so much to say ( “Sour Sdei Chhnam Thmei!!!,” protest bands, mekong swim, epic pad thai, khmer rough tribunal, etc.)

April 10, 2009

that i’m going to list it out

1) Khmer Rouge Trial is now in full swing– this is HUGE news in Cambodia, a place where justice is far from achieved, or even hoped for.  One of my flatmates is a lawyer who is interning at the court– we are hoping to get tickets to view it.  Some of the most infamous leaders from the Khmer Rouge are on trial now, and it is VERY controversial….. so much to say…. check out these websites and google news the trial. It has been over 3o years now since the end of one of the worst modern genocides in history.  Cambodia is, in manys, still in survival mode as a result of this devestating period.  It’s an incredibly interesting, strange dynamic.

ECCC (Extrodinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia)


NY Times


2) I was just in Phnom Penh’s 2nd ever production of The Vagina Monologues.  It was a blast… so many incredible women participated, and hopefully in years to come, more Cambodian women will be a part of it too.  This year, the nationally famous MESSENGER BAND  – an all-woman garment workers protest band opened for our show– it was an INCREDIBLE privilege to have them endorse us.  They continue to advocate for marginalized, hard working Cambodian women every day, traveling and performing around the country, in rural provinces and even once at a UN conference in Hong Kong.  PLEASE take a look at this website to learn more.

***If you want a CD of their songs, please let me know and I will personally buy it for you and bring it back with me from the states. Let me know soon!! I leave mid-May….


I want to be Sharon when I grow up  :)  She was our most dynamic, seasoned cast-mate

I want to be Sharon when I grow up 🙂 She was our most dynamic, seasoned cast-mate

3) I swam across the Mekong river with 150 of my closest friends.  I haven’t yet contradicted any parasites.  It was absolutely a blast.

motely cru. almost pirate worthy.

pre-parasites  :)

pre-parasites 🙂

860 meters and no tom sawyer in sight!

860 meters and no tom sawyer in sight!

4) I am now have acquired an acute, nuanced pallate for pad thai after eating it every day for 13 days straight in the place where it all began when I was in Thailand with one of my best friends, a certain Mr. Tom.  It was beautiful, rejeuvenating and a much needed refresher before this last stretch in Cambodia.

5) Sour Sdei Chhnam Thmei! HAPPY KHMER NEW YEAR!!! If you’ve gotten slack on those resolutions from waaay back in January, shake off the guilt and just tell yourself it was a test run before the REAL new year 🙂

6)  I’m about to leave for a 400 km epic bike ride across the country!!!!

7) I leave Cambodia May 13, am in Japan til May 24, and appear in Kansas City, Misouri USA May 25, and will eventually show up in Washington DC around June 20 for my fellowship which begins July 1st

Whew!!   :*)


into the wilds– 400 km bike ride across Cambodia

April 10, 2009

Starting tomorrow morning nice and early, we are headed to North Western Cambodia. Our final destination is a magical place called Rattinakiri, a true jungle experience with possibility for lions, tigers and bears oh my! (well, no bears, no lions, but other large beastly things like elephants and monkies and interesting wild versions of buffalo and tigers and such).

It’s going to be long— possibly up to 400km (that’s gonna be hard on a good no-butt like mine), but I am absolutely thrilled to get out out out to experience some true Cambodia, and a ride through some of the most ethnically and geographically and ecologically diverse areas of Cambodia. It is also the Khmer New Year, so what a culturally rich time to be running about in the provinces. I am looking forward to it much.

I’m headed out there with my co-worker Tim and some other friends, maybe 5 of us total, to bear the dust, the mosquitoes, sunshine and the beauty together. There are even some rare Mekong River dolphins (only 70 left!!) we might spy.

Here is a link to a google map that charts our trail– so you can follow along.

