so… what are you doing… exactly?

I love you people. You put up with so much. You read my ramblings and try your best to keep up, and when the pieces don’t quite fit together in your brain, you ask, “So, remind me again what it is you’re doing in Cambodia…”

Your confusion is understandable. These last few months have been a whirlwind. After quite a few months of standing still.

Here’s the scoop.

Let’s start at the very beginning. (well, not the VERY beginning)

In July 2010, Gabe and I took a 10-day trip to Cambodia with our church to visit the family-style orphan home our church sponsored through Asia’s Hope. While there, we met Alli Mellon, Director of The Hard Places Community. (read that whole story here)

In October 2011, Gabe had a heart attack and almost died. (read more about that here)

In December 2011, the five of us went back to Cambodia for five weeks. (story here)

In January 2012, we felt God calling us to move to Cambodia, but when we got back to the States, Gabe started suffering from panic attacks/anxiety/depression which kept us from following our hearts to Cambodia. (story here)

In December 2013, we moved to Abbey Lane, an apartment complex made up primarily of Somali refugees and had the MOST AMAZING YEAR (that ebook will release later in 2016).

In January 2015, we moved to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Without a plan. And people signed up to support our work anyway, trusting that God would show us what he wanted to do.

For many months, we learned the language. And prayed about what was next. And asked God specifically for something REALLY CRAZY. Our very own Abbey Lane in Cambodia.

And he answered. In October 2015, we got accepted by The Hard Places Community to move to Siem Reap, Cambodia and start a second drop-in center for kiddos at risk of sexual abuse and exploitation (five-part story via blog posts here).

We trained at the main center in Phnom Penh for almost 3 months, then moved to Siem Reap on January 16, 2016.

Let me pause for a minute to clear up some terms that I throw around a lot:

International Outreach Ministries (IOM): IOM is our sending agency. They send missionaries all over the world in a HUGE variety of capacities to spread the love and message of Jesus. They handle all of our $ (so when you donate through them, you get a tax-deductible receipt). We get a monthly salary from them (that comes from the money our supporters give), and they take 8% for administrative costs. (We also pay a lot of paypal/international bank fees but are hoping to sign up with a new bank–with less fees!–this summer.)

The Hard Places Community (HPC): HPC is our “employer.” Alli Mellon is the Director. HPC has a drop-in center for boys in Phnom Penh, a drop-in center for girls in Phnom Penh, an orphan home in India, and does work in the U.S. as well. We work for HPC and follow their rules/policies, but our money comes from individual supporters through IOM. Every HPC missionary (and HPC as an organization) uses IOM to handle their financial giving, so it was pretty cool that we were already set up with IOM before we joined HPC in October.

Punlok Thmey Siem Reap: Punlok Thmey is the name of our center (which is a building right next to our house on the same property). The boys’ center in Phnom Penh is also called Punlok Thmey (which means “new growth” in Khmer), hence the Punlok Thmey Siem Reap. (The girls’ center in PP is called Prook Thmey–new morning.) Our center here in Siem Reap is for boys AND girls. Kids don’t live here; they just come during the day to learn and play.

Siem Reap, Cambodia: Siem Reap is the name of the province (kind of like a state) AND the city where we live. (Think New York, New York, except not anything like that.) We don’t live in the city limits though. We live in a village 3 kilometers outside the city on a dirt road. We have no road name, no house number, no address, and it’s a little bit tricky to find us. Unless you’re kids. They’ve found us just fine.

Angkor Wat: Angkor Wat is the name of the huge, ancient temple Cambodia is famous for. Some people call it the 8th wonder of the world. 2 million tourists from around the world visit Angkor Wat every single year. We live 3 kilometers (1.86 miles) from Angkor Wat.

And now for some frequently-asked questions:

What is the main purpose of The Hard Places Community?

HPC exists to restore children who have been sexually abused or exploited and prevent it from happening to others. (I love this so much.)

Tell me a little bit about human trafficking/sexual exploitation in Cambodia.

This has a long, complicated answer. I’ll give you a short one. Kiddos as young as 4 years old are being sold in Cambodia for sex. Parents often sell their children by the night. Some know exactly what they’re doing, some don’t. Children are abused/exploited by both Khmer (Cambodians) and foreigners. It’s a known fact among pedophiles that Cambodia is an easy place to buy a child for sex. Kids used to be kept in brothels (and some still are), but now, most of them still live with their families and are sold out of their homes (there’s a whole network of people who work together to secretly meet the demand of the men who want to have sex with children). Cambodia has come a looooong way in the past few years in the fight against the trafficking of children, but it’s still happening every single day.

