A number of people have asked us how we got involved in this type of work and how TCI began. So, we have put together a short synopsis of our history and the ‘making’ of Transitions Cambodia, Inc.
The roots of Transitions Cambodia, Inc. were probably beginning to develop back in 1987. James was in the US Marine Corps and traveling around Asia as an intelligence specialist. On a particular operation, James and a friend were in an Asian country and wanted to find a place to relax and have dinner. They found a local bar, where the owner welcomed them in from the street. After dinner, as they sat around talking, the bar owner approached them with a young girl under his arm. He asked if they wanted some company for the night. She could be theirs for the weekend – to do whatever we wanted. James and his friend were taken aback at how young the girl appeared to be and asked her age.
The bar owner told them that she was 15 – she looked frightened and intimidated by the owner. James and his friend asked how much it would cost to have her all weekend. The price? $7.00. They paid the bar fine and received a green, circular token. After they went outside they gave the girl $10.00 and told her to enjoy her weekend, sending her away to her family that lived in the next village. The look in this young girl’s eye haunts James to this day – as does, the green token he received in exchange for her freedom.
The affects of this experience wouldn’t take hold until James began his graduate studies, where he began formal research on global slavery in 2002. It was an epiphany in many ways to realize that slavery had not disappeared in the 19th Century, but rather; slavery had become more insidious and clever. Originally, James’ focus was on South America and he thought he might do some study and work with groups operating in that region of the world.
It wasn’t until 2004, when a friend, Don Brewster, suggested he watch the MSNBC Dateline special on Cambodian girls being enslaved for the purpose of sexual exploitation and abuse. The special showed girls as young as five trapped in brothels waiting to service Western men. This impacted James, Athena, and their children so much that they knew they needed to do something. As a family they decided whatever could be done, should be done. They knew they could not go on with life as usual ignoring the desperate need they had become aware of.
The next day, James, having a background with the US State Department, contacted the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, who were helpful in establishing the need and organizations that were doing significant work in this area and other pertinent issues.
In July, James and Don took an exploratory trip with a professional counselor, a contractor, and a cameraman to establish the feasibility and establish the greatest need for these young girls. They visited 14 different agencies, organizations, and governmental ministries, and determined that not only was the need real, there were not enough agencies providing quality services to victims. James and Athena decided in July that they would take their family to Cambodia to establish the needed services.
In December 2004, Don and his wife, Bridget decided that they would also move to Cambodia – so the Pond’s and Brewster’s co-directed the Agape Restoration Center (ARC), which is a high-security, long-term aftercare facility for victims of sex trafficking. The couples gained additional training, attending conferences in Thailand and doing research in the months prior to the move. In 2005, both families had moved to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
After the ARC facility was established, it was clear that a trend was emerging. Clients were no longer 8 years old and younger. In fact, the median age of girls, was 15 years old. There was a critical issue at hand – girls were in need of more progressive services. They needed to acquire adult, independent living skills that would assist them in having healthy and productive lives outside of institutional care. They were not receiving this in the current programs.
James and Don both realized that many organizations had initiated institutional care without any thought to the long-term implications. Athena’s greatest desire was to see girls developing outside of care and discovering their vocational and personal potential. In October 2006, Athena and James piloted a transitional home model – called the Transitional Living Center (TLC) where older girls could live and do just that. The girls live in a family setting with a mentor and social worker. This allows them to transition into a low security environment and reintegrate into society with familiar oversight and social interaction. A model of care like this had not been used before and came with lots of challenges, but within a short time, they had an experienced staff, solid programs, and a center filled with wonderful clients. The girls ranged in age from 16-22 years old and came from the ARC, other centers and direct referrals from human rights organizations.
The primary objective of TCI is to provide quality transitional housing for female survivors of commercial sexual exploitation of children. They participate in high quality vocational training, education and/or establish themselves in a job in Phnom Penh or the surrounding area. Providing a stable and semi-independent transitional home will encourage and facilitate these young women in becoming self sufficient and prevent re-trafficking and re-entering the commercial sex industry as adults.
TCI is a passion and life’s work for the Pond family and each client and staff member is a part of their own family. We are honored and privileged that you have taken the time to read our web site and learn about us and this exciting project.
If you would like to read more about TCI please click here.