Next Step: Free the Slaves

April 1, 2009

The rainy season is just teetering on its edge again- spitting minute showers and even a few short lived storms wanting desperately to pour— but the skies are just not quite ready to release the true monsoon rains.   This is how I’ve felt during this past month or two which have compounded so swiftly. What a full month March has been for me– a month that has ushered in a myriad of personal and professional challenges, confusion, adventures and joys. Even as I write this large, full drops are thumping on the tin roofs all around me, motos are pulling over for cover and even a few street vendors will momentarily put aside their wares.   But I’ve finally been able to procure a few answers, draw some borders around my future and and begin filling the empty spaces with color and possibility.  It is a good feeling…

Just as my job with Hagar began coming to a close, I was awarded the Zimmerman Fellowship from Free The Slaves, an international NGO based in Washington, DC that is one of the leading experts on modern slavery and human trafficking.  Each year, they vet their applications and chose only 2 fellows for this incredible opportunity to learn from and contribute to the strategic anti-slavery work of one of the most highly respected organizations in the field.  I am overwhelmed by the possibilities that exist through this fellowship– not only the training and the professional experience, but the personal growth and vision I’ll be able to cultivate through this keen, sensitive group of individuals devoted to this cause.  I just cannot express the gratitude I feel for this opportunity– and the sheer relief– of knowing I have this incredible, supportive space from which to spring from.   Here is a link that give the break down of what the fellowship offers–

For a brief low down- I will be the research fellow working directly with Kevin Bales, who is considered the top expert on modern slavery (and one of the only researchers with substance behind his numbers–  Everyone quotes this work!!), I’ll have the chance to travel to some far off reaches with the world with Free The Slaves to visit some of their local NGO partners, AND I’ll be a student at Georgetown University, in a program for executive non-profit leadership.  Oh, and I cannot forget— I’ll be a paid employee with benefits (!! this has YET to happen for me, it’s pretty exciting, ha).  It’s a pretty incredible opportunity for which I am so very grateful.

I must say that the experience with Hagar here in Cambodia has really seasoned me in every way– and it has made me more qualified and ready for an experience like this one before me.

thank you THANK YOU for your encouragment throughout this time.  i can’t begin to tell you the oddity of ups and downs it’s been here in the  cambodia ngo world i’m in now. this experience has been incredibly valuable, incredibly challenging and i have learned a great deal.  i wouldn’t trade it in, but i also hope that I wouldn’t  have to do it just like this again in the future. i’m grateful for hagar and the lessons it’s taught me. I believe in their model, i think it has amazing potential, but my job facilitating the social program start up in the new international offices has its own lifespan. Hagar’s restructuring processes actually makes my transition out a more seamless and healthy one. so i guess it all works out together in the end, somehow.

My fellowship begins in July, so I will be on my way out of Cambodia sometime in May.  After stopping by Japan to see a dear friend, I will finally be back in Missouri in June.  So, where ever you may be, I hope I will get a chance to reconnect with you to at the edge of this new beginning for me.  Please do keep in touch!! I still have work to finish here, of course, and many more adventures ahead in Cambodia, which I will keep you updated on, but in the meantime, I relish the joy of returning home in the near future!

Mumbai and Back!

March 1, 2009

Just on the cusp of the Slum Dog Millionaire successes last week, I finally made my way to Mumbai, India (!!!)

Those of you who have been hanging in there with me since I started drumming up support for my work with Hagar way back in August, you know that this trip, and others like it, have been in the making for quite some time.  Well, I never imagined that I would be making this trip on my own, as the sole Hagar ambassador to our partners there, but, well I did it, I made it work, and I think I did it well enough.  Isn’t it amazing what you can teach yourself in just 5 months or so?  It has been a very concentrated time of learning, problem solving, a maybe even little programmatic triage and the like BUT here I am, in one piece, representing Hagar International across Asia. Cheers.

Downtown Mumbai

Downtown Mumbai

I hopped a plane last Sunday, February 16, to join our partners, International Justice Mission Mumbai and Oasis India with several purposes in mind.  The first of which was to further develop and solidify our relationships with our partners and other organzations we are linking up with for our pending Hagar office in Mumbai. So, for example, I was meeting with new leadership, debriefing them on our model, updating partners on our status/timeline for operations, getting feedback from  them about regarding any internal changes and restructuring their organizations are going through, etc.  I was also cornering some big whigs at one of the major Universities there in Mumbai to finalize MOUs for a training course for our beneficiatries, etc. etc.  (Let’s just say it was a busy time, especially when typical travel time from one part of the city to the other is AT LEAST 2 hours, if you are lucky. ouch).

