Friday, August 12, 2011

Connecting with Ratanak Partners and Friends

Today I am once again thankful for Ratanak partners and friends who are helping us navigate various aspects of setting up our operations. This morning I met up with Helen Sworn who is the International Director and Founder of Chab Dai, an umbrella organization that represents a coalition of 40 Christian organizations seeking to end human trafficking and sexual abuse in Cambodia. Ratanak has funded prevention programs in vulnerable communities through Chab Dai since 2006 and it has been a source of encouragement to see more and more village leaders, police and other community leaders speaking up to advocate for children in their villages.

Helen is quite the networker over here and a person who has a broad arrange of knowledge on issues and  today she was helping me navigate a bunch of operational and administrative tasks that I will be involved with in setting up Ratanak's operations in Cambodia. Besides providing me with the necessary paper work, I have also been given access to her staff who act as a valuable resource in walking me through all the legalities, documentation and agencies that we will be connecting with in Cambodia. I remain thankful to the Lord that He is going ahead of us corporately as an organization and leading us to the people who have experienced in a various matters that we are dealing with. One of the advantages in talking with another business person like Helen is that we both understand the importance of leveraging off of existing networks instead of reinventing the wheel. Having this kind of support is so invaluable and I feel like I'm back in the business world---funny how some things never change even if you are in a different country!

Following that meeting, the next pit stop was at Bloom Training Centre to meet with its founder Ruth Larwill. Bloom seeks to empower former victims of trafficking through vocational training and employment. For all you dessert lovers, this is the place to come and taste some of the most amazing cakes and cupcakes. Many of the girls from the Newsong centre come and work at Bloom and its was so encouraging to hear how the Lord is rebuilding their self confidence and self esteem as they use their creativity to make some of the most beautiful cakes that are being ordered by some of the elite families in Cambodia including the prime minister's family. God has certainly used Bloom to have a positive impact on the lives of the girls but as Ruth noted, its not enough to provide them with a job, but to understand how to care for their souls as they struggle through a variety of issues while at work. Ruth highlighted how the spiritual component has been such a vital part of equipping and strengthening the girls. Having regular devotions and prayer times at work have been powerful tools needed to work through demonic activities, family pressures and ongoing effects of their past trauma. This is a similar comment that was echoed recently when I visited Daughters cafe (another Ratanak partner).  When Christ begins to take hold in their lives and transforms their thinking, they gain a whole new level of confidence and courage that with Jesus, they can accomplish much, despite what their families or society may tell them.

As well, there is a growing realization that even at these training centers, there is a need for onsite counselors who provide emotional support and encouragement as a girl deals with the challenges and stresses of the working world. Listening to Ruth, I am learning that it is not just sufficient to provide the training and life skills to help this vulnerable population but it must be done in conjunction with providing social enterprises---- businesses that create an environment that foster a discipleship model so these young women feel part of a community that walks with them in their journey of integration. While many of the girls appreciate the 'independence' of having a job and earning a decent living, there continues to be a longing to be part of a family. This is not surprising since most have been sold by their mothers and so they have no concept what it is like to be in a loving supportive family.

Like Bloom, we at Ratanak are committed to not just investing and empowering these young women, but we view them as our daughters, committed to walking with them through their journey of healing into their journey of freedom even if it takes a life time. We are there for them, no matter what happens.We covenant with them, just as Christ covenants with us. As I think of this, it is the verse from 1 Corinthians 13:7-8 that comes to mind: Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. It is this unconditional love that Jesus has towards us, that He asks of us to do the same to these who are precious in His sight. Stephen Smith, author of The Lazarus Life says: Transformation does not come from earning love, it does not depend on our efforts to 'make it happen. Transformation comes from being loved! Only the voice of Love will do. Only love transforms, not power, not coercion, not programs, not tips and techniques. Only love and only the love of God.

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