Friday, January 29, 2010

Human trafficking and a women's hostel in Phnom Penh

by Katherine Parker
My cousin Wes sent me this article on Human Trafficking and it got me thinking about recent experiences that I have had.

I love going to the Tropical Oasis Spa down by the Toul Tem Pong market. It certainly is not as upscale as some others, but I like to support the young women who are studying there. It is part of an NGO run by friends of mine that works with at-risk girls and those who have escaped from trafficking. There is a great cafe downstairs and I often run into other friends from around town.

The Methodist Mission in Cambodia has a similar training program in beauty, cooking and sewing skills for at-risk young women. It is called Emmaus. Last year, we held a two-day meeting of the Social Concerns Committee (SCC) at the center to expose more of the Cambodian pastors to the program so they know about the opportunity as an option for at-risk young women in their communities. It is a great program and I love visiting its relaxing and beautiful campus. It is a bit out of Phnom Penh, so I've only been a few times. They work hard to help the girls with job placement and just submitted a proposal to CHAD to help some of the graduates with loans to set up their own businesses. The goal in part is to enable young women to return to their villages, rather than stay in Phnom Penh to look for work. I really hope we can fund them.

I also started going to a Monday night prayer group. It is held at the home of a man who works for World Vision on advocacy about trafficking. He has been educating me bit by bit about the situation in Cambodia and in Southeast Asia. While I know that trafficking is a reality here in Cambodia, I usually don't think too much about it. A recent incident, though, has forced me to.

The 10th grade daughter of a church worker I know was waiting at the side of the road in a dark section of Phnom Penh to be picked up to go home after an event. A moto-dop (motorcycle taxi) pulled up. He looked legitimate and she decided to get a ride with him rather than waiting for her arranged ride to come. Quickly, she realized that he was not going in the right direction. He took her to a house and locked her up in a room. Later, she met other girls who were also locked up and who had had similar experiences. They were awaiting transport to Thailand for prostitution.

The church worker's daughter had some advantages that others did not. Because she was waiting for someone to pick her up, family and friends realized right away that she was missing. The church called together a prayer meeting. The church members put out posters and the moto-dop drivers in the church started asking around.

A few days later, her captors said that holding her was too much trouble and they let her go!

The family is not talking much about it, and even though I was just at the church either shortly before or after the kidnapping, (I'm not sure of the exact timing), nothing was mentioned to me. I think there is shame associated with the situation and the church and friends want to minimize that for the girl and her family. I know she wants to continue with her studies.

What would have happened if they didn't have a church community to work together and come to her aid? What about all of the other women who are being held? I know intellectually that Phnom Penh is a dangerous place for young Khmer women, but this seemed really close to home.

The young women from the Emmaus Center have been living two by two when they come to Phnom Penh, but the situations are not optimum. The Women's Program has been praying about starting a hostel where 20 or so of them can live together (both Emmaus graduates and those who come to Phnom Penh to attend college). The reality of the work situation is that the young women often have to work on Sundays, so they can't participate in a regular worship community. A house would give them solidarity and support for each other and a place where they could continue their spiritual development. Yesterday, I heard that the house next to mine might be available for rent, and I thought of it as a possibility.

I have also been praying recently about how I might be more involved with spiritual development of young women in Cambodia. Maybe this is an opportunity. There is still quite a bit of planning that needs to be done, and this is really just the first glimmer of an idea. We would need to raise the funds for maybe two years of rent up front to give the project a chance to become self sustaining. The girls in the house would initially be responsible for water, electricity, and food. We have other hostels around Phnom Penh that have been very important outreach ministries to youth, so we have a good model of how it could work.

Please pray for the Women's Ministry of the Methodist Church in Cambodia, for how the ministry might best be expanded with young women, particularly those at risk. And, please pray for me, also, that I might have clarity about how I can be involved.

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