The second major purpose of my visit was to connect with what turned out to be an incredibly adept, social justice driven group of individuals from where else but Cincinnati, Ohio.  They came from Crossroads Church, blazing in with a twofold mission.  First,  to conduct a feasibility study of aftercare in Mumbai (Aftercare is just a fancy word for all the social service centers/shelters who work with survivors of sex trafficking).  This smaller group, about 10, was composed of individuals of various backgrounds and expertise (from engineers to corporate ethics enforcers) from the church, and then 3 aftercare experts.  I was humbled to be invited to join in as one of these “experts” on trafficking, along with two other great leaders in the movement– James Pond from Transitions Global and Kathy, the aftercare-psycho-social guru from IJMs Headquarters in DC.  In between my own meetings with other partners, I zipped around the chaotic, colorful, dusty, CROWDED  and vast city of Mumbai with them visiting the aftecare centers and participating in this assessment of sorts.  Crossroads is invested in Mumbai and wholly committed to figuring out how they can be a strategic, long term catalyst within the movement there.  It’s really exciting to see such an engaged, capable, willing and resourceful group listening to the NEEDS that exist and trying to understand how they can fill those holes.  It’s amazing.

The second part of their purpose was to serve the women and children of Mumbai who are survivors of trafficking via enriching activities like painting murals, photography classes, planting gardens at aftercare centers, and other lovely, creative, life-giving activities.  Yes, it was mission-trippy, relational, fun, difficult, sincere and FULL.  It was really fun to meet the other side of the Crossroads group and get a feel for their motivations, talents and backgrounds.  What a diverse and caring group.

Urban Slums- A View From The Top

Urban Slums- A View From The Top

So, on our first day together, I made a presentation to 50 plus people in a gorgeous 5 star hotel ballroom about Hagar International, who we are, what we’ve done and where we are going in Mumbai, especially. 

And to give you a brief recap about what we are planning in Mumbai, bascially, we are utilizing strategic partnerships to fill in the current gaps in service and reintegration for survivors of trafficking there.  For instance, many survivors get bottle-necked in the shelters.  Once they arrive and have undergone some rehabilitation (pyscho social care,  and meeting physcial needs)  there is a lack of sustainable strategies or options for them to move forward with their lives.  They get stuck, mostly because they have very few viable economic options.  SO this is where Hagar steps in.  With our Social Enterprise– Catering— we provide a bridge from the shelter to the job with comprehensive personal development, soft skills trainings, lifeskills trainings etc. coupled with hard skills trainings.  We plug them into a supportive job environement, commmunity based care and aid them throught the difficult, but essential transition into independence and true reintegration back into society. 

I must admit, I was super stressed about the presentation beforehand, but suddenly realized, that, hey, I’ve done this before…hey, I actually DO know this stuff, and I know it well…and hey, just relax Betsy, what more do you love to talk about to strangers than trafficking???  (yeah I know, odd, but true).  Needless to say, the presentation went off great.  It was a good start to a week full of learning, interacting, teaching and even a bit of frollicking about the trafficking and the sites of Mumbai. 

I feel absolutely grateful that this opportunity arose– and so THANKFUL to the likes of  YOU out that that made this trip possible.   Without your support, I simply wouln’t have been able to go and contribute to this very important week of synergizing, connecting, planning, strategizing and learning.  YOU ARE  A PART OF THE SOLUTION!  🙂  ok, I promise to stop with the cheesy bits, but I don’t lie when I say these things.

and, as i know some of you are probably counting, my official 6 month coutdown at Hagar is ticking by fast.  while it is likely that i will stay on further, things are still not quite certain.  there is still a lot more to be done as far as getting these expansion offices up to speed for their on-the-groud leadership to take over, but things are coming together. …. more developments to come soon!!

New Trafficking Legislation in the US– Don’t you just love America??

February 10, 2009

Cheers! This news is really a little bit old, but rather important and one of Bush’s last moves before handing anti-trafficking initiatives over to Prez Obama and our trusty Hillary– who have both already been cited for their outspoken support of anti-trafficking legislation and initiatives.  No matter how many qualms you may or may not have had with Bush, he definitely DID DID DID do some major good for the anti-trafficking movement in the US.  I have no doubt that Obama will continue to push things through, BUT let’s not get lazy! Remember that our voices, pressure, letters, calls, petitions, community awareness, artwork, films, WALLETS and  lunchroom conversations add to creating a culture of intolerance for trafficking in all it’s sneaky forms.  If you want to learn more about what you can do– check out Free the Slaves website here.  Also, check out Polaris Projects Action Center, especially the Slavery Still Exists Campaign ,which I had the privilage to help strategize for its national launch this past summer as a fellow there. Want to be inspired by a group of normal folks like you who are doing INCREDIBLE work in their community in DC to raise awareness and support anti-trafficking initiatives locally/globally/nationally?  Check out my friends at the Stop Modern Slavery community group in DC. Here is their Meetup page too.

ooo, so much to say, so much to do– it’s really exciting 🙂

See the article below—

(P.S. I can honestly say I have met over half the people in this photo!! That’s what a year of hyperactive networking in DC will do to you….)

