On the 17th May 2012, I watched the Pink Room. It was a movie about Vietnamese women and children who had been trafficked and later rescued in Svay Pak, Cambodia. It was moving, but it was far away. Cambodia and Belfast are miles apart. But the movie upset me. It disturbed me in the deeper part of my heart, despite the distance. I cried as I watched it, not understanding how such exploitation could occur. The guy who made the movie was there to answer questions after the screening, and so I cleared my throat and raised my hand.
“Beyond sitting here and crying about it, what can I do in response to this movie? We can’t all go to Cambodia and rescue these girls, but surely there must be some individual and collective way to respond?”
I didn’t know at that stage that 9 months later, on the 25th February, I would be in that village in Cambodia. I would stand on the streets in Svay Pak, in the very building where the Pink Room was.
The Pink Room was where girls were forced to loose their virginity to paying customers. Young girls had their virginity stolen in the Pink Room.
It’s as if someone heard my question that night and that was the start of a journey, my justice journey. My response to the Pink Room is part of my justice journey. I did respond when I asked the question. I do respond everyday as I hold the issue in my head and heart. I will respond to the reality of human trafficking by being a voice and speaking up against this injustice at every opportunity.
To meet with the community in Svay Pak last week, to see the kids club, the sewing room, the medical centre, the sports field, the ‘Lord’s gym’ (extremely buff young men boxing in a ‘fragrant’ 40 degree heat in close confines). My visit to Svay Pak gave me so much hope of a community transformed from darkness to light.
The story of Svay Pak is incredible. In 2003 IJM advocated to do a large scale rescue operation with the local police in Svay Pak. Over 70 women and girls were rescued. This was just the beginning of the story. Aftercare is their journey. And Agape International Missions became part of the solution to long term prevention. They moved into the neighbourhood and built up education, health care, local businesses and church community to help completely transform Svay Pak for good.
The thing I love the most about what Agape did is that when they moved in, they choose to move in to the very building which was formerly the site where these women and girls had been exploited. They knocked down the walls and brought in the light to that once dark and depraved place. They called it Rahab’s House and today it is the hub of the local community of Svay Pak. How redemptive is that?
To change a culture you need to change the values of the people who live in that culture. How you change the values people hold is huge. In my opinion, it can invovle a combination of education, parenting, community development and religion.
My response to all this, well I just ordered the Pink Room screening pack in the hope that I will be able to host another viewing in Northern Ireland in the near future.
Thank you Agape International Missions for such a powerful and transforming resource to raise awareness of the reality of human trafficking in Svay Pak and the power of organisations committed to changing communities for the long term. Here’s their story.