotted a stop called "Marina Bay" and suggested that it might be nice to see the water at some point.  Bryan was up for it so we headed to Marina Bay and left it all to chance.  We couldn't believe what we saw when we exited the subway station:

A 12 hour journey through what turned out to be like an adult Disney Land, except free and in Singapore, ended with a laser light show "celebrating water and light," complete with fire, fountains, video projections, and trillions of bubbles.  Needless to say, I'm going to try to arrange another Singapore layover for my next trip to Cambodia!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dust to Dust

Yesterday we went our garbage dump outreach.  When I heard we were visiting the dump and washing feet, I thought "What a good outreach.  That's a great thing to do for the people we see at the dump."  I was surprised to hear that these people aren't just poor people going through it to look for something to sell or eat, but they are families who actually both live and work in the dump, collecting plastic for recycling and averaging $2 a day in income.  As I listened I became more eager to go and serve these people, to love on them and share with them the love of Christ.  But nothing could have prepared me for what I saw.

As we drove up, the road was blocked by thick black smoke, which we drove through and saw acres and acres of burning trash.  As we pulled over and began unloading supplies, whole families began pouring into the disgusting streets, just to find out what we were up to.  They politely lined up and waited patiently to hear what we would be doing with them.

One thing that was pointed out to me was that the little girls were still wearing the dresses they had been wearing the last time they had come for an outreach, in March.  We concluded that these girls were wearing the same clothes every day, probably the only ones they own.

Each man, woman and child who wanted to had their feet washed in a tub my a team member with soap, a sponge, and a drying rag.  While we washed we blessed them, talked to them, found out their stories, shared Christ.  Each little girl got a new dress, and almost every person got a new pair of flip flops to wear.  We handed out toys, candies, bags of rice and bags of fruit.  We even had one of our experienced team members treat a severe burn on one man's foot that had become infected and kept him from walking without a cane.  We finished the outreach by teaching the kids jumprope and hot potato, which they loved, and we left the jump ropes and balls with them for them to enjoy on their own.

We all left commenting that we would never take a breath of fresh air for granted again.  The whole time we were there we were surrounded by dust and dirty white smoke from the burning garbage.  It burned my eyes, and hundreds of flies swarmed the area.

My prayers are with the men, women and children who earn their income by going through the garbage.  And I'm thankful for the fresh air of Texas, however hot it may be!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Supply & Demand


Today was an eye opening day for sure.  After finally getting the chance to talk with my mom, we went to the morning teaching, where we took in more information we wanted to know about the problem of child trafficking.  I learned much that I didn't know before:

Most pedophiles, who are creating the demand that keeps this trade on the rise, are either American or Asian.  Americans prefer boys or very young girls, while Asian pedophiles prefer virgins.  Brothel "mamasans" make virgins "reusable" by sewing them up, up to 5 times per girl.  Of course, when girls are not of use to them anymore, they are left on the streets, which lands them back in a brothel more times than not, or thrown away...literally.

The young boys are often used not only for sexual purposes but also as cheap slave labor.  They are more often than not given drugs, usually speed, and hormones, which allow them to both work harder and perform sexually.

A new trend is on the rise as well, and that is the use of pain and suffering in the time pedophiles spend with the children they "rent."  The most haunting thing I heard today was the increase in demand for disabled children, which apparently adds to the satisfaction of some pedophiles.  Therefore, not only are disabled children becoming more at risk for being taken by traffickers, but they are even hearing stories of children who are intentionally disabled for the purpose of meeting that specific demand.  One CHO staff told us the story of a boy they found who could not walk or talk, merely crawl and hum, because of the Polio he was crippled by.  They found that he was actually injected with the disease at age 4 for the purpose of crippling him, for this specific new trend.  I'm fighting the tears just typing the words.  Perfectly healthy children are being crippled and disabled solely to meet the gruesome and evil demands of these very sick and demented men.

If you're like me, your first question is, what is being done about this? How can this be stopped?

While the southeast Asia sex trade flourishes almost exclusively in Thailand, very few of the children affected are Thai children.  Most are from Cambodia, Burma, or Vietnam, and are all transported through the very road our hotel sits on.  They are hidden in crates and bundles to be smuggled across the border, and once they are through, they are on Thai soil and the Cambodian government has no jurisdiction.

This is where the government, even those who aren't corrupt, has their hands tied.  The Cambodian government, who want the kids back, don't have any power on Thai soil, and the government of Thailand cares very little about the plight of what they see as illegal immigrants.  The most they will do after a raid of a child brothel or similar establishment is return them to their borders and drop them off with border control, who will either let them run free or even sell them back to traffickers in order to make an extra few dollars.

The NGOs, or non-profits/ministries working to help this problem, are in a similar catch 22, as they must work within the government-sanctioned process of rescuing children, which not only takes enough time for the brothel bosses or traffickers to escape, but also often requires DNA tests in order to prove that the children aren't being taken from biological parents, which the government is not very eager to grant.  If the system is bypassed, the NGO staff members risk being caught with children who are not their own, which in turn gets them charged with trafficking, deported, and banned from the country.

