Monday, July 2, 2007

Now What?

After living in Cambodia for the last couple of years, it seems somewhat strange to be back. We left a country, where life is hard, but simple. Consumerism is a disease of the Western world, time is relative, and friends are much higher on the food chain. Life just goes a little slower in Southeast Asia. Yet, every day in Cambodia can feel like a week. We worked every day, sometimes 16 plus hours a day and we lived right next door to our work. Having wonderful teenage girls, in mass, tossing rocks at your window and yelling your name, can be convincing pressure to go spend personal time with them in the evening. Though invigorating and the reason we went to Cambodia, it can also be wearing.

For those of you who don't know, we spent the last couple of years, establishing and setting up a long-term, high security shelter for victims of child sex trafficking in Cambodia. Our center took in 30 plus girls, Vietnamese and Cambodian, ranging in age from 9-18 years old. As well, we set up a transitional living center to take girls to the next level in assisting them with transitioning into a normal, adult life. Though all of this sounds great - in application, it was a bit more challenging than most people would guess. There have been many challenges, including family pressure, trauma, financial issues, cultural attitudes, and governmental obstacles. Oh, don't let me forget American pride (Western pride really, we don't want to forget the Brits, Aussies, and New Zealander's!)

Yet, for all the challenges, we were able to establish a well running center, a good vocational program, and some solid programs. We pioneered a repatriation program that just returned two wonderful twin sisters back to Vietnam, where they have a chance at a wonderful future. As well, we were able to put together reintegration protocols that will assist our social workers in helping these girls get the best chance at acclimating back into society as healthy adults.

So, when we felt that Cambodian nationals could handle the work, we said we would work ourselves out of a job. And we did. The next question was 'what do we do now?'...

All of a sudden, we had an opportunity to pick where in the World we wanted to be. Athena and I have always loved Oregon and had wanted to move here in the past. We have good memories there, love the weather (yes, I said weather - love the rain, cold, and clouds), and love the area and people. So, Athena and I bought a house back in February and now we are settling in. It has been wonderful here. We live minutes from vineyards, an hour from the beach, and a short drive to hiking, waterfalls, and snow. You really couldn't ask for more...except maybe a job.

What do you do when you have spent the last two years making a dent in child sex trafficking?
A good friend of mine, Trevor, once asked, "how will you top this?" After working for with sexually trafficked and exploited Cambodian and Vietnamese girls, this seemed to be a fair question. One that I am in the process of trying to figure out.

Yet, at the same time, I am 39 years old, not 89 - there is so much life, energy, and passion left in me that this cannot be my magnum opus. Certainly, there is more to do, impact, and explore. As well, we are still involved in the lives of the girls we have been working, where does that leave things?

Well, in July I am doing a golf tournament with the Cambodian community in Portland. Later this year, I will be escorting girls from Cambodia to testify in an American pedophile case and in September, I will be speaking at a conference on child sex trafficking in Toronto, Canada. Life is pretty full. This next year, my oldest daughter, Ashley will be graduating high school, my son, Gabe will be a Sophmore, and Alexis is beginning sixth grade. Athena and I will have our hands full to be sure. We are planning our own non-profit organization, but more on that later...

I am hoping to connect people through this blog to better understand issues of sex trafficking and the work going on in Southeast Asia. American media has portrayed a particular side of the issues, which I think distort our understanding and impact on this vital issue. I hope that you will interact with me, challenge me, and most of all work with me and others to see the travesty of child sex trafficking end.

1 comment:

  1. I was recently in Cambodia where I visited a NGO shelter for girls who have been sex trafficked. Before I left Cambodia I knew that I needed to do something. I am currently working on a YouTube video essay to create awareness and hopefully influence people to take action.