As you mentioned last week, you volunteered at the Agape’s Rahab’s House, which helps and heals child victims of sex trafficking. Walk us through a typical day there.
The center serves 100+ kids at any given time. From 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., we worked with kids who have graduated from the program. From 11 a.m. to noon, we would visit brick factory workers or impoverished families. We would bring them enough rice for a month, soap, mosquito nets, and blankets. At noon, we would eat lunch with the graduates and children at the center. Then from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., we hosted a kids camp for the children of Phnom Penh and brick factory children. During kids camp, we would host activities, games, and crafts. This part of the day was always my favorite. It was the moment that you could see children—those you knew would be trafficked that very night—laugh and start to understand that there are people out there who do not want to hurt them. Sometimes a mere high five from one of the campers could make your day.
|Kristin (third from left) with AIM staff at the Rahab's House facility in Siem Reap|
What will you remember most about your time at the center?
The most rewarding part of my trip was meeting the warriors on the front line, the survivors of trade, and knowing that by just being there, I was helping. It was the interactions that I will remember.
Are there any interactions in particular that stand out in your mind?
A personal favorite of mine was with a girl at the center. I can’t remember her name, but I will remember her face forever. She was rescued from sex trafficking by AIM. She was shy and could not speak English but every day we were there she would stay on the outskirts of the room with a timid smile. For me, her being there was enough reason to make the journey. On my last day at the center, one of the graduates translated for us. I was so blessed to be able to finally communicate encouragement to her and let her know that others around the world do care about her; that she is significant, cared about, and that we want to see her thrive. For me, that will be one of my best moments of my life.
Another great one was how I saw that helping others transcends language barriers. I was sitting with a little boy at the riverfront, and we were playing with dominos. He didn’t speak English, but I would say “one” and point to the corresponding domino and he would repeat “one.” Then he would say “moy” [holds up a finger], and I would repeat “moy” [holds up a finger]. We continued to do this throughout our game to teach each other. When it comes to human connection, that’s what matters; that’s what I will remember. It was the coolest moment because you realize, you’re a human, I’m a human (no matter how different our lives may be).
I’m sure they will remember you for the rest of their lives, too. It’s inspiring to hear how you and the rest of the AIM staff are generating tangible, positive change in the community. Are there any victories that you hold particularly close to your heart?
One of my favorite stories is of a girl named Toah, who entered the trade around the age of 14. She was locked up in a brothel and somehow was able to gain access to a phone. She had heard of AIM and that it would help get (trafficked) girls like her out of their situation. She called Don Brewster (the head of AIM) asking for him to rescue her. It takes a couple of days to complete the legal rescue process, and when the AIM team finally went to raid the brothel, it was empty. Somebody had tipped them off. Shortly after that failed attempt, Don got another call. “Can you come get me?” asked the young voice on the other end. “They let me go because I told them Papa Don was coming to get me.”
Toah was only enslaved for 22 days, but during that time she was raped 198 times. However, because of the efforts of Don and Bridget Brewster—two people who decided to take a stand—she was freed. It’s stories like this that you have to hold onto, especially when so many fall through.
What was the most difficult aspect of your journey?
Seeing children sold right in front of our eyes and not being able to do anything about it. At the riverfront camp, creepy guys would come and sit and lustfully look at the kids. At one point, I watched a mom coach a little girl how to walk in front of a John. As she glided by in her blue nightgown, she flashed her perfectly practiced smile as she tried to not wobble in her platform sandals. As soon as she passed him, her face dropped. It was so heartbreaking to watch.
How do you handle that? It would make me so angry.
It’s draining. The injustice makes you angry, but you use that as fuel to push past the emotional exhaustion to help the kids. Being there is not about you. It’s about the kids. It’s about the staff that is there 386 days a year. It’s about doing the most you can with the time that you do have there. It’s not easy. We all broke down at some point during the trip. But I have no hatred for anyone there. It is such a multifaceted, complex issue, and there’s not one way to solve it. There’s no way to heal it tomorrow. It’s about teaching compassion and changing hearts that have been hardened. It’s amazing how you can affect someone without even knowing it.
You mentioned that you don’t harbor any hatred—not even towards the pimps who exploit the poor and vulnerable or the Johns who willingly purchase the children?
It’s difficult, definitely, but they are people too. You don’t know what happened that made them that way.
Despite the horrific acts you witnessed and challenges you faced as an "outsider" fighting the status quo, would you return to Phnom Penh?
Absolutely. It was so inspiring to see what can happen if two people do stand up for basic human rights and alter their lives to see it through. Don and Bridget Brewster are the people who truly make a sustainable long-term difference in the world. It was such a blessing to be able to help them. When they first came to Cambodia, it was estimated that 100% of the female children were being trafficked in Phnom Penh. Today they estimate that it is down to 60%. That is a direct reflection of how hard their team works and how the tide is changing. It also means that we have to work even harder to ensure that we can reach that 60%. That is exactly why I have signed up to go back this July. There is still work to be done. So thank you for joining with us in the fight against injustice.
For information about “Every Day in Cambodia,” visit the CNN Freedom Project.
Want to get involved in the fight against child sex trafficking in Cambodia? Visit Agape International Missions (AIM).