Day 3B: Afternoon at Hagar International

Our team plus all the IJM staff (30 or so people) went to a lovely restaurant for a lunch of Khmer food. I sat near 3 IJM staff.

Each person on our Canadian team has been enjoying learning how each staff person at IJM Cambodia came to be there. It is really neat to hear how God stirred their hearts, planted seeds years before, their surprise at how they ended up at IJM, and their passion for what they are now doing.

I learned a couple of Khmer food lessons… in Cambodia, the senior person at the table is served first. This is either senior in age or senior in position. Doesn’t matter if it is male or female. Utensils in a Khmer meal are a fork and spoon, never a knife, and often chopsticks. The food is very similar to Thai food but less spicy. At Khmer restaurants you can either order your own dish and it will come with a bowl of rice or you can eat “family style” and order a variety of dishes which get shared. This meal was “family style’ and had been pre-ordered for us.

We ate some Tom Yam soup, a vegetable yellow curry, a green fish curry, a beef curry, rice and the local Khmer specialty- fish amok. Fish Amok comes wrapped in a banana leaf and is a very tasty white fish with a mild sauce. Definitely my favorite dish here. One favorite way to eat it is to have a carved out coconut shell full of hot fish amok. That would be a much bigger serving than what we had. The meal was followed by fruit: pineapple, papaya, dragon fruit and watermelon.

Fish Amok A banana!

This restaurant had some lovely décor including massive pots with floating arrangements of green leaves and pink flowers. It was a lovely relaxing meal together and the last time we will see most of the staff.


After lunch it was time to head to one of the key IJM partners for Aftercare: Hagar International.

What a fantastic organization.

An interesting protocol in this world of anti-human trafficking and sex exploitation is that there is a huge level of protection around the victims and so your default needs to be to think of protection before anything else.

The biggest area this shows up is in what can be made public- photography and written communication. Each organization we connect with pretty much opens with comments around photography etc. and what can be put online. Hagar was no different.

So… At Hagar, no pics of the outside of a building. And if ever you have the opportunity to take a photo of one of the victims, no full profile shots and no photos ever on the internet. Great rules. Seems like rules that are also appropriate for the safety of all children- not just trafficked victims.

Here’s what it says on a promo postcard we received (I have bolded what they bolded):

“There’s something beautiful about the human spirit. About seeing an individual who once was broken, who stood against the worst of adversity, in the darkest of human conditions, whom within themselves can now stand tall. At Hagar Cambodia we restore the lives of women and children suffering from extreme human rights abuse.

We do it, because we believe. We believe in possibility; in the greatest of human potential. That broken lives can become whole again. That those who have survived the greatest of exploitation can become strong.

And we do it because our purpose is singular; to enable every woman and child to live with a future and a hope – with renewed self worth and the courage to again stand tall.

Hagar- the whole reason. “

We were given a presentation by Catherine, “Visitor Coordinator & Support Office Liaison”. Catherine is volunteering at Hagar for a year. What struck me about Catherine was how well she understood the organization, her passion and her ability to answer all our questions- even though she was new to the job. To hear her speak, one would think she had been there for years. Clearly her life has been forever transformed by this experience.

The name “Hagar” comes from the Bible. Hagar was seen by God and he sought her out and noticed her even though no one else did. (Genesis 16:13) And this is what Hagar International wants to communicate to its clients… God sees you and hears you and sees beauty in you. You were made by Him for a reason and you are precious.

So to that end, they have a very individual approach to each of their clients. The end goal is wholeness. They have found that their clients have experienced on average 5 traumas. They take the clients through Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy (TFCBT) and have found it to be super effective. They are now training people around the world in TFCBT.

Catherine shared a story about a boy that came into their care who wouldn’t make eye-contact and had been severely abused. Through TFCBT he learned why he had so much rage, how to handle it, eventually move through it and now is a totally different child. Talking about the change in this boy brought tears to her eyes and she had to stop the presentation for a minute. Beautiful.

Their mission: Whatever it takes for as long as it takes to restore a broken life.

Pretty powerful mission statement. Pretty amazing commitment to broken, hurting people in a developing world context.

We were given a copy of their Hagar International annual report. Hagar International is doing the same types of work in Cambodia, Afghanistan and Vietnam. Hagar Cambodia is the largest and longest running of their three operations.

In Cambodia, one-quarter of married women have experienced violence in the home. The trafficking of women, girls and boys for labour and sexual exploitation is common.

