Saturday, June 30, 2012

Happy Birthday Canada - Cambodian Style

Today it was fun to just relax and finally chill a bit after what has been a few hectic weeks. Tomorrow July 1st is Canada Day ---Canada's birthday, so Sreyhem one of consultants who has helped us immensely during the hiring process of our staff opened her house to the Ratanak staff and invited us all including family members to lunch.
Some of our Ratanak staff and their families!

In Canada normally everyone brings a dish but in Cambodia, entertaining and hospitality is a bit different. We were invited to come at around 10am for lunch and I was trying to figure out why we needed to go so early. As is typical of my ''western mindset'' ---- I was wondering what we would do for 2 hours---I'm so task oriented its sad! :-) Anyway, thankfully we have great staff who are teaching me much about Cambodian culture so I don't hopefully make any major faux paxs! Nary our Operations Manager explained to me that the reason we go early is to help prepare the food. In Cambodian culture, it is customary to go and help the hostess prepare the food, one does not just show up and eat! Drats :-).
Sophea and Sina our home advisors frying spring rolls and sampling them as well!
So some of our staff arrived ahead of time with their family members to help with the food preparation. Cambodian culture like many Asian cultures is a family affair and it was nice to meet and spend time with some of the extended family of our staff.

Soklin our counselor with her son
Sereyrom our Social Worker and Nary our Operations manager hanging out on the swing set
Sreyhem and Malak our Psychosocial Coordinator are actually cousins
Events like these provide a wonderful opportunity to bond and hang out together. It builds a spirit of unity and provides time to just sit and relax and enjoy each other's company instead of talking about work. Part of the recommendations to reduce the potential for burnout and reduce the stress is to have these kind of events where our staff can unwind with their family.

We are so thankful to Sreyhem who generously provided a place of refuge for all of us. She is married to a Canadian Mike who has lived in Cambodia for over 20 years. Being at their home which is outside the city is located in a place that is so quiet and peaceful that one can feel the serenity as soon as you step onto the property.
Sreyhem, her son Aaron and her husband Mike
Well lunch time was upon us and it was time to eat the Ban Xiao and spring rolls. For those who don't know what Ban Xiao is its an omelette that has pork, shrimp and vegetables in it. You wrap it in a lettuce leaf with some mint leaves and cucumbers and dip it into fish sauce. Its the perfect type of meal to eat when it is hot as it is light and yet healthy with all those veggies. Some Cambodians tend to cook their meals outside on a clay type pot--so there is an inside kitchen and an outside kitchen where the real cooking is done. One of the reasons of cooking outside is that the smell dissipates. Makes perfect sense!

Sreyhem's helper making the Ban Xiao outside over a clay pot

Lunch is ready!

Of course one has to have a bit of grease and so Sreyhem also had her helpers prepare fried spring rolls---I inhaled several of those as they taste so good. But such a meal would not be completed if we didn't have a bit of ''boratay (white) food'' on this Canada day so I ordered a cake from our friends at Bloom Cafe and brought some ice cream to celebrate Canada's birthday!

Happy Birthday Canada!
One of the joys of hanging out with the extended family of our staff is the opportunity to play with their babies! Yes my maternal instincts come out during such times as I have come to the conclusion that Cambodian kids are "one" of the cutests if not ''the" cutests babies in the world. I love their big eyes and long eye lashes. I would adopt them all if I could but one of the advantages of being an ''aunt'' is one gets to play with them and when you are tired, hand them back to their parents! :-) Its the best of both worlds!
Sereyrom our social worker and her daughter

All in all it was a fun filled day to eat and be merry. In the months to come as we open our RAP community home, our staff will be busy on a variety of levels. So we are grateful for today's activities which allow us to rest and relax. It is part of cultivating a sabbath heart --- something that is so often difficult to do in Cambodia because there is always work to do, yet, the importance of taking time to rest, to have a time out enables us to pace ourselves so that we do not burnout. Psalm 147:13-14 says: He strengthens the bars of your gates and blesses your people within you.He grants peace to your borders and satisfies you with the finest of wheat.  Thank you Lord for this time of rest in which You strengthen the bars of our gates and grant us peace and rest to recalibrate our souls for the journey you have set before us!

Guess Who's Coming For Breakfast!