Signing the Reauthorization of the TVPA!!

Signing the Reauthorization of the TVPA!!

(Excerpts from from  IJM- International Justice Mission)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On December 23, 2008, President George W. Bush signed the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act into law. President Bush was joined in the Oval Office by anti-trafficking leaders including IJM President and CEO Gary Haugen; Congressman Bobby Scott; Congressman Chris Smith; Attorney General Michael Mukasey; Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff; Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte; Dr. Kevin Bales, President of Free the Slaves; and Bradley Myles, Deputy Director, Polaris Project.

The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which increased funding for the U.S. Department of State’s Global Trafficking in Persons office (G/TIP) and established several critical policy reforms, was unanimously reauthorized by Congress on December 10, International Human Rights Day.

The bill increased funding for the U.S. Department of State’s Global Trafficking in Persons office (G/TIP), which coordinates the U.S. response to human trafficking and modern-day slavery, and established several policy reforms. For example, HR7311 de-links benefits and services for trafficking victims in the U.S. from the requirement that they assist with Justice Department investigations and prosecutions. The bill also allows trafficking victims in the U.S. to qualify for a T-visa without necessarily participating in law enforcement efforts, with the expectation that victims will be more likely to come forward to assist prosecutors once they are assured that they will not be deported back to countries where they were abused, exploited, and trafficked.

Here is a link to the full article–

Also, Hagar International has been a grantee of the United States Department of State’s Global Trafficking in Person’s Office (GTIP). Signing this law potentially creates more funding for organizations like Hagar that are striving to create sustainable solutions to modern slavery and trafficking.

Here is a link to the G/TIP office and their annual reports that grade each country on their anti-trafficking efforts.  It is released every June.  While some argue that it can be a bit politically biased (note that all EU countries are tier one, all enemies of the state are toddering around tier 2 or 3), it does serve as a generally credible and important, reliable document for the anti-trafficking world. There is still a lot of untapped potential for leverage there, though (in my opinion).

Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons

china, cosy cold, comrads, cats, calm and my eventual return to cambodia

February 5, 2009

after a brief stint with my buddy Bon in Ho Chi Minh City….

i spent the first half of my trip with cammie (a friend from jewell, my alma mater) who is teaching in Hangzhou, near shanghai on the east coast) we had an incredibly GOOD time, me her, her beautiful friend jackie and their grumpy, plump cat Xiau Fu. ) :*)  we spent christmas and new years together, i took a few day trips to some tiny, lovely villages, a tea plantation, a tea house, night markets…. ate the famous “stinky tofu,” and “pillow noodles,” chicken hearts and everything else…shared a quick weekend in shanghai together….  after about a week i  bid them farewell and went off into the China wilds on my own.  i took a sleeper train to the town of guilin, which i shared with 6 other lovely non-english


santa cat 🙂

speaking souls. i witnessed some incredible scenery there– the longshen mountain rice terraces carved in the tops on hills for as far as the eye can see, the tribal minority women with their long long hair sweeping the gound as they walk , the li river with its jutting, tall and skinny green mountain tops.  i got to drive my first real moto around rural village footpaths with a few friendly germans and a chinese guide. saw the crooked grandmothers, the cocky chickens, the dusty paths, the yelping and laughing children….. and all along the way always learning to be brave and ask questions– an important thing to do when most people you run into do not speak english.  dsc02121makes for an incredible set of charades.   :*)

I then flew to Beijing, and let me emphasize, EVERYWHERE i went Chinese people just went out of their way in simple, kind gestures, walks, accompaniments, phone calls– you name it– to help this little lost white girl.  it was an incredible lesson in letting others serve you, letting yourself let them, and being constantly reminded and amazed of the goodness of strangers (this has a limit of course, but the vast majority of strangers were so kind to me and so helpful, even when i didn’t say anything.  i guess looking lost can have its dsc02181advantages, ha).  but when you are traveling alone, in a very foreign place, the little things begin to make the most difference.  and most of the people who helped me couldn’t speak any english.

