RAISING AWARENESS – Trudy Albert of Scappoose works with a group of young Cambodian girls during a recent mission trip to Southeast Asia. While there, Albert heard horror stories of human slave trafficking. Now home, Albert wants to help raise awareness of this global crime. (Photo courtesy of Trudy Albert / The South County Spotlight)
A Scappoose woman’s mission trip to Cambodia opens her eyes to the international human trafficking of young girls
Apr 8, 2009
By Darryl Swan
The South County Spotlight (Oregon, USA)
Trudy Albert wasn’t sure what God wanted her to see when she undertook a mission trip to Cambodia in November.
Mounds of trash choked the scenery in the capital city of Phnom Penh. Extreme traffic congestion in the city of more than one million residents overwhelmed Albert, who stared dazed at the frantic, disorganized rush of buses, vans, mopeds and bicycles.
Poverty was everywhere, both within the city that is known for its population of rooftop slums and in the outlying villages still defined by hunting-gathering societies. Many of roads to reach the villages were washed out or still under floodwater.
“I kept thinking, ‘Why am I here?’” she recalls. “What is it I’m supposed to see here, Lord?”
It was between the waves of culture shock and jet lag that she found her answer: the people.
“They just absolutely stole my heart,” Albert says.
It was the first mission trip for Albert, a native of St. Louis, Mo., who moved to Scappoose 12 years ago. “I have always wanted to do a mission trip,” Albert says. “I knew that it was a third-world country, but I was not prepared for everything I saw.”
She discovered Cambodians to be humble, quiet and quick to light up when something tickled their fancy. Their courtesies to a stranger were boundless.
But through her work with World Hope International, the faith-based mission that sponsored the trip, she also saw the toll chronic poverty and social inequality have extracted from the country’s humanity.
Today, months later, she still wrestles her emotions when she recalls the plight of a 19-year-old woman in a village outside Phnom Penh who had recently escaped the forced sex trade industry.
“One of the girls, she looked at me and said, ‘I cry every night for my mom,’” Albert recalls, motioning her hands down over her face to mimic the effect of falling tears, a gesture not unlike the rain in the fairy tale “Itsy Bitsy Spider.”
“I’m sure they all cry for their mothers,” Albert adds.
Through an interpreter, Albert heard story upon story of the victims of human slave trafficking, a crime globally on the rise and with a strong foothold in South Asia.
Cambodia, which borders Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, has emerged as a dominant feedstock for the illicit sex industry.
The International Labor Organization estimates at least 12.3 million people worldwide are held in forced labor, including prostitution. Other agencies estimate that figure is higher, closer to 27 million.
Many of the victims range in age from five to 26 years old. Most are vulnerable women and children who are impoverished and illiterate. Some have been sold to brothels or organized crime outfits by their own family members.
It’s a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide, and to find examples of its reach requires a journey little farther than our own doorstep.
In February, a multi-agency task force of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies rescued seven juvenile girls found to be working in forced prostitution throughout the Portland metropolitan area, the youngest only 12 years old.
“Four of those girls are already back with the traffickers because there were no services for them,” says James Pond, executive director of Transitions Global, a Hillsboro-based nonprofit that operates a healing center in Cambodia, called the Transitional Living Center, that provides job training and other resources to victims of human trafficking.
Transitions Global is now fundraising for a $1.2 million center in Multnomah County where domestic victims of human trafficking can rebuild their lives.
Pond says there are three to five cases of juvenile prostitution in the Portland metro area daily, and that most of the trafficking occurs over popular trading and networking Web sites, such as Craigslist. The Federal Bureau of Investigations estimates there are 300,000 American girls being trafficked for commercial sex.
Albert, while stressing that the mission’s purpose does not solely focus on the sex trade and instead aims to bring relief wherever it is needed, points to the work of World Hope International and other missionaries in Cambodia as a stepping-stone toward reducing the proliferation of human trafficking in the global sex trade.
Albert says she worked with one group of rescued women in the village of Svay Pak, several miles outside of Phnom Penh, that taught the younger children how to brush their teeth.
“They’re like any other kids. They’re like the kids here in America,” Albert says of the experience. “It was wonderful to watch.”