Hagar takes a four-pronged approach to wholeness:


  1. Personal Well-Being
  2. Economic Empowerment
  3. Social Capital / integration

An individual isn’t considered whole until he/she has been stable in all of the above areas for 6 months. And if the person is a minor (age 14 and under), that time increases to 1 year. What that means is that if an individual has been stable in all areas and then has a personal well-being crisis at month 5.5, the clock is reset to 0 and their “stable clock” begins again. That is a commitment to wholeness. That is a commitment to walking alongside a recovery journey. I was so inspired by this. And so challenged!

So what do each of these approaches look like in Hagar? (Notes below taken word for word  from their annual report with sections cut out.) The presentation we were given was basically their annual report.)

Protection: Clients are provided safety from physical harm or injury, access to legal support and assistance and their personal capacity to physically protect themselves is strengthened…

Protection restores a client’s most basic dignity and creates a foundation for recovery to take place. It is helping each person pursue justice. It is countless meetings with governments and partner organizations to develop a framework for the recovery of women and children. It is securing identity cards and birth certificates for those without. It is training police and civil society how to work with victims of trafficking and abuse. It is emergency shelter for women and children. It is teaching clients their rights and going with them to court.

Personal Well-Being: Clients develop internal strength and resilience through activities that foster mental, physical and emotional health. Clients cultivate the ability to “bounce back”, or even grow in the face of adversity, trauma and tragedy.

Personal well-being means hours upon hours of post-trauma counseling. It is house mothers on call 24 hours a day. It is hundreds of vaccinations and medical checks and referrals to hospitals for special procedures and surgeries. It is listening to the stories of pain, and going deep into the darkness. It is art therapy and dance and sport that help each woman and child discover their value and self worth. It is learning how to build healthy relationships.

“Some people see scars, and its wounding they remember. To me, they are proof of the fact that there is healing.” – Linda Hogan, Author.

Economic Empowerment: Clients increase their power over economic decisions that influence their lives and enable greater freedom and choice of action. Clients become financially independent and able to take care of themselves and their families.

Most women and children come to Hagar with little or no formal education or career training. But we know that given the opportunity, each client can achieve their fullest potential. Economic Empowerment is practical. It is “catch-up” schooling and early childhood development for children. It is literacy and job-ready skills for women. It is on-the-job training and finding that first job. It is partnering with local organizations, business and enterprise partners to give each client the tools ad the opportunities to make their own way. It is each women and child being able to provide for themselves with dignity and to contribute back to society.

Social Capital / Integration: Clients build healthy connections and relationships with their families, friends and social networks. This in turn increases community engagement and enables clients to successfully integrate into the community of their choice.

Developing the social capital of clients so that safe and successful integration is possible might mean reconciling with and reconnecting with family. Or, it could be finding a loving home in the care of foster parents. It means working with families and friends, churches and communities to create a safe and supportive environment for women and children to go home. The chance to live happily among loved ones is part of the journey towards wholeness for each women and child.

Clients spend an average of 2 years in Hagar care.

Social Enterprise: Hagar partners with professional organizations and businesses who share their commitment to lasting change, and to seeing women and young people achieve their potential. Hagar’s business investments and enterprise partners provide quality on-the-job training, employment placements in a supportive and professional environment and career progression for clients from Hagar.”

Get this. In 2011, Hagar Catering & Facilities had a total revenue of $1.63 million and Joma Bakery Café had a total revenue of $2.67 million. Hagar clients were employed at both locations.

I was so very, very impressed with this partner organization. And thrilled that IJM clients are in it. For those of you who donate to Ratanak Foundation Canada, know that your dollars are being well spent as Ratanak is listed as one of the organizations giving major gifts to Hagar.

We listened to the presentation had time to ask a few questions and then that was it. Part of me was surprised that we didn’t get to see Hagar in action. I didn’t realize that was one of my sub-conscious expectations until we were there. I am realizing more and more the seriousness of privacy and complexities of dealing with exploitation. For us to “pop in” for even an hour to a centre, even with intentions of being totally in the background, could totally disrupt the tremendously hard and important work that Hagar is doing with each client. I am realizing that the chances of us actually meeting any hurting kids is really, really low. Cambodia gets hundreds of teams here each year. If teams were allowed access to the clients, it would take much longer for victims to be restored to wholeness. This is a classic example of When Helping Hurts. Best gift I can be is to be an engaged learner, pray and mobilize people back home to pray and fund fantastic organizations.









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