but beijing was beautiful, GRAND, full of history, temples, majong players, frisky older people playing cards, dancing in the cold, and laughing a lot.  i got lost every day, i watched the twirling, bright kites flying in tianamen square, i wore every single piece of clothing i owned, I CLIMBED THE GREAT WALL, and i witnessed the rather strange and very waxy version of mao in his mausoleum, filing past with hundreds of chinese visitors laying down their yellow carnations and probably also wondering why his face looks so orange and glowing….(or at least that’s what i was thinking…) china is so modern, yet strangely caught between worlds.  there these social and political growing pains that are clearing burst in condradiction against each other everywhere.  it’s so complicated…and very interesting to learn about.

dsc01840my next to last stop was hong kong, like a dense asian nyc, like one big shopping district, comfortingly grimy, colorful, modern but gritty. i saw the skyline, road the famous victoria tower tram, hopped the star ferry and made friends with a french photographer.  we absconded from the chaos of kowloon and downtown, opting for a short ferry ride to an outlying island where mountain meets blue ocean with cold breeze, lazy bicyclists, and a Trappist monestary in the distance. We hiked across the mountain island to the monastary before i headed back to honk kong to catch my plane.  it was rejeuvenating and a great reminder of the PEACE i wish to maintain in my life as i continue with this grand experiment of living and working in Cambodia.

so i flew back to PP, eventually, and just as i was coming through the dingy metal gate to our apartment, my flatmate alison and a friend  were also returning from a weekend trip, so we all put down our bags and went to get cheap massages. this, i decided, is one of my informal new years resolutions– keep the stress in check and take advantage of the cheap massages everywhere around here, lofty, yes, i know. this one will be VERY challenging to fulfill, haha.  dad, i’dsc02508ll have to send you the rest of  my goals and roles on a later date….. but i think stephen covey would be proud, no?  sharpen that saw! 🙂

***(for those of you who don’t know, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” book on tape was an integral part of our childhood, especially on long road trips across Kansas with a grumpy, captive audience i.e. picture a 9 year old me and  my sisters….  We like to lovingly  refer to it as a kind of torture, but I admit, maybe it was for the better… but dont’ tell my dad i told you though, ha).

but it was indeed a great trip. towards the end i was trying to get myself in gear for returning to the craziness of work and life back here—  to keep my perspective and breathe a little deeper… so it worked out beautifully when i spent that last day in hong kong hiking on the island with my  friendly photographer.  as we hiked up and around the small mountain island to the trappist monestary, dipping our feet in the cold water and sitting in silence at the tiny, light-filled chapel, i was reminded of the goodness  of beauty, truth and mystery (as my sister laura reminds me too).  it was beautiful, and so good for me to remember the value of stillness and self-preservation as a necessary element to balance and well-being. so  i hope you all can find some peaceful retreats, even if just for a half hour, in bits of your day today.

Christmas in July??

December 22, 2008

 Or at least that’s what it feels like around here.  These days, it is eternal summer and it’s been a little hard to identify with the Christmas spirit.  I mean, it’s around 80 or 85 degrees, and while the touristy places might put up a faux Christmas tree be-speckled with all sorts of shiny decorations, it’s just not the same.  And it feels a bit artificial, as the great majority of the country is buddhist.  BUT I’ve tried not be be a grinch, made some (perhaps lame) attempts at decorating our apartment and made some great plans to GET OUT OF TOWN.  So, actually, right now as I type this I am at the beginning of my Christmas trek.

I am headed ultimately to China via a rather weaving route :).  I took a bus from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon, whichever you perfer. I’m not sure which is politically or socially correct– probably really depends on who you are talking to).  I arrived here yesterday, greeted by my friend Bon, who was an exchange student my junior year in High School.  We went to the prom together, it was pretty cute.  We were both skinny and akward.  I’m still skinny, not as akward and he has finally grown up a bit.  Yesterday was the first time we have seen each other since we were 17 years old!  It was SO good to see him, and we have much to catch up on.  It’s rather bizarre to think on how much I have changed since then (though he says i look exactly the same, figures), and how things so central to my identity, like human rights work, were not an explicit part of my life then.  Many of the underlying values were there of course– like service, community, etc.– but not to the projection or the magnitude of my life today.  Though Bon and I have kept up with each other, we have a lot things to re-learn about each other too. It’s kind of a fun experiement. But while we have both evolved and grown into ourselves since HS in Missouri, we have both remained the same in some ways too.  Bon’s still a playful charmer, outgoing, friendly, ultimately sincere.  The good thing is he’s not trying to get me to kiss him any more, haha.  (no offense, Bon!! 🙂  ) I wasn’t buying into the whole “my american girlfriend” thing back in HS either.  Yes, I’m still as stubborn as always.

