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Final four!!!!!

*** Final four game on Sat. Georgetown Hoyas vs. Ohio State! This is being posted early as internet access is limited at times***


Silly science question

At work we have a refrigerator where we keep large bottles of water so that people can get a drink at anytime and not become completely dehydrated. We actually keep the water in the freezer part—but it is not cold enough to freeze the water.  Twice, in the couple months I have been here, something very odd has happened as I went to pour myself a glass.  The water was liquid in the bottle, no hint of ice at all, but as I poured it, as soon as it hit the glass, it turned to slush.  Extremely weird!—to the point that I feel like I am imagining it.  So, here is my question, how does this happen? Liquid in bottle—icy slush as soon as it hits the glass?  (One time the bottle had been full prior to this and one time it was half full). 

On another note, I think I need to just carry my camera with me to work at all times, so that if it happens again I can document it.


Convictions, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

Over the past couple weeks, there has been a huge trial here in Cambodia on human trafficking (see press release below). The defendants were two German men, one Vietnamese man, and two Vietnamese woman. I knew people who attended the trial and were appalled by the overwhelming evidence of child molestation, trafficking, etc. While I was very happy that the people were all sentenced, I can’t help but wonder if this was more a media show. What about all the others? What about when its not commercial sex tourism, but it is all locals involved. I mean, yes, prosecution needs to happen and I am glad when it does– but it needs to happen more! Here is a little bit of information on prosecutions and convictions for human trafficking around the world.

Press Release

Iraq and human trafficking


This is an interesting short article about how people are getting trafficked into Iraq and forced to work.

Racism and counter-trafficking

The problem of human trafficking within and across borders was recognized as early as 1928 by the League of Nations. However, in the last two decades, focus on the issue has increased. In 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was passed in the United States by Congress and entitled victims to legal protection (including possible visas and work authorizations), crisis care (including emergency shelter and medical attention), and casework (including mental health services, job placement, welfare, and refugee services). The TVPA also mandated prevention, outreach, training, and research. In the original TVPA, victims of human trafficking were only recognized if they had been transported across borders; however, in the 2005 renewal, domestic trafficking was included. This is one of the few humanitarian projects that Bush’s government has really jumped upon, spoken out against, and is funding. Besides increased visibility in the political arena, laws, and legal courts—human trafficking has also become a buzz topic in the media.  Newspapers are now reporting on stories—even focusing “in depth investigations” on human trafficking cases. Additionally, popular media has joined the bandwagon with shows like CSI, Law and Order SVU, and many others depicting fictional cases—generally of sex crimes against children.

Human trafficking is not a new phenomenon. It is a complex phenomenon based in sexist and racist views that allow humans to become commodities and markets with large clientele to operate. Since the 1990s, mass media, international organizations, governments, and NGOs have paid more attention to the issue. Unfortunately, there is still relatively little empirical data about patterns of human trafficking, how to prevent it, and how to effectively help survivors of trafficking reintegrate into society. Why is it that until recently, people have not paid attention to the plight of victims of human trafficking?

            I hypothesize that the increased interest in human trafficking (at least in the states), is based on an underlying racism.  In the past, (1928, when it was recognized, through the 80s) the majority of “victims” were people, generally women, of color.  They were African, Asian, or Latin America.  In the early 1990s with the fall of the Soviet Union, suddenly thousands of white women (and men) in Eastern Europe became vulnerable to human trafficking.  Now, trafficking rings in the former USSR, are strong and growing.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the racial make-up of the victim population shifted a bit and soon after public attitude and attention did.  Further proof comes from the name of an early document on human trafficking: “the white-slave traffic act”, which although technically refers to the crime of indecent behavior with transport across state borders; nonetheless, has the underlying racial themes that permeate the counter-trafficking movement’s upsurge.

Notes for a visitor

I have debated having my site be a public site (as in searchable on engines or not).  Originally, it was.  But then, after one mean comment, I decided to make it not searchable; after all, I concluded, my target audience is friends and family.  However, after some thought, I decided to go public again.  Perhaps some of my thoughts on development or on trafficking will make other people re-think something.  Not that I ever expect to be a big, well-known blog; nor do I ever plan to have a huge following. Also, I decided that I can get nasty comments, not take them seriously, and delete if need be.  So, welcome world to my blog. 

That being said, there is one visitor (or perhaps type of visitor that I would like to address individually.  Whoever is finding my blog by searching the words “Cambodi0”, “br0thel”, and “children”: SHAME ON YOU! Move along.  I do not have what you want here.  Or better yet, stay here and read all the archived posts (you can skip recipes if you wish).  Perhaps some of the content will help you re-think your way of life, find a good psychologist, and start working out your issues.