One of the fun things about living in Cambodia is that you never know what will happen on a day to day basis. Life here is always about expecting the unexpected and just going with the flow. You never know who you might meet. Such has been my week where I had the unexpected but incredible privilege of meeting 5 Canadian MPs (Members of Parliament) from our federal parties. 
• Dean Allison - Conservative (Niagara West-Glanbrook, Ontario)
• Wayne Easter - Liberal (Malpeque, PEI)
• Russ Hiebert - Conservative (South Surrey, Whiterock, Cloverdale, BC)
• Isabelle Morin - NDP (Notre-Dame-de-GrĂ¢ce—Lachine, Quebec)
• Wai Young - Conservative (Vancouver South)
Left to Right: Ellie Vandenberg (World Vision Canada), MP Wai Young,  MP Isabelle Morin, MP Dean Allison)
It was encouraging that this Canadian delegation of MPs were on fact finding mission visiting both Thailand and Cambodia to learn more about Human trafficking. Their visit is quite timely considering that yesterday, Bill C-310 received royal assent. This bill gives prosecutors and police in Canada the power to arrest and prosecute Canadians for human-trafficking crimes committed outside the country. Manitoba Conservative MP Joy Smith, Canada's modern day female version of William Wilberforce has been championing this cause for a long time. Her TWO Private Members Bills (Bill C-268 in 2010 and Bill C-310 yesterday) now serve to strengthened Canada’s laws against human trafficking.Combined with the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking launched earlier this month these efforts positions Canada as a leader in the fight against human trafficking.
While Canada does not have an embassy in Cambodia, it was a special privilege to be contacted by MP Wai Young (Conservative - Vancouver South) who wanted to meet Ratanak personnel on the ground here in Cambodia. It was like meeting a long lost friend. Her invitation to have a breakfast meeting despite their busy schedule,  provided an opportunity for me to connect with all the other MPs and to share about Ratanak's response and discuss the diverse portfolio of programs (Prevention, Aftercare, Foster care homes, Transitional Life skills and now our own RAP Community home), that we have had the privilege of funding over the past 6 years. To know that our Federal government is not only taking this issue of Human Trafficking seriously but to see their interest and support in what we are doing here in Cambodia was such a blessing and a huge encouragement. It is a reminder to me that our fight for justice on behalf of those who have no voice involves cooperation at all levels. We each have a role to play, whether it is us as NGOs on the ground here in Cambodia, our volunteers back in Canada or our MPs at the Federal level. This battle to end human trafficking will involve all of us working together to make a difference. 
Last evening as I drove MP Wai Young and MP Russ Hiebert - Conservative (South Surrey, Whiterock, Cloverdale, BC) around certain streets where one will see many ''sex pats'' hanging out, their eagerness to understanding the different dynamics at play in trafficking in Cambodia was clearly apparent. I wish we had more time together but all in God's timing. Do pray that as they have spent an intense few days learning much about the issues of trafficking in Thailand and Cambodia and the challenges and structural factors at play, that the Lord will use them to be His voice at the legislative level. Psalm 145:4-7 says: One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts. They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—and I will meditate on your wonderful works.They tell of the power of your awesome works— and I will proclaim your great deeds. They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness. May it be that as God has opened their eyes to see the darkness of this sordid trade, that He will raise up many more William Wilberforces within the government of Canada, who will commend His works to the next generation, using their spheres of influence to take a stand for human dignity and proclaim as William Wilbeforce did: So enormous, so dreadful, so irremediable did the Trade's wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for Abolition. Let the consequences be what they would, I from this time determined that I would never rest until I had effected its abolition.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A week at the RAP Home

As mentioned in my previous post Brian McConaghy the founder of Ratanak is visiting Cambodia. It was fun picking him up in the Ratanak car and whisking him from the airport to the RAP (Ratanak Achievement Program) home so that he could meet our staff. They were just wrapping up a training session learning about Spiritual Intimacy with the Father, when we walked in the door so we opted to tour the facilities briefly. 
Staff devotions with Wendy an international worker here in Cambodia who speaks fluent Khmer

As he walked through the building, he commented how unusual it was to walk through a project that was not one of our partners but an actual Ratanak project. Many of you know that Ratanak was started 23 years ago when God put a call on Brian's heart for Cambodia. For 18 years he worked full time in the RCMP and used his evenings to serve his other passion the people of Cambodia. So it was a special moment for me to welcome a dear friend who has not only inspired my life but who is an example of one who has lived so selflessly for many years to serve a nation he loves. Whenever I think of Brian, he is a living example of what a ''long obedience in the same direction'' looks like. His commitment and love for Cambodia has never wavered in spite of challenges along the way.

Brian sharing with the our staff about his journey to Cambodia

As the week progress our staff are slowly settling into their new work place, our two home advisors have been practicing their culinary skills in preparation for when the RAP home opens. They will be teaching the girls who live at the home how to cook.
Sina making fried rice!

Sophea preparing one of my favorite dishes - Lok Lak
Of course with each practice cooking session at lunch time, I made sure I had meetings at the RAP home scheduled around lunch time to taste all the wonderful dishes that were being made. I think I've gained a few pounds from this meal alone! On the menu that day was spring rolls,  sweet and sour fish and beef lok lac --a popular Khmer dish.
Lunch time at the RAP Home

Eating together is a wonderful bonding opportunity between the staff and the soon to be clients who will be staying at this home. For me, being the only ''boratay (foreigner)'' its extra special as the discussions around the table tend to be in Khmer which gives me a great opportunity to not just practice my language but also learn more about our staff and different cultural aspects of life in Cambodia. I learned that eating the fish head means that you are the leader----some of the staff wanted to know if I would like to have it but I happily declined. I quickly deflected such a suggestion by commenting that we are all leaders in different ways so they could all have a share of the fish head! We also began talking about relationships as some of our staff are single so it was fascinating to learn more about why some would prefer to marry a foreigner versus a Khmer person. Of course those who are married added in their two cents about why they chose a Khmer spouse. Stay tune for a blog on dating cues from the Cambodian perspective!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Tag Team

So its been a very busy week but am blessed to have my boss and colleague Brian McConaghy here. We have lots to chat about and after picking him up from the airport tonight from Siem Reap we headed to a restaurant that is in a neighborhood that tourists normally hang out. Of course we were both hungry and as we stepped in the door of the restaurant, my hunger turn to disgust as I saw a much older Caucasian man with a very young Khmer girl.

