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Saturday, November 27, 2010

First Vietnamese supermarket to open in Cambodia

A corner of the first Vietnam Supermarket in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which will open in the end of December.

The first Vietnam Supermarket in Cambodia will open on December 29, creating advantageous condition for domestic businesses to sell and advertise Vietnamese goods to people in this neighboring country.

Construction of the Vietnam Supermarket, in Monivong Street, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, has a total capital of US$3 million, invested by Z38 Company, a member of Vietnamese Business Association in Cambodia.

Located on 3,300 square meters, the supermarket will sell goods for Vietnamese companies with the prices set by themselves. Payment would be conducted through Agribank, BIDC Bank and Sacombank.

Seng Meng, the supermarket chairman and the association deputy chairman, said that the Vietnam Supermarket will meet demand of oversea Vietnamese living in Cambodia and the rising number of Cambodian who have loved Vietnamese goods.

In addition, the facility will help those who want to but yet expand business to Cambodia as they have been afraid of language difference and procedures, he said.

Besides having his supermarket to sell their goods, Vietnamese companies could hire stalls to do that themselves. The Vietnam Supermarket will assist them with export-import procedures and selling staff, who are oversea Vietnamese being able to speak both Vietnamese and Cambodian.

The Z38 Company has planned to open another three Vietnam Supermarkets in other Cambodian provinces including the famous tourist destination Siem Reap.
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Akron natives wage campaign against sex trafficking of children

Pat Galbincea, The Plain Dealer

MIDDLEBURG HEIGHTS, Ohio -- Akron natives Carl and Laurie Ralston have a strong calling to prevent the sex trafficking of children.

They've dedicated their lives to doing something about it. It was one of the reasons they recently brought 21-year-old Nhu Thanh, a sex-trafficking victim at age 12 while in Cambodia, to Grace Christian & Missionary Alliance Church in Middleburg Heights to talk about the problem.

The Ralstons were so moved by Nhu's story when they learned of her plight in 2003 that one year later -- before they ever met or saw her -- Carl Ralston sold his lucrative insurance business in Akron to establish