Choosing a passion

The world is filled with things to worry about: family, money, friends, work, life. And, more often the not, the news is depressing.  At times, I feel torn by all the things which I could be passionate about.  Al Gore has a point about global warming. The war in Iraq seems to be headed no where and each day more soldiers and citizens are killed without cause.  Too often, the Iraqi casualties aren’t even mentioned or thought about. Awful things happen each day; children are raped, domestic violence continues in many homes, people go without necessary medical care because they don’t qualify for benefits or can’t make it through the red tape. Queer people still can’t marry in America (or most of the rest of the world).

How easy is it to give up and just care about nothing? Or to pick your one pet topic and overlook the rest?

Obviously, although eclectic in my passions—few other topics get me as riled up as human trafficking. This is probably why I am making a career in the counter-trafficking field.  That said, it does lead to interesting commentary from people when I meet them in social settings and explain what I do.

The commentary also really differs as I move from country to country.  When I was working back in the states, most of the time I was met with shock.  Americans simply do not realize that each year at least 17,000 people are brought into America and live in abject slavery. Other Americans confuse the issue of human trafficking with illegal immigration.  Admittedly, the media is not doing a good job of explaining the difference and with all the talk about building a fence; I am not surprised people get confused. Victims of human trafficking come to the states both illegally and legally—everything is determined by the treatment they receive upon arrival.   

Here, in Cambodia, one cannot live and be paying attention to the world around them without realizing that human trafficking is a huge issue. In Khmer, the practice of trafficking on children is often simply referred to as renting. In a country where many people live on 50 cents a day, poverty can drive them towards traffickers and lack of education, understanding, or other options can make them more vulnerable.  When I meet people in a public setting, generally unless they are working in the counter-trafficking movement, they do not want to hear about my job. It is depressing. And, as we sit and sip our 3.00 drinks and eat our 5.00 meals, we don’t want to look at the poverty around us or how the dollars we spend might be pushing more Cambodians into the traffickers’ cycles. Here, what I do seems noble, seems like heading for burnout, seems like an uphill battle, seems nearly impossible—and so it is just easier, at times, to look the other way.

Human Trafficking on the BBC

The BBC is currently doing a several part series on Human Trafficking which highlights various forms of trafficking children around the world.  It looks interesting and, unlike many reports, does no focus solely on sex trafficking or sex tourism. Moreover, one of the children highlighted is a Cambodian girl. More info here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/this_world/6446051.stm (Bill III, thanks for the pointing me in the direction of the article)

Also more information (including the write up of the Cambodian girl’s story) can be found here: http://ovcs.blogspot.com/2007/03/my-life-as-child-prostitute.html This blog is dedicated to orphans and vulnerable children. It has some interesting articles.

Traditional Khmer dance, puppetry, and music

Sovanna Phum, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

On Friday night Manuela (my German neighbor) and I went to Sovanna Phum. I have heard a lot about the place as a friend works there; however, I was not prepared for how beautiful the show was. The show was a huge mixture of traditional shadow puppets, Khmer traditional dances, beautifully crafted masks and costumes, comical “monkeys” (we would call them clowns), and traditional instruments. Please visit the Sovanna Phum website to learn about all the different types of traditional arts they do! It is really fascinating.

The story I saw was an adaptation of a Hindu myth. I loved the adaptation in terms of its music– they used all traditional instruments, but had a more contemporary arrangement.

Sovanna Phum is really one of the best places to see traditional arts here in Cambodia. Tickets for the night were only $5.00. My favorite part about the organization, however, was that after the show had started, they allow kids to come in from the streets free of charge and fill any seats that were empty. So many time (including in the US) if you are a child that does not come from a middle or upper class family– you never get to really see the arts. How great would it be if Nutcracker performances would fill any empty seats with inner city kids free of charge? Or if the Sunday ballet would?

Below I am adding some videos because I really don’t think that the pictures quite capture the evening. That said, I am not sure how to hide them behind a link on wordpress yet. I apologize if they take long to upload. They are all really short (5 to 15 seconds), but I hope they can give you an idea of the music and the dancing.




Ethical issue #2: Faith-based organizations

Cambodia is 95% Theravada Buddhist—the other 5% of the population is primarily a mixture of Muslim and Christian. It is also a country that is extremely poor and where people will take aid where they can get it. For me, this raises a very important question: How do I feel about faith-based organizations in the development field?

Now, I realize that this is probably going to be a controversial (and rambling) post—even if nobody decides to respond. I also realize that people from a wide variety of faiths and no faiths are reading this. In fact, I believe the church bulletin at my parents’ Catholic church is publishing my web address (Hello All Saints congregants!). But for me, this is not a question of faith—it is a question of ethics.