As we got seated I suggested to Brian to look to his left as he had not seen this odd couple but a quick glance and his irritation rose. Unfortunately I didn't really bring my camera but had my phone which has a built in camera so we positioned it in such a way to take a photo. The girl  looked not much older than 14 or 15 years old so we began to discuss what we should do.  Initially we thought we'd wait till we finished eating before walking over to talk to them but a short while later as we got our food, we noticed the older man had paid the bill so we decided to go over and talk to them. Brian confronted the the guy while I chatted in Khmer to the young girl asking her how old she was. She indicated she was 23 years old but her face gave away a much younger age. I told her we were an organization that seeks to protect young women who are with foreigners who might want to hurt them. She didn't know how to respond. She sat with what seemed like a fake smile not sure what to make of this unexpected conversation. No doubt a bit embarrassed and uncertain about what this unexpected intrusion meant. In the mean time, Brian had a more direct confrontation with the pedophile who was clearly not amused. His conversation went something like this:

Brian: 'Hi 'is this your daughter?'' 
The man:  ''no she is a really lovely friend'', 
Brian: ''really!!! Is this the kind of friendship between your legs?"
The Man: ''no, we don't have sex"
Brian: Really!, You are the only guy in Phnom Penh that isn't like that
The Man: What business is it of yours?
Brian: I investigate people like you
The Man: its none of your business. Show me your credentials
Brian: I don't have to show you a thing
The Man: This is my country 
Brian: There is more than me watching you.

They left the restaurant as other patrons looked at us and this odd couple. Later as we were about to leave the restaurant the Khmer waiter came over and asked us what happened. We shared with him our love for the Khmer people and when we see such scenes like what we observed, we get very angry. He thanked us for speaking to the man and echoed similar sentiments that girl seemed only 14 or 15 years old. He mentioned that the ''man'' seemed quite mad at us but I said, ''well we are not afraid of him. We just want to expose his intentions.'' Anyway, its great to tag team with Brian this way. I have to say whatever fatigue I may have felt from a busy week gave way to a quick shot of adrenalin!

Living here in Cambodia, these kind of sights are quite common and it is not easy to watch such a young girl clinging onto the arms of such an old man acting as if she is enjoying his company. One can only imagine the personal prison she is in. Feeling trapped with no way out. As I think of her and many like her who find themselves in a similar predicament, I am reminded of Psalm 140: I say to the Lord, “You are my God.”   Hear, Lord, my cry for mercy. Sovereign Lord, my strong deliverer, you shield my head in the day of battle.Do not grant the wicked their desires, Lord; do not let their plans succeed.I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy. (Psalm 140:6-8, 12)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Fathers Day & Mothers Day = Parents Day

Each Sunday I try to attend the service of the local Khmer church that we are partnering with. The service is entirely in Khmer and there is English subtitles to the worship songs, many of which are familiar to me. But, I love to listen to the worship in Khmer to see if I can pick up the Khmer words that are being used. On a good day,  I can  understand between 50% to 70% of what is being said (that is a miracle in and of itself), but it doesn't matter. I am discovering that language is no barrier for the Spirit of God to speak to us and to minister to our souls---He can touch our hearts because it is deep speaking to deep, spirit speaking to spirit. So often in these Sunday service, I find myself in tears---not because of sadness, but overwhelmed by the Father's love and touched by the images He gives me as I look around and see my Khmer brothers and sisters worshiping Him in Spirit and in Truth. 

Those of you who have been following this blog know that we often discuss how family obligation and honor in Cambodian culture as in many Asian cultures, influences individual decisions. So often when we talk about girls who are trafficked, we see the distortion of these family obligations that leads to young women being compelled to sell themselves or are sold by their parents or relatives to pay of debts or other reasons that involve the family dynamics. But, today was one of those special days at this Khmer church and while I wish I could have taken photos, it was such a special moment that I found myself immersed in that I didn't want to use the camera, but just soak in what I was experiencing. Today, we were celebrating not just father's day but mother's day---it was a celebration of honor for the parents of the Khmer young people that attend this church. Many of their parents came to this service which in a sense was an outreach for them----some of the parents have come previously and for others it was the first time attending. 

Normally, the music would be more loud and boisterous, after all most of those who attend here are in their late teens and early 20s---but today, the worship was more calm and serene---recognizing that the older generation were present. That in and of itself was a sign of respect. As the worship service began, I couldn't help but watch the faces of the older people---many of them stoic, their faces seem harden perhaps by the very lives  they have lived and the pain and suffering they have endured. That generation grew up on the Khmer Rouge era---they were the children of that time period, but now they are the parents of modern day Cambodia. Then, I looked at the faces of the young people---this new generation that God is raising up to worship Him----their faces full of joy, there is a vibrancy and lightness in them as they lifted their hands up to worship their King. They were not afraid to display their worship of the Lord. As I looked at this scene, tears came to my eyes, for in the front rows sat all the parents, and surrounding them from all sides and the back were the young people, their hands stretched out in worship. It was this image that touched my spirit---these young people were like a shield around their parents, just as God is a shield around us. Who knows within this crowd of young people, how many of them have experienced persecution from their parents as they became Christians. After all, to be Cambodian is to be Buddhist. 

But today as I watched these young people,  I sense the Lord saying, the young people today in Cambodia are leading the way, this is the new generation that He is raising up to bring healing to this land, this is the new generation that is bringing His hope and releasing His love. This is the new generation that will be breaking the chains of the past. One of the young women sitting next to me,showed me a beautiful gift wrapped present she had made for her mother. It was a surprise---actually all the young college age boys and girls had brought presents to give to their parents this day. Those who were 16 years old and were still in high school, were given presents to give to their parents. In the mid point of the service, this gift giving happened. What a sight, as young people went before their parents where ever they were sitting, hugging their parents or kneeling at their feet and giving them a gift to thank them. Such an expression of love, so priceless, so touching, so honoring. Some of them in tears, as well as their parents----those stoic faces were slowly softening, giving way to smiles --- but God was not done. 

A young woman who is one of the worship leaders got up to share her testimony. She talked about how her father had died a few years ago and she began to weep as she encouraged her brothers and sisters to honor their parents, to respect their parents, to serve them before it is too late. It was a tearful testimony but one that was so powerful, for now everyone was in tears, young and old wiping the tears from their eyes. As she continued, a lady next to me started sobbing uncontrollably unlike the rest of us who were just moved by the testimony. This was more than just tears, God was touching her deeply, deep within her soul. Something had been triggered, perhaps she never had the privilege of coming from a loving family, perhaps she had regrets, perhaps her parents had died or perhaps she never knew her parents. Whatever the reason, the Lord was speaking to her through this testimony. I quietly put my hand to her shoulder and just prayed for her. 

Here in Cambodia, it is not common to see such tears---the older generation are used to suppressing their emotions. They lived under the Khmer Rouge regime where your true feelings were not to be shown because if you did that could mean death. Emotions were suppressed and in many ways that continues today as we think about the whole saving face mentality. But God is starting to remove these layers of trauma, bit by bit  He is using this younger generation who are so expressive and transparent about their emotions to bring new life in dead places. They are not afraid to cry, they are discovering that crying is healthy, it is normal, it is not a sign of weakness, but it is a sign of vulnerability, it is about being your true self and being honest about how you feel, it is simply about being human. My dear friend Marie Ens once shared with me, that it is so good to see these young people so full of emotion, so expressive in their worship, so joyful as they dance to worship music---they are discovering what it means to be free in Christ, to be true worshippers of Him. This is so unlike their parents, who for years have kept all those emotions within themselves, locked away deep within them their souls. I can't help but think this is the bondage that Satan cultivated during the Khmer Rouge era but God has started tearing these walls down! God is restoring feelings and emotions in this land which for many years were imprisoned. 

Psalm 24:7-10 says: lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty,  the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, you gates;  lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.  Who is he, this King of glory?  The Lord Almighty  he is the King of glory. This psalm reminds me that the Lord is in the business of breaking down ancient doors. There are many ancient doors here in Cambodia that prevent people from experiencing true freedom and so like the Psalmist we pray that these ancient doors of trauma, of deep pain, of deep suffering, of hopeless, of meaninglessness, of bondage, of brokenness, of rejection, of abandonment, of poverty,  just to name a few---that each of these will continue to be torn down by the King of Glory Himself. The Lord Almighty wants to enter into to the lives of those who are hurting in this nation. Pray that He will continue to move and touch the hearts of both young and old,  that as they sow in tears, He promises they will reap songs of joy for in Him and through Him we are more than conquerors. In Him, we move and have our being, in Him we discover true freedom to be ourselves! In Him, we discover our true identity as daughters and sons of the Most High God!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Picture Cards

Over these past two days our Psychosocial Supervisor Julie has been training our RAP (Ratanak Achievement Program) staff on different aspects of case management. As part of this the staff have been learning more about the RAP framework so that they may have a clear understanding about the program framework and how this framework should drive, support and influence the work we are doing with our clients. Interpersed in this training were different reflective exercises which included identifying our own personal values and biases. 

Today one of the reflective exercises involved using picture cards (photography cards). Several cards were laid out and the RAP staff were each asked to choose a card that they felt represented why they were working as a social worker/counselor/home advisor. With the staff's permission, we share with you the photos they chose and their reasons behind their choice.

This photo of a koala bear was chosen by our social worker Sereyrom. The koala bear is sleeping soundly and comfortably without a care in the world. He obviously is feeling quite safe, looks contented, relaxed and peaceful. For Sereyrom, her desire is to provide safety for the girls so that they will feel safe and contented like this koala bear. 

