Cambodia is a lesson in contradictions.

Since arriving in the country I have been filled with both great joy and unbelievable sorrow.  My emotions have been on a roller coaster ride and I’m still coming to grips with the things that I have seen.

This is going to be an interesting trip…

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On my first day in Phnom Penh I was given a short tour of the city by Theary Sath, the director of Cambodian operations for the Center for Global Impact (my host organization for this trip).

One of the many Buddhist temples in Phnom Penh.

After she picked me up at the airport, Theary (pronounced like “Terry”) drove me around to get the lay of the land.  We saw markets selling unusual fruits and vegetables, beautiful temples and palaces, the Mekong River… It was nice.

The lush rice paddies of Cambodia harbor a painful past. Many were once called “killing fields.”

Then we drove past a footbridge where 456 people died in a stampede just one week before.  It came out of nowhere.  I was stunned.

Swept Away

After seeing a bit more of the city, we visited a Buddhist temple.  We laughed as I valiantly promised to defend Theary if a nearby monkey decided to attack.  We walked around, enjoyed the unique sights and sounds of Phnom Penh.  I was happy to be exploring someplace new.

But just 10 minutes later, I was overwhelmed.  After the temple, we visited an old school now used as a museum about the Khmer Rouge atrocities.

In the late 1970’s the Khmer Rouge had turned this school into a prison, torturing and murdering people there by the hundreds.  Barbed wire covers the windows, chains hang from the walls, and shelves in the final room are lined with human skulls recovered from nearby killing fields.

It pains me to know how much suffering is endured by the beautiful women of Cambodia.

By the time we left the museum, all the joy I had experienced in the city had been swept away.

Disparity

Will her life be any different?

Amazing beauty amidst crushing poverty, a rich culture with a horrific past… Cambodia gives new meaning to the word “disparity.”

But of all the shocking contradictions I struggle to get my head around here, there is one that hits me deeper than all the rest; a disparity that has taken me from fury to sorrow to indignation to helplessness and back again.

The disparity is this: in a country full of beautiful, kind and gracious women there is one of the most active sex trafficking industries in the world.

Every day in Cambodia, there are girls, some as young as six or seven, who are sold into modern-day slavery, their bodies and their dignity shattered.

Some are kidnapped from their homes, some are tricked by fake job offers and some are simply sold by their parents whenever their families need money.  It is a brutal and despicable system, and it is very, very real.

Open Eyes

For a long time sex trafficking was nothing more than a concept to me.  I knew that women and girls somewhere were being forced into sexual slavery, but the idea seemed a bit too abstract to really wrap my head around.

Some of the women at byTavi working hard in their new vocation.

Since coming to Cambodia, however, I have met young women that have actually been rescued from trafficking.  I have met girls who were sold by their own mothers.  And I have met children who are still safe only because their bodies have yet to reach puberty.  For many of them it is just a matter of time.

All of a sudden the issue of sex trafficking has come front and center in my mind.  Everywhere I look here my eyes have been opened.

And my heart has been broken.

Diving Deeper

Over the next few weeks I will be taking you with me as I dive deeper into the issues surrounding sex trafficking.  I’ll explore the causes and the effects of this global crisis and I’ll share stories of those most affected: the girls themselves.

But don’t worry.  My articles and photo galleries will not just be doom and gloom. I’ll be sharing some of the solutions to sex trafficking as well.

While I am in Cambodia I’ll be embedded with the Center for Global Impact, an Indianapolis-based organization that has its roots in this country through three separate projects:

  • The Daughters Project (www.daughtersbridal.blogspot.com): A program dedicated to teaching dress-making skills to rescued sex trafficking victims.  With training and experience under their belt, these girls will have a chance to make it in the world once more.
  • There is hope in the midst of the darkness.

  • byTavi (bytavi.com): A micro-enterprise business that gives women and girls a chance to create totes, handbags and scarves for an American market.  By taking them out of toxic environments of poverty, these women can earn a livable wage and gain usable life-skills to avoid the trappings that lead to sex trafficking in the first place.
  • Battambang Culinary School: CGI’s newest initiative, this school will teach culinary skills to a mixture of trafficking victims and at-risk girls in the city of Battambang.  These girls, armed with the ability to cook gourmet food as well as local dishes, will find jobs they never would have had access to before.

From what I have already seen, these three initiatives are already bearing tremendous fruit in the lives of the girls they are designed to help.  I can’t wait to learn more about them!