He’s been the most generous host– showing me around town, eating at his mom’s fabulous restaurant, and (via the “network”) hooked me up with a free night at his friend’s “spare” penthouse apartment overlooking the river on the 28th floor of a gorgeous building.  And I was expecting a basic hostel or maybe a couch.  Wow. 

BUT tomorrow I am off– it is a very quick stay– and will be headed to Hong Kong—> Shenzhen—-> Hangzhou to meet my very spunky, delightful, creative, thoughtful friend Cammie.  We know each other from William Jewell College, our alama mater, and she has been living there in China for at least 3 years or more now teaching english.  I am SO excited to join her there, experience a bit of winter, breath a little deeper with a friend from my “other life” and explore China with her and her flatmate Jackie. 

Does anyone have any burning China travel suggestions?  DO tell :*)  Most of our travel planning will happen once I get there.


Ok!! I’m off

Address!! Mail? :*) — Keeping in Touch!!

December 11, 2008

Mail!! If you want to send some…. here is my mailing address:    :*)

Betsy Bramon

c/o Hagar International

P.O. Box 1521

Phnom Penh

Kingdom of Cambodia

A Few Words of Wisdom:

  • Mail is slow- it takes about 3 weeks to get here (routed through Bangkok, but it used to be Moscow, so at least they’ve made a little progress in the past several years, ha)
  • If you have an important package, it is best to send by registered/courier mail.  We have DHL and Fed Ex here (though I am not sure that Fed Ex will deliver to a post box).  Anything really important should be sent through registered mail. But packages can be sent via ordinary mail here ok as well.  It just could be a little risky.
  • Letters are nice to receive 🙂 And to give.

If you would like to CALL my cell phone to chat, please e-mail me for my number and I’ll gladly plan a time with you.  We can also SKYPE (which is a FREE program you just download, I know many of you already use it) which is very easy too.

My time zone is GMT+7

That is 13 hours ahead of the Midwest (USA) and 12 hours ahead of the East Coast (USA)

Yay for communication! :*)

What has been/What will be–Hagar Update

December 11, 2008

Without burdening you with too many details, I do want to offer you a picture of what my work life has been like these past 12 weeks or so.  I’ve learned a lot so far and have much more to go! So perhaps we can learn together.

My life as the “Social Programs Officer” at Hagar has been a bit of whirl.  Within my first week, after a thorough briefing by my supervisor, she headed back to the states where doctoral applications called her back home. So, I found myself the sole guardian of the institutional knowledge of an international social program on the verge of implementation in three countries. But not abandoned! While this may sound overwhelming, I do have remote support from my physically absent supervisor and the wisdom of my cohorts here at Hagar International. Our office relatively small, close-knit bunch composed of a few Swiss-Italians, a German, a Malaysian and a Cambodian.  Makes for entertaining lunches 🙂

Right now, our office is gearing up for the promising start of operations in India, Vietnam and Laos. What’s keeping us, you ask?  Good ole HR and a world-wide funding crisis.  We are in the midst of vetting applications and hoping for the right leader for the job, as well as raising funds for the new projects.  So…if you know any one with experience in management and gender/trafficking/vulnerable women and children issues, do tell.  Seriously.

But this waiting (for money, for leaders) could be, in all actuality, a good thing.  This period of time is helping the organization to catch its breath after over a year of intense grant seeking, research, travel, and partnership building in the new countries. Strategy is important, and ALL of Hagar is trying to cast a realistic vision for this next year.

Hagar International (not to be confused with Hagar Cambodia, which has been around for over 15 years) was formed in 2006 in hopes to implement the social and economic empowerment models Hagar Cambodia made so successful. Hagar Cambodia’s programs are vast in breadth and depth—spanning from catch up schools for young children, water filter’s for rural communities, foster care, women’s social program’s for domestic violence, career mentoring, farm communities, and even a soy milk factory for one of our three social enterprise businesses…

Hagar International is trying to keep things a bit more focused at this point. Through our research, we discovered that reintegration of survivors is very difficult, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone working in social services. Reintegration is basically the transition from the supportive environment (the shelters, social programs) into an independent, self-sustainable life (a job, a home).

Our target populations, those at risk of domestic violence, sex trafficking, rape or sexual exploitation, have gone through incredibly traumatic experiences that have shaped their emotional and physical well being forever.  Simply climbing up and out of this sort of nightmare is difficult without reliable support over time.  Therefore, when it comes to leaving the place you’ve come to trust and thrive in, maybe for the first time in your life, the “real world” becomes very scary.

Throughout its 15 years in Cambodia, Hagar has developed a program that has successfully reintegrated 80% of its beneficiaries.  Our model of social programs + social enterprise has been a huge part of that success.

Therefore, for the expansion projects that I am working on, we are aiming to combine our strengths with the strengths of already established NGOS and set up partnerships with them.  We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, we want to complete it and strengthen it.

Round Up
While I’ve found my sea legs and begun to learn how to navigate Hagar internally, I’ve had a crash course in exploring the possibilities present within my role here.

Right now, I find myself in the midst of challenging learning opportunities that can be both invigorating and taxing. In the past 3 weeks, two of my colleagues from our small office have transitioned out, for various reasons, leaving me with quite a lot of responsibility. Now, I am not only in charge of social programming and partnerships, but also development and fundraising (i.e. grant writing, proposals, research etc).

It’s not easy jumping straight into an organization in the midst of huge transitions, growth and re-prioritization.  Not easy, but a great chance to learn about organizational evolution, structure, leadership, professionalism and how the internal clock ticks inside this NGO. I feel I have gained an incredible breadth of perspective in the relatively small amount of time I have been here so far.  An organization is like a living, breathing thing that must be cared for properly in order to fulfill its mission. I happily admit that there have been many times where I’ve felt stumped for sure. But as much collaboration and partnering as there is to do on the OUTSIDE of Hagar, I find just as necessary to do on the INSIDE. And there are many intelligent, interesting individuals for me to learn from within Hagar. So I welcome the challenge and look forward to looking back in a few months to see what sort of pattern is taking shape beneath my very eyes.

Hagar in Cambodia, Afghanistan, India, Vietnam and Laos

Hagar in Cambodia, Afghanistan, India, Vietnam and Laos

Here are some brief updates on the expansion countries:

Afghanistan- We have a Country Director that is working diligently on researching plans for a social enterprise appropriate to the culture and security situation. Operations are projected to begin in Summer 2009.  Afghanistan is rather self-sufficient at the moment, due to its particularly sensitive security status, so my personal work doesn’t touch this office really at all.

India- During my first week at Hagar, I had the pleasure of meeting and touring Hagar facilities with two of our partners from the organization Oasis India.  Oasis, along with IJM (International Justice Mission)are our social program partners in Mumbai. It is possible that I could be traveling to Mumbai in the near future for capacity building (i.e. training social workers) but this is still pending. Either way, the social programs are being strengthened in Mumbai in preparation for Operations to begin, hopefully in early 2009. Our social enterprise for Mumbai is a catering business, but it will not start operations until we have hired our Country Director.

As many of you have probably heard on the news, Mumbai has faced some very real, very frightening terrorist attacks this past month.  I have been keeping up with our partners and am relieved to report that they are all safe and well. However, please do keep them in your thoughts, as you can imagine that they are quite shaken.  If there is one thing I am learning these days, it is that our world is so small.

Vietnam and Laos- Right now these expansion efforts are developing organically.  We have identified potential government partners for these projects and have just finished up hosting two government delegations from both countries for a week long

Women's Union Study Tour- Government Delegates from Vietnam and Laos

Women's Union Study Tour- Government Delegates from Vietnam and Laos

educational site visit. These representatives met with our program directors and staff, toured our facilities, and asked great questions which all solidified the partnership we’ve already been fostering with them. They are so eager to learn about Hagar’s model, as both countries are further behind in their capacity to really care for and empower these vulnerable populations.
Both Vietnam and Lao have very similar Communist government structures, and similar capacity building and partnership needs that Hagar can help meet. Because business is so highly regulated, we cannot do any work in these countries without government sponsors and partners. Plus, both parties are eager to learn how to better care for the women fleeing to their shelters.

The social enterprise component of the Vietnam/Laos partnerships will be with a café/bakery franchise that has had great success in Laos.  Hopefully, we will begin operations for these in early-mid 2009 as well.

As you can see, there is much to do, but we are excited and hoping for all the right leadership and funding to come through soon.  Once we have these things in place, we’ll be ready to get things moving.  And I’ll also be traveling to the offices in Vietnam, Laos and India to help oversee and organize capacity building efforts.