Coming from the US, I have heard a lot of debate in the last couple years about Bush’s plans to fund more faith-based charity organizations. I know and have volunteered at many such organizations. Faith-based organizations around the world are doing amazing work—they are reaching people who have been forgotten, they are using their faith as the motivational factor for doing good, they are saving lives daily, they are impacting thousands of communities. I also understand that faith is a major motivator for many people to fight poverty and live self-sacrificing lives; which I see as a good thing. Yet, overall I am unsettled, and this feeling is growing.

I have a good friend here who is both a social worker and a Muslim. We have actually talked at length about this several times and she has a hard time understanding why many Americans in the development field are adamantly against faith-based organizations being involved in development. In ways, the conversations are comical because stereotypically you would think the conversation would be reversed.

I think my problem in the end boils down to two points: first, I think that missionary work and development aid should be separate, and second, I fundamentally disagree with the way funds are being dispersed. (Granted a lot of this has to do with use of government funds to aid faith-based organizations. I have other problems with self-funded faith-based organizations—but I also realize that I can have no impact on these.)

Missionaries have a long history or going to desolate places and doing good deeds; they have impressive ability to find, recruit, and use volunteers. They often hand down the teachings of their religion with their charity and aid. They have been, historically, extremely successful in some places.

Government aid should be directed at all people; it should not come with strings attached. Technically, faith-based organizations cannot and do not force conversion for their aid. However, they do preach; they do hang religious artifacts in their offices; they do offer services and conversion along with aid. Not all faith-based organizations—but enough.

I find this particularly upsetting when we are talking about children. There are many faith-based shelters that take in trafficked and vulnerable children. Most of these organizations talk about re-integrating the child into the family as their first priority. At the same time, they oblige the children to attend Sunday mass and study the bible. Some of these children live at the center for months or years. They are offered no space to learn about their own culture, their own religion, and their family’s values. How does this help the children re-integrate? How does it do anything except increase the gap between the child and the family? What purpose does it really serve in the interest of the child? (and no, I refuse to believe that it is to save their souls).

Children are perhaps the most vulnerable to conversion by aid organizations as they have the least understanding and stake in their own religion—but nonetheless this religion is part of their identity. Historically, taking children from their families and teaching them Christianity has been used—think of the boarding schools that American Indian children were sent to or the foster care system set up in the Nazi era. Year later, as adults, many of these American Indian and Jewish children have written about the void they feel at having lost their faith; at having never really learned it; at having the choice of conversion taken from them.

Furthermore, I wonder how I would feel if it were reversed; I wonder how America would react if it were reversed. How would American’s see it if primarily Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, or Baha’i groups that were being funded? And why should this change the picture? Maybe it wouldn’t. But my gut tells me that “Americans” would see it differently.

I also have to ask myself if I blame people for choosing no aid over aid given by a faith not their own. In Pakistan, US tax payer money supports a Christian hospital which is under-utilized; while the local hospital nearby is over-crowded and lacking in modern technology and meds. That said, I can understand a non-Christian not wanting to pass away in a place that hangs crosses in each room. I can understand an individual’s choice to choose their religion over quality of care. What I can’t really understand is why non-Christian groups can’t be funded too. And, if they are not, then perhaps those who wrote the constitution and declared separation of church and state were on to something!

When Bush talks about “faith-based” organizations, we all know who the defacto faith is: Christians. In a country that was based on religious freedom, I believe we are too centered on Christianity. Yes, the credo says “One nation under God”, but I do believe that “God” should be allowed to be interpreted by each person. I also believe it is the right of each person to find personal motivation in their religion, even a calling to do aid work—but not to the detriment of another persons autonomy to choose. Perhaps this is naïve, but I find it heartbreaking. Here are some facts that sadden me:

  • During the 2004 Tsunami in Indonesia not a single Muslim organization received USAID funding to support victims. In an 88% Muslim country, with many Muslim groups wanting to help rebuild—not one was deemed worthy;
  • Of the 160 faith-based organizations that have been funded by USAID in the past 5 years, only 2 have been Muslim;
  • Between 2001 and 2005 only two Jewish organizations overseas got US funding;
  • Christian groups received 98.3% of all faith-based funding.

It’s not that I am against Christian organizations per say, but I do feel that tax funded money should not go primarily to one religious group. I find this particularly detrimental when these organizations are operating in non-Christian countries.

All this leads me back to yet another predicament: in a country which is so poor and in need of so much help—should any aid be turned away? And, what, if anything, is too much to ask of a person in the name of development?

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