Needless to say, the situation is heartbreaking.  All the physical obstacles in the way of those people who would take action makes me appreciate even more the need for intercession, because apart from God there can be very little progress in this area.  We need breakthrough, we need open doors, we need men and women of integrity in positions of power.

We are not hopeless, however.  After this disheartening talk we were able to get a more thorough tour of Safe Haven, where around 40 children have literally been taken out of the hands of traffickers through various rescue processes and live peacefully, happily, and in a loving environment where they can heal and have hope for a better future. We have been priveleged to see one of the organization's newest refugees initiate social interaction for one of the very first times since he has been brought to the center.  While the last time our leaders were here he was withdrawn, antisocial, and aggressive at times, I enjoyed him playing and smiling, and swinging!  Though he still does not talk much, we are seeing tremendous progress as he heals!

So, here's to hope.  I'm praising God for the work He is doing through CHO and all of the full time ministers he is bringing to this area.  And I'm hopeful that through a Christian presence in this city, and through our prayers, these systems can be brought down, for good.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Days Go By

What a busy few days!  We've made it to the weekend, and it's the King's birthday so the city has shut down for a few days--not to say we're taking any breaks!  This morning we continued work on the playground at Safe Haven and were able to focus our attention on the rescued children who actually live at the shelter.  I got to know several of them and taught them my very own special version of kickball, which they got a kick out of.  I've been working hard the past few days on several design projects they've assigned me--a logo for the sewing school, a menu for the cafe, a banner for the playground.  We also prayer walked the brothel district this afternoon, which was certainly the most unnerving part of my trip so far.  We got our first taste of American food this evening at the Casino at the border, where I had a mediocre hamburger.

I'm becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the idea that I will have to leave here in just a matter of days.  It's motivating all of us to get everything out of each ministry opportunity that we can, and we're treasuring each moment with these kids more and more as the days go by.  

There is way too much to mention to do this trip justice, but I figured a picture is worth a thousand words, so I've included some as a supplement.  Enjoy!

Sunrise from my hotel room floor 

Not exactly up to safety codes yet...

Our building expert...

Happy to be at School on the Mat!

He's not praying...this is how they sit while they answer the teacher's question

Learning to wash hands

Debra getting some one-on-one ministry time

Practicing face washing

School on the Mat!

Bonnie and dear friend Sopie

Samnang, Rose, & Cody

Sofia and I on our way to Thailand!

Street food is everywhere--but we aren't allowed to eat it


Tye-dye in the city slums

Blue- "kio" in Khmer 

Nothing's keeping this little girl down on tye-dye day!

Our fearless leader, Andrea

My usual stance

We got the swings in!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Safe Haven & School on the Mat

Greetings from the other side of the world!  I've only been here about 2 days, but I feel like I've been here much longer.  There's a lot to process, and as Kelly warned, I'm sure it will take another several months to really unpack and unfold everything I've taken in these past few days.  One thing I know--this is an experience that is not only going to impact the rest of my life, but truly is going to make a difference to this community.

Yesterday we went to the CHO center, Safe Haven, where about 120 kids attend grades 1-5.  Construction went smoothly (above), thanks to our building experts Larry and Kenny, and another group helped move construction materials for two new safe houses that are going to be built in Safe Haven, which are to houses extremely at-risk families.  Another group is here this week specifically to play with the children and train them in hair-cutting, which we hope will provide them with some skills to land them jobs in the future.  Word on the street is they're pretty good, and a few members of our team are thinking about being guinea pigs for them before they leave!  I am not among these brave volunteers.

About 2:00, two of our teammates Sheila and Victoria had the thought of buying the children ice cream, and not within 20 seconds of voicing the wish, an ice cream pulled up in front of the school and charged Sheila and Victoria a total of $13 to buy an ice cream cone for each child.  We were so blessed to see their smiles!  We even got permission to take pictures of this special event, though they are not to be published on the internet in any way.

I expected today to be very similar to yesterday, but boy was I wrong!  Andrea, the ministry coordinator here, asked Bryan to teach "life skills" at School on the Mat, a school system set up by Hope in the Nations that CHO partners with in supplying teachers and materials.  Bryan and BJ used the opportunity to teach these poor village kids about germs and hygiene, and it went so well!  Plus, I got clearance to take pictures and video of children in the villages, which I had a great time with!  And Mallory, we even taught them Boom Snap Clap!  They loved it!

After School on the Mat we picked up a few more teammates and headed to what I thought was a lunch break followed by a few errands...and ended up being a six hour trip to Thailand!  The upsides--we ate lunch at a Thailand resort, where we were able to swim for 40 baht (about $1.15), get a Coca-Cola, and where the chef happened to be serving spaghetti!  The downsides?  By the time we ate it was 4pm and we hadn't eaten in 10 hours, the boys had to wear speedos to swim, and our "spaghetti" turned out to be pasta with ketchup on it.  Bummer.

The day was topped off with a $7 hour-long full body massage from Redemption Spa, which is a business run by CHO that gives locals the opportunity to make money in a specialized field and in a legitimate way.  It was just what I needed after the long day, and I just may find a place there each evening this week!