Befriending Monks

December 11, 2008

I befriended a monk in the tea isle.  Yes, it’s true.

He was trying to find Colombian Coffee but couldn’t read the label without his glasses. And so marks the beginning of my first real encounter with a monk.  His name was John Smith.  Yes, RATHER unexpected, as you can imagine that there are probably countless John Smith’s running around the world without any idea that their namesake is a Cambodian Buddhist monk.  He had a sturdy, grandfatherly air about him and had lived much of his life in the US, arriving after the Khmer Rouge and civil war in Cambodia.

I was delighted to have this chance to talk with him, as I’ve been kind of fascinated with monks since I arrived in Cambodia.  Their lives seem mysterious and yet ordinary- like the social fabric of a bygone day inserted into a city teeming with odd mixtures of its “Indo-Chinese”/Western identities.

So we struck up a conversation and before I knew it, accepted his invitation to come meet his English students he’d been teaching.  Ironically, this man’s English wasn’t so good himself—and I found myself often piecing together truncated bits of sentences to try to get his stories straight (which is sometimes difficult with an older person whose been speaking English all their life).  So I hopped on my bike and followed this friendly monk in his rusty-orange monk regalia on his motodup taxi as I quietly laughed to myself at the supreme obsurdity of the situation. While I am eager to trust people, I’m also not stupid. Working on human trafficking makes one a bit more aware and suspicious of inviting strangers, unfortunately. But I also don’t want to be paranoid and miss out on small adventures.  So there I was, on my bike, calculating streets, exit plans, feeling for my mace (which I absently mindedly put in my purse the night before) and thinking of excuses to leave, should I decide I need them later. What a mess of contradictions I am some days.  But I know monks are people too—they make mistakes.  Some visit prostitutes, they ride tuk tuks, they shop at the supermarket and are picky about their coffee.  They’re people.

We arrive at the guesthouse where he stays and teaches his students.  We get to the room and I begin to piece together his history.  He lived in California (he even showed me his drivers license, where he is of course wearing his bright monk sash) and New York and, to my great surprise, Witchita, Kansas! He has even frequented the Buddhist temple in Kansas City, MO (where I went to college). Talk about a small world. He’s been building Buddhist temples in the US as well as in Cambodia, like a regular Evangelical Christian church planter— except Buddhist ☺.  But before his monkhood (you’ll never guess) he made doughnuts for a living in the US. And his mother was Catholic.

Monk John and his ESL Posse

Monk John and his ESL Posse

Eventually, the English students arrived.  There were five of them, all in their late teens and apparently mortified by the presence of a native English speaking foreigner (me).  Still trying to figure out exactly why I am there, I try to initiate some basic conversation and inquiries.  Everyone seems rather nervous and awkward standing stick straight against the wall.  Apparently underperforming, my friendly monk begins sighing loudly and snapping at them in Khmer, sometimes switching to English to fill me in.  I keep trying to think of scenarios and basics to coax out their English, but Monk John just gets angrier, muttering about how 4 months of training has been wasted.  Needless to say, I was beginning to feel uncomfortable, and a bit defensive for the poor students whose stammering increased with the deflation of their self-esteem.  I suddenly had visions of miffed nuns in Catholic Schools, rapping rulers on tables in a huff. I throw out questions about time, school, food, family, anything to give them a chance to redeem themselves.  Monk John continues to sulk in disapproval.  I ask if we should go over anything—alphabet? Numbers?   Then he lights ups, and proudly prompts the wide-eyed students to sing a song.  Then, to my dismay and utter surprise, Monk John directs the timid chorus in a round of “I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, No turning back, no turning back.”

I this point, I think to myself, this entire evening has turned into farce.  With delight, confusion and surprise I clap at the end of the tune and confirm that yes, indeed, Monk John did teach them this song himself. And it’s also quite obvious that students had not real understanding of the words coming from their mouths.  The glory of contradictions. You just can’t make this stuff up.

After a few more strained tries at conversation, I can see that my new students are beginning to wane.  I begin to make my exit, we take a few pictures and I keep flashing my sweating students encouraging smiles as I try to convince Monk John that all is not lost for is ESL bunch—they just need a little practice.

He escorts me out the door, I hop on my bike, take a deep breath, chuckle to myself and wonder what just happened.

Monks are people too
Never judge a book by its cover
Practice! Practice! Practice!