Soklin our counselor chose this picture with a person standing in the middle of the crowd. The people have gathered around this person willingly listening to what the speaker has to say. For Soklin, this picture represents someone giving guidance and direction. Her desire is to provide guidance and direction for the girls who are living at the RAP home so that they can find their path towards become a whole person.

For Sophea, one of our Home Advisors, the two birds on the tree branch represent freedom and independence. Her desire is to walk along side the girls in such a way that they will be encouraged and empowered to cultivate healthy habits and behaviors that nurture their ability to be self sufficient and independent young women.

Nary our Operations Manager chose this photo of a baby's hand holding on to one finger of an adult. For her this photo represents love. She wants to be that ''finger.' Often, our clients cannot express what they want to say, all they want is for someone to hold their hand and walk with them on their journey to healing. She wants to be such a person. To walk hand in hand with them. 

Sina our second Home Advisor chose this photo of a young girl behind a window with her back towards the window. For her, this photo represents fear and aloneness. She wants to help girls like this turn around, to look into the window with courage and confidence and to help them to see they have value and that their lives have meaning, that their journey is not a lonely journey bur rather, one that we walk with them through rain, snow or sunshine. 

These are just some of the comments that our staff shared today and as Julie our Psychosocial Supervisor said: The staff were so insightful and understood and participated so well. They were such a pleasure to be with. Teaching is always so much more fun when you have such great students.

We are thankful to the Lord and to all of you who have prayed with us for months that God would bring the people of His choosing with His heart to work at Ratanak. God has cultivated in each of our staff a desire to serve, bless, empower and equip the young women that will soon become part of our RAP home. As I reflect on their responses, I cannot help but think of the words that Henri Nouwen once said when he talked about compassion: “Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”  In these days of training, we are seeing the Lord deepen His heart of compassion in each of our staff. They are not afraid to enter into the pain and suffering of these young women, they are not afraid to share their burdens, they are not afraid to be His hands, voice and feet to these precious ones for in doing so, they reflect the very heart of Christ who chose to enter into this world with all its suffering, to carry our burdens, to offer us freedom from bondage and sin so that we can experience new life in Him.

Will you continue to pray that His love and His compassion will continue to reign down over each of us as we seek to serve the tender lambs He brings into our midst. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Where's the beef?

Many years ago there used to be a TV commercial for Wendy's Hamburgers where an old lady would go to visit burger places and ask ''where's the beef?'' I couldn't help but think of that as I am living here in Cambodia, good beef is hard to find. For one like me who loves meat, I've concluded that the reason for the meat challenges here is that the poor cows don't get proper nutrition. All the animals here are so skinny perhaps they burn off their calories in the heat or perhaps there just isn't enough grass for them to chew upon so no wonder the beef can be tough. There's not enough flesh on the cows.

So after trying different restaurants here, I'd more or less given up eating any red meat until  a week ago when one of my Brazilian friends invited me to join them for dinner at a newly opened Brazilian BBQ restaurant close to my neighborhood. For the past few months when I would do my daily walk, I spotted the construction of the Samba Brazilian Steakhouse wondering when it would be completed for having had Brazilian BBQ in Toronto, I knew there could be some potential at this restaurant. Well the restaurant open recently and so I could not resist the opportunity to go check it out!

Sirloin with Parmasean cheese
Sausages and BBQ chicken wings!
Indeed I was not disappointed. However, this is not a restaurant the average Cambodian will go to since the average Khmer may spend about US$2.00 or less on a meal. . The price is steep at this restaurant at US$25.00 per person for the all you can eat beef buffet----its not cheap but cheaper than those Brazilian BBQ restaurants in Toronto which are about US$50.00 per person.  Those who attend this kind of restaurant are usually the expats and/or wealth Cambodians --- who can afford such prices. Here in Cambodia the name for a rich person is called ''Nyack Mieen''---translation---''someone who has''
Some of the largest beef ribs I have ever seen in my life!
For a meat lover like myself, visiting this restaurant is one of my indulgences although I don't expect to be eating here on a regular basis but at least there is a place to go to get some meat should I have a craving. I couldn't help but ask the manager where they get the meat from since I was curious if I could find the same butcher but sadly, all the beef except the chicken and pork are imported from New Zealand or Australia which probably explain the higher cost of the meal. Nonetheless, one of the secrets of getting your money's worth from a place like this is avoid eating too many carbohydrates---no rice, no pasta, no bread --- this is a place for those who want to get a high protein diet as there are also lots of salads to have with your meal.

So why am I mentioning this place in this blog? All of this had me thinking that Cambodia is an emerging market with lots of opportunities to do business and to set up businesses. While it has its challenges with a labor force that is predominantly unskilled, times are changing as more of the young people go on to higher education so the potential is there with the right training. There are lots of risks, but then again Hudson Taylor the founder of OMF once said ''if there are no risks in our exploits for God there is no need for faith.'' There is a lot of paper work involved in setting up a business here and like everything else here, patience is required but, the longer I live here, I find myself thinking like an entrepreneur, looking for business opportunities, thinking about the gaps, the needs and the services. Perhaps its because of my training and educational background having worked in the investment industry and capital markets, we were always sniffing out good companies to invest in.

Some of the ideas that are popping up in my mind come out of my own personal needs and our corporate needs thinking ''if only we had this store here'' or ''if only this service was available"--- much of this thinking is tied into job creation for the young women who will one day exit our Ratanak Achievement Program (RAP).  The reality is that while education and vocational training is important, we fall short in assisting them in their rehabilitation and reintegration if the education and training is not relevant to the market environment they encounter. These young women need sustainable employment that will equip them and prepare them to accomplish the dreams God has placed in their hearts. In a research report entitled ''The Butterfly Longitudinal Research Project" that was done by our partner Chab Dai, it was noted that ''livelihood options for trafficked and stigmatized young women in many communities remain limited and although vocational training may be available, high levels of unemployment and market saturation mean that young people are often left with few choices when it comes to supporting themselves and their families on their return. Hence, education and skills training need to be relevant to the Cambodian job market so participants can get good jobs upon re-integration. As such, community or residential based programs (like RAP) will need to assess the market for gaps and help the young women we serve,  realistically think through what they want to do in light of the market demands and these gaps.

Here in Cambodia, we don't have to look far to see this truth played out. Our partner organizations such as Daughters Cambodia has a wonderful clothing store and cafe that provides employment for women coming out of sexual exploitation. Similarly, AIM has a newly established Agape Training Center where all sorts of clothing attire are being made for export to a U.S store and our dear friends at Bloom Creations make some of the most fabulous cakes that are being purchased by the Royal family in Cambodia and many other ''nyack mien'' who live here. Each of these businesses support both the empowerment of the young women and provide a sustainable income to them while cultivating Christian work ethics in the work environment.

So while I may joke about ''where's the beef''' what seems to be crossing my mind these days are ''where are the business opportunities." For us at Ratanak, it is exciting to think about the future business possibilities and how we can create businesses that not only provide sustainable employment to survivors of trafficking, but ultimately our desire is to bless this nation by investing in its people and in so doing, fulfilling the mission that God has called us to: to be a Christ-centered organization committed to serving the people of Cambodia by being an agent of change in Cambodia's social, economic, and spiritual landscape.May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;  establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 90:17)

Brian's Testimony To the Senate on Bill C-310

Brian's testimony at the Senate Committee in Ottawa, yesterday!. So thankful to the Lord for anointing Brian's lips and for blessing him with gift of communication and speech that speaks from years of experience and with a heart that reflects God's truths and purposes! Thank you everyone for your prayers and support.

Introductory Statement - Senate Committee re Bill C-310

Honourable Senators, Ladies and gentlemen thank you for allowing me to speak to Bill C-310. 

My name is Kenneth Brian McConaghy. I am the founding Director of Ratanak International a charity focusing on relief, development, and the sex trade in Cambodia. 

I come to this issue with 22 years of RCMP experience and 23 years experience in charity work in Cambodia. In my dual rolls of RCMP member and NGO director I have participated in the investigations of Canadian pedophiles who travel overseas targeting trafficked children.

So grave are the conditions of the children involved, so outrageous the acts committed against them that I was compelled to leave the RCMP in order to serve these children full time. 

I appear before you today as one neither naive nor thin-skinned. Rather as one conditioned by decades of exposure to violence. In that context I wish to assure you that the issue of Human Trafficking is among the most grotesque and pressing I have encountered. 

In the international context Canada must and does function within international legal norms. This is illustrated by our signing of a variety of international agreements. (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Declaration of the Rights of the Child, Palermo Protocols etc.) In my opinion the passage of bill C-310 would strengthen our position on, and commitment to, such agreements. 

Within Canada the constitutionally of the extraterritorial reach provided for in C-310, relating to (CCC Section 279.01) Trafficking in Persons appears to be sound if it is compared to the authority currently available through Section 7(4.1) to Section 151 (Sexual Interference), Section 152 (Invitation to Sexual Touching) both of which have been tested in courts. (Reasons for Judgment, Justice A. F. Cullen, Supreme court of British Columbia, R. Vs. Klassen, 2008 BCSC 1762). 

Are there Canadians to which C-310 would apply?
The short answer is yes. It is clear that such individuals exist and are operating. While I cannot speak to number of Canadians involved it is clear, that we, tragically, as Canadians, are involved. 

It is not hard to go to locations in Asia and watch the grooming of children prior to their assault. 

It is not uncommon for malnourished boys to “willingly” go to the apartment of a western male with promises of Disney videos and all you can eat Pizza. Some would even characterize this as “consentual”. However let it be clearly understood that a child will tolerate just about anything if an empty stomach is the motivating factor. Such activity, whereby hunger is used as a tool to control a child, constitutes exploitation. Such are the activities of Canadians known to me.

These circumstances don’t even begin to describe the activities of the hard core Canadian pedophile who shamelessly attend the brothels placing orders for the kind of “product” (age, gender, build) they are interested in assaulting only to have their helpless victims delivered and locked in rape cubicles to await their fate.

