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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Rich Brown: Program aids victims of human trafficking

Stephanie Freed had just begun home-schooling her two daughters when it hit her.

“I saw a tremendous evil that I just had to do something about,” she said. “There was a time about four years ago when I stood in my girls’ bedroom and looked at them asleep and I remember thinking, ‘How could I not do something?’”

That’s when the Joplin woman decided to take on the enormous task as USA director of Rapha House, a program her father, Joe Garman, had founded in 2002 as an outreach of American Rehabilitation Ministries.

Garman founded ARM in Joplin nearly 30 years before as a ministry to U.S. prisoners that today extends to 1.7 million people incarcerated in federal and state prisons as well as the nation’s jails.

Rapha House, located in Battambang, Cambodia, is committed to helping girls from 4 to 19 years old who have become victims of slavery and prostitution and providing them with a safe home to heal and get an education.

Garman was introduced to the plight of such human trafficking during a trip to Cambodia to conduct Christian leadership training.

A commotion broke out behind the church where he was holding one of the meetings. It eventually led to sex traders breaking into the session in search of a girl they had purchased and wanted to take into captivity.

Garman said that upon learning the intent of the intruders and what they had paid for the girl, he and other training leaders came up with the money to redeem her.

That was to be the spark for Rapha House, which today houses 60 girls but with the expected completion of another wing next month will add 40 more, said Freed.

“The problem is so vast that we literally have thousands of girls waiting,” said Freed, who left this week for a missionary convention in Cincinnati and a fund-raising stop at a church on the way back. “We could build 10 more houses right now and not even touch the step of the project.”

Freed said she visits the home in Cambodia three or four times a year, with little time to relax when back in Joplin.

“I have been gone every weekend since early September to share this story with churches and others,” she said.

She added that her two daughters — Blair, 11, and Brooke, 9, as well as her adopted son, Barrett, 3 — often travel with her.

“I think the way they help the most is being a support for me and understanding why mom has to travel so much,” she said. “Blair has been to Rapha House twice and she calls herself a child advocate against human trafficking.”

Freed said in addition to providing the Rapha House residents with a safe haven, volunteers help arrange education grants for the older girls and even small business grants. The girls are often trained for work in beauty salons as well as restaurants.

“We have had some of the girls graduate from a school in cosmetology, which is kind of an up and coming career for Cambodian women,” said Freed, whose husband, Brandon, has a trucking company in Webb City.

Besides U.S. volunteers, there are 26 paid staff members at the Rapha House, ranging from guards to house mothers and social workers, she said.

“Our program is facilitated through church and individual sponsorship,” she said. “We do have some non-government organizations like World Vision that help as well.”

Freed said that a new development in the Rapha House ministry has come from a church in Riverside, Calif.

“Pathway Christian Church in Riverside began a foundation for our girls (Rapha House Freedom Foundation), which focuses on reintegration of the girls after they have been to Rapha House and have to re-enter Cambodian society,” she said. The Web site for the foundation is www.freedomforgirls.org.

Garman said that not only does Rapha House provide a safe haven for the girls but, also, gives them spiritual help.

“We feel like there is no hope for these girls without knowing Christ,” she said. “These kids have been traumatized and hurt so badly in the worst ways.”

In addition to the foundation Web site, more information may be obtained by calling American Rehabilitation Ministries at 781-9100, visiting the ARM Web site at www.arm.org, or calling Freed at 782-5341.


Address correspondence to Rich Brown, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, Mo. 64802.
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Cambodia: Khmer Rouge Couple Decry Charges Against Them As False, Unacceptable

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA: A couple who belonged to the Khmer Rouge inner circle strongly denied charges lodged against them by Cambodia's U.N.-backed genocide tribunal, a legal document released Thursday (15 Nov) said.

Former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and his wife, Ieng Thirith, who served as social affairs minister in the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime, were arrested Monday (12 Nov) and charged with crimes against humanity. Ieng Sary was also charged with war crimes.

The 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime was blamed for the deaths of some 1.7 million people from starvation, disease, overwork and execution. None of the group's leaders has yet faced trial.

The couple offered their response to the charges at a Wednesday (14 Nov) hearing where the tribunal judges ordered them to be formally placed in pretrial detention for up to one year.

In the hearing, where they were allowed to present their case against the detention orders, Ieng Sary called the charges against him "unacceptable" and demanded evidence to support them, according to the copy of his detention order released Thursday.

It quoted him saying that he was "very happy that this court has been established because it will be an opportunity for me to discover the truth."

"I would like to know the truth about a dark period in our history. I do not know where the truth lies," he said, although he and his wife were close associates of the late Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot.

The orders said the couple are being prosecuted for supporting Khmer Rouge policy and practice "characterized by murder, extermination, imprisonment, persecution on political grounds and other inhuman acts such as forcible transfers of the population, enslavement and forced labor."

Ieng Thirith described the charge against her as "100 percent false," according to her detention order.

The couple asked not to be detained by the tribunal, citing ill health, but the judges rejected their requests. Ieng Thirith, 75, told the judges that she is chronically ill, physically and mentally.

The order against Ieng Sary, 82, quoted him telling the judges that he is afraid of dying in tribunal detention, and that if he does, "the first victims will be my family."

His plea showed disrespect for the suffering and loss of lives caused by the regime he served, said Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, an independent group collecting evidence of Khmer Rouge atrocities.

"Has he ever tried to understand the pain of millions of lives? He destroyed us while preserving his own, and he continues to do so today," Youk Chhang said angrily.

The U.N.-assisted tribunal was created last year after seven years of contentious negotiations between the United Nations and Cambodia.

The arrests of the Khmer Rouge suspects _ four so far _ come almost three decades after the group fell from power, with many fearing the aging suspects might die before they ever see a courtroom. Trials are expected to begin next year. (By KER MUNTHIT/ AP)

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