I invite you to open your mind, soften your heart, and join me as I dive into an issue that needs to be brought into the light…

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There is one other disparity in Cambodia that I failed to mention above:  although evil is pervasive here, the kingdom of God is breaking through with power.

In the midst of darkness, there is hope.

Man, this country is a lesson in contradictions…

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Next Steps
    • Looking for Christmas gifts that have a bit more significance this year? Consider shopping on the website for byTavi. I’ve seen their products first-hand, and let me tell you, they are awesome.
    • Want to support any of the projects listed above financially? Getting your money into the game has never been easier. Click here to donate to CGI!
    • Pray for the victims of sex trafficking around the world. Pray that the evil systems causing this terrible social injustice would come crashing down.
    Next Steps

About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

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Comments

  1. Amy Sorrells said... 

    Reply

    December 8th, 2010 at 7:59 am  

    The killing fields. Same place, different generation, such a similar death for too many of those precious girls. Praising God for those ministries and for you devoting time and passion to this incredibly important topic. Praying hard for truth and revelation; for hearts to be shaken by your reports; and for God to come crashing down into those fields, making them green with life and innocence again.

  2. Jo Nading said... 

    Reply

    December 8th, 2010 at 10:54 am  

    This one (trip and topic) is gonna be tough Barry. I quiver just thinking about what you’ll find, see, hear, and share. I kinda don’t want to know but realize I need to know. To think that there is a generation where parents think and feel so little of their little girls – their princesses – that they even dare to compare their value to the almighty ‘dollar’ is impossible to wrap my brain around. Surely it must boil God’s holy blood. These are the things that actually cause me to wish THOSE people live in Old Testament times – so God could literally strike them dead on the spot. I also pray that hearts be rended with what you share. And may God’s angels of protection and of comfort be sent to care for those in the line of ‘fire’ ….and may his warring angels rise up for the battle that rages. I know if we just pray for those angels that God will send them. What a sight that would be if we could visibly see the battle between those angels and the forces of evil that drive this sick and painful traffiking. Gosh – I guess this topic pushes a button.

    You are courageous Barry. I admire your willingness to see and hear and share. I pray that God protects your heart as you learn the horrors that await you.

    Jo

  3. Dave Rod said... 

    Reply

    December 8th, 2010 at 11:27 am  

    Bar, this hits a nerve we are afraid to have revealed. In a world of injustice and evil this one issue as much as any goes deep, deep, deep and makes us wrestle with the image of God in us and the tragic selfishness that consumes us.

    I will read with a mix of trepidation and hope.

  4. Kyle Huffman said... 

    Reply

    December 8th, 2010 at 2:12 pm  

    Sitting hear with a lump in my throat as I read about these girls/women and the life they are subjected to. Thank you for shning a light on this tragic issue. I have really had my heart stirred as you’ve been bringing these stories to from around the world in to focus.

  5. Don Litwiler said... 

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    December 8th, 2010 at 5:45 pm  

    Barry,

    As I said, you definitely have “the eye”. Your shots are great and very revealing. But more importantly, your words of sorrow and compassion for victims of this culture provide a much greater “picture” of such injustice. We may not “see” it, but we can “feel” it through your words.

    Thank you for being the filament of light that brings attention to the deep, dark recesses of evil in the world.

  6. tiab said... 

    Reply

    December 9th, 2010 at 2:48 pm  

    It is almost too hard to read about….. but God wants us to see and know and help.
    Thanks for your courage and God bless those sweet little girls and the ministries aiding them.

  7. Jim.M said... 

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    December 10th, 2010 at 2:03 am  

    :(

  8. Steve B said... 

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    December 10th, 2010 at 10:24 am  

    Thanks for tackling Barry, because we need it. Until I read a couple of books by Gary Haugen, this was out of sight, out of mind to me. To understand how young the victims are that are being affected by this is heartbreaking. I struggle with a feeling of hopelessness when it comes to this, so I look forward to reading how God is moving to alleviate this situation.

  9. Annie said... 

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    December 18th, 2010 at 10:15 pm  

    Thank you for discussing these topics! So often I feel like women’s issues are swept under the rug and girls/women suffer in silence. It breaks my heart that they are not seen as a whole person, but just a body. Please tell the girls/women that we are praying for them and can’t wait to see what God has planned for them!

  10. Virginia Baldwin said... 

    Reply

    January 8th, 2011 at 9:35 am  

    Thanks for that “eye opening” report. Dave and Louise gave me a beautiful bag for Christmas made “by Tavi”. I took it on my trip to Florida between Christmas and New Years. I like it so much and now it means more to me.

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