It is clear to me that such activities (Aside from the actual assaults themselves) which involve the recruiting, transportation, etc., constitute Human Trafficking. 

Societies such as post genocide Cambodia have lost the ability to protect their own children. This makes the actions of Canadian predators all the more despicable for they travel with all the rights and privileges of a Canadian passport. They travel to escape the protective environment provided by Canadian law, medical, services, and supportive Canadian families. They travel the globe to hunt children that have never known the luxury of such protection. 

In my experience it is clear that Canadian predators have and are engaging in activities that constitute Human Trafficking. We currently have the laws in place to proceed against Canadian predators for their actual assaults against children overseas. We have such laws and we have demonstrated we can use them with success. We do not, however, have the extraterritorial authority to pursue those who would engage in the associated activities of recruiting, transporting, transferring, etc. 

Such activities are currently beyond our reach. Rather than beyond or reach it is my belief that they should be firmly in our grasp.

I would ask for the speedy passage of Bill C-310. 

Thank you.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Historic Milestone in Canada

Today is one of those days when news back in Canada has given me cause to rejoice! Yesterday The Government of Canada announced a comprehensive National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking. This is a historic milestone for Canada as it consolidates our country's international efforts to prevent and combat human trafficking abroad. Member of Parliament (MP) Joy Smith ( a Christian) has worked tirelessly over the years across party lines to develop key legislation that combats human trafficking and protects victims.  
Joy Smith 
Brian McConaghy, founder of Ratanak International  and MP Joy Smith introduced the 'National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking' in Canada to the media. The four pillar plan, also announced yesterday by the Federal Government in Ottawa, includes enhanced training for police, border agents and other front-line workers, intelligence collection and Canada's first integrated law enforcement team combining the RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency. That team will work to identify, disrupt and prosecute human traffickers in Canada.

In his statement, Brian said:

"The introduction of the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking is both welcome and necessary. In Canada we are afforded the luxury of lives largely characterized by safety, stability and freedom. It is hard for us to accept that all among us are not free, all among us are not willingly where we find them.

Tragically modern day slavery is alive and well in Canada. It is largely unseen (as are the majority of significant criminal treats to our communities). The individual lives lost to Human Trafficking are also frequently invisible, but this, in no way, negates the reality of their suffering.

A clear understanding of the gravity and impact of Human Trafficking demands a strident and unambiguous response from both Government and society at large. The buying and selling of human beings, either domestically acquired Canadians or those trafficked internationally, is currently a growth industry.

Unlike the trafficking of illegal drugs, with which we are all familiar, the human product can be sold multiple times either for enforced labour or for systematic sexual abuse. This constitutes slavery and a system of serial rape in which the victim can be trapped for years. As a consequence the profit margins are significant and the impact on lives - devastating. Let us be under no illusions - the process of Human Trafficking utterly undermines the very foundation of what our society would hold as most precious… the intrinsic value of a human being. If, as a nation, we do not fully engage in the fight against Human Trafficking and allow both our citizens and foreign nationals to be reduced to the status of product we have truly lost our way.

The introduction of the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking is necessary. 

It provides focus and priorities for Canadian institutions.
  • It provides a framework through which Canada can move to protect those most vulnerable.
  • It provides funding desperately needed by Government, and Non Government Organizations alike, to combat this complex issue. 
  • and it serves to alert Canadian society as to the gravity of the circumstances associated with Human Trafficking. 
Canada must not only tackle Human Trafficking head on it must be seen to be doing so. The National Action Plan is a significant step forward in accomplishing both.

MP Joy Smith has a new private member's bill, C-310, that would let Canada prosecute Canadian citizens and permanent residents for human trafficking offences outside the country. As I pen this blog, it is now morning in Canada. Today, my colleague Brian McConaghy has been given the privilege of providing a testimony before the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. He will be speaking to Bill C310. If passed it will give Canadian law enforcement extraterritorial jurisdiction to go after Canadians involved in human trafficking anywhere in the world... and that includes Cambodia! 

Please pray for Brian for God to anoint His words, Isaiah 55:11 says "so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. May today be a day in which God's word goes forth in power and in truth such that it will accomplish and fulfill His purposes.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

One of My Heroes - Samuel

For many weeks I have been meaning to write this blog about a special young boy---he is one whom I have yet to meet but who inspires me. He is one of my heroes even though he probably doesn't know it. Some times you come across a story about another human being and their testimony is like a shot of spiritual adrenalin into your arm. Their story is the fuel that God uses to help us keep running the race that Christ has set before us. Their story is an example that God's power is made perfect in weakness. He will use the weak to shame the strong. For there is no life He cannot use, there is no person too small, too weak, too broken that He cannot demonstrate His power. Whenever I think of this young boy it is the scriptures in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 that he epitomizes: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. ” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

His story is a story of our God who will go to the pits of this world, to rescue a child who the world so easily and willingly would see as disposable. But the Lord does not just rescue, the Lord we serve is in the business of rebuilding lives,  and as He redeems them, they discover that they are a new creation in Him and as they do, they discover that He not only has a plan and purpose for their lives, but He will give them all they need to accomplish the unique purposes that God has for them.

I want to introduce you to Samuel Seehawer. This is his story: Samuel's life began not unlike most physically disabled children in Cambodia. Samuel was born missing both hands. He has one fully formed leg, the other is missing the Fibula and he has a partial foot with one small toe.On June 30th, 2004, less than 24 hrs old, Samuel was found outside a hospital in Phnom Penh, laying in the dirt and surrounded by garbage.At one month old he was then taken to a Government run orphanage, where he was housed with all the other severely disabled babies who had been left there. Theravada Buddhism is the primary religion practiced in Cambodia. Theravada Buddhism teaches that the disabled have lived a bad past life and now live a life of hardship in the reincarnated body. The Cambodian word to describe these children is "Changray" meaning evil. These most vulnerable children are believed to bring harm and bad luck to the family. Mothers of these children are often disowned by their family and shunned by society. Left with no hope, mothers often abandon their babies. Most caregivers in the Government orphanage also believe in "Changray" therefore the disabled are not deemed valuable enough to receive basic care. Lack of medical attention, proper nutrition, mosquito protection and basic hygiene put these precious little ones at great risk of illness. Death is all too common.

But into what would seem a hopeless situation, in March 2005, a Canadian couple Charlotte & Mark Seehawer adopted him and Samuel's journey from hopelessness to hope began. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body;  all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.(Psalm 139:15-16). God would take Samuel from Cambodia to Canada and in 2010 at the ripe young age of 6 years old, Samuel heard of a little girl Sarah who was staying at Place of Rescue run by our dear friend Marie Ens.  Sarah had the same upper congenitial amputations as Samuel.
Baby Sarah

As he stood gazing at the photo, he turned to his mother and said " mommy she's just like me". In the heart and mind of a six year old who knows what it's like to be different, an idea came to him. "Mommy I want to send her some of my toys"What a selfless thought. Samuel's mother advised him that it would be difficult to send toys but perhaps they could think of an alternative idea to help baby Sarah. It was another Canadian amputee Terry Fox who ran across Canada to raise funds for cancer that inspired Samuel. Samuel, a multiple amputee could ride his little modified bicycle a short distance and ask people to sponsor him. With the help of family and friends, word spread quickly that a disabled 6 year old was going to ride his bicycle a distance of 2 kilometres to raise funds for something he believes in - Place of Rescue.
On September 18th, 2010, Samuel made his first Ride For Rescue. A total of $26,166.82 was raised with every penny given to Place of Rescue! On June 25th, 2011, Samuel successfully completed his 2nd Annual Ride For Rescue, raising another $13,000 that all went to Ride for Rescue!On June 23rd, 2012, Samuel will once again be riding for Place of Rescue. His inspiration for the ride is Sarah who is just about old enough to start riding her own tricycle. Sarah is almost 2 years old now and is doing very well at Place of Rescue.

Over these past two years, Samuel has been riding for a purpose! He is riding for those without a hope. At this young age of 8 years old, with physically disabilities, he is demonstrating to the world, that with God all things are possible.  His life is a living testimony, that one is never too young to make a difference in this world. All God is looking for is someone who has a willing heart and a willing hand. Samuel did not look at his limitations as reason for not doing anything. Rather, he has embraced his limitations and used it as an opportunity to demonstrate that God's power is made perfect in his fragile body. Samuel has been offering his 5 loaves and 2 fish to the Lord and each time God has taken his offering and multiplied it beyond what he or his family could ever have asked or imagine. 

Psalm 113:7-8 says: He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, with the princes of his people. God has not only raised Samuel from the dust, but Samuel has had the privilege of meeting the the future king and queen of England: 
Samuel with Princess Kate
Samuel chatting with Prince William

When I think of Samuel's story, I can't help but be inspired. I can't help but dream for the young women who will enter our RAP home soon. I can't help but imagine the possibilities and the opportunities that await them as we like Samuel, commit to investing in their lives. As we take up the baton like Samuel's parents Mark and Charlottee, as we invest in their precious lives -- lives so often  viewed as disposable to the world, but precious treasures in God's sight, we have the incredible privilege of seeing them blossom as He  displays His beauty, His splendor and His glory in them. Who could have thought that this little boy Samuel, who was left near piles of garbage would one day meet the future King and Queen of England and the Prime Minister of Canada. 
Samuel meeting the Prime Minister of Canada - Stephen Harper
I thank God for Samuel's life, I thank God for showing us once again that every child matters, every child has value, every child has the potential to make a difference in this world for God so ordained that He who began a good work in each of these children, He will complete it.(Philippians 1:6) This is His promise to them. This is His promise to us. No wonder, Jesus said, 'welcome the little children''----children like Samuel are leading the way, he is a living example of what courage, tenacity and perseverance look like in the flesh! His life is a reminder to me, to dream big dreams, to dream the impossible dreams  for we have a Dream Giver who wants to make His dreams become a reality in our lives.