What does HPC do to help fight this evil?

The center in Phnom Penh has been around for almost five years. And before that, HPC staff went out to the kids in the most vulnerable areas of the city and did Kids Club. They built relationships with kids, who then told them that they were being abused. They have a staff of about 25, including several social workers, and they work with other NGOs (non-government organizations) as well as the Cambodian government to take these pedophiles to court and get justice for these precious kiddos. They also offer counseling to the kids and education for their parents, so they can work together to prevent sexual abuse/exploitation of other children.

What do you do at YOUR center in Siem Reap?

Right now, we are a small staff of seven. Three of those seven are children (our 3 girls–ages 15, 13, 10). We are starting small in terms of serving the children and their families. We work Monday through Friday and start at 7:30am with staff meeting and worship. Then we prepare for our morning hour with the kiddos. Kids come (we have 25-40 kids every morning) from 9-10, and we divide them into classes. Right now, Music and English. Hopefully soon, we’ll add photography and computers and art. The last 20 minutes of the hour we bring all the kids together for Kids Club. A short Bible story, a craft, and sometimes a game. From 10-11:30, we clean/plan/prepare/run errands. From 11:30-1:00, we eat lunch and rest. From 1-2, kids again. Then on MWF, we ride bikes to Angkor Wat from 2-4:30 where we play with the kids and do kids club. On Tuesday/Thursday, we use that time for Kids Club prep, training, etc.

Okay… but how are you fighting human trafficking exactly?

Great question. Right now, we are building relationships with kids and meeting their families and learning their stories. Our goal is to find out who is being abused, by whom, and find ways to bring it to light, stop it, and restore these kiddos’ lives. The most vulnerable kids are definitely the ones who live near Angkor Wat. Most of them spend a big chunk of their day selling things (food, t-shirts, bracelets, souvenirs) to tourists. Their families are very poor, and many of the kids don’t go to school. Many are orphans who live alone or with extended family. They are vulnerable because of their poverty and because of the high number of sex tourists coming through the city every day. Many of the young girls will end up working in the karaoke bars as prostitutes as soon as they look old enough. Many young men are also sex workers in massage parlors and bars.

So, it might be awhile before you actually rescue a sexually-exploited child, help them find healing, and send the perpetrator to jail?

Yes. We have a lot to do while we “wait.” Like I said, we are building relationships with kids. We are meeting their families. We are asking questions and doing research. We are exploring different areas and finding out what’s going on. We are probing into dark places and hopefully scaring away some would-be predators. We are working closely with the local government and making connections with other NGOs who have been working with children here much longer than we have. We are also providing the kids with tools (learning English/computer/other skills) that will increase their value in their parents’ eyes and hopefully prevent them from being sold for sex.

And we are sharing the love of Jesus with them, telling them this truth: you are loved, you are beautiful, you have great worth and a future filled with hope. 

I’m sure I haven’t answered even half of the questions you have. What else would you like to know??

(Next post: How You Can Help These Kiddos From Right Where You Are.)

7 thoughts on “so… what are you doing… exactly?

  1. Pingback: W.A.T. FAQs – Marla Taviano

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  3. Martha

    Thank you. I praise God for your work. I pray for you and your ministry every time I see you post. I realize I don’t send money – but I am a warrior for those who do and for all your needs. I love you and Thank God for using you.

  4. Tina

    This makes my heart hurt, so very much. I clearly didn’t understand exactly what you all were doing there. In my naivety, I thought it was just a center for kiddos to come to to learn and to get loved on. I’m sorry. Very sorry. Please, please forgive me.

    Because I was sexually abused as a child, I’ve always wanted to help littles who’ve also been abused in some way but 1) never finished college with a degree and 2) couldn’t figure out how I could help, bit krep praying for an opportunity. I’m a so looking forward to your next post. I’d love to know how I can help from all the way over here.

    Thank you to you and your family, the staff at HCP and IOM. Continued prayers in earnest for the work you all are doing. 💝💝💝

  5. Carrie Hart

    Oh, Marla. Thanks for explaining all this. I’m sitting here with my four-year-old on my lap, crying angry tears for all of the children who aren’t safe. Thank you for doing this work- I am continuing to pray for you and your family and each of the children you work with.

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