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Countdown to Cambodia

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I got interested in Cambodia when I got hooked up with AIM. They’re an NGO working to end child sex trafficking in Cambodia, which is one of the worst places in the world to be a little girl (more on that in a separate post that’s coming soon). Since I’ve been working to raise awareness about AIM’s work, I’ve wanted to go and see it for myself. I’ve prayed for an invitation and a chance to see with my own eyes both the horror of child sex trafficking and the redemption that is possible when ordinary people become modern day abolitionists. This coming February I will get a chance to do just that.

Today I bought a plane ticket to Phnom Penh, leaving February 24th and returning March 8th. I’ll be meeting up with the other volunteers, who are all from Californina, where AIM is headquartered. I’ll have almost two weeks in Cambodia to take it all in. It’s not a tourist trip but it’s not a mission trip either. I won’t be hammering any nails or teaching vacation Bible school. Instead I will be bearing witness to the millions trapped in slavery around the world. I’ll be seeing one little piece, one little pocket of a global epidemic. I’ll spend two days in Svay Pak, a brothel district 11 kilometers outside of Phnom Penh that is known worldwide for catering to foreign pedophiles. Most of the storefront brothels were shut down by raids in the 1990’s, but little children are still trafficked here, some by their own mothers. It’s done more quietly now, but it’s done nonetheless. Many of these same children attend Kid’s Club at the Rahab’s House community center run by AIM.

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I’ll also be traveling north to Siem Riep, the town that sprung up around the Angkor Wat temple complex. Angkor Wat is the site of ancient temple ruins and is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Because of the heavy tourist traffic, innumerable brothels have sprung up here, mostly in the form of karaoke bars. AIM offers education and alternative employment to the karaoke girls, allowing them an option to leave the sex industry.

In the capitol city, Phnom Penh, I’ll visit Agape Restoration Center, which is a safe home for girls taken out of brothels. Some are very young, 5 or 6, and some are teenagers, but they all have in common a history of exploitation and slavery.

I’ll see the slums and the dirt roads lined with palm trees. I’ll see farmers working plows in rice paddies the way it’s been done for hundreds of years. I’ll see tourists with iPhones wandering around an ancient temple carved by by the Khmer empire in the 12th century.  I’m sure I’ll do a little souvenir shopping, but the real purpose of the trip is to see with my own eyes and then to tell the story. I’ll come home with stories of kids I met in Svay Pak, girls I met at karaoke bars, each of them a tiny drop in the ocean of modern slavery. But if I can tell these stories and inspire others to enlist in the modern abolition movement, then it will have been a successful trip. If I can turn a story into a commitment, then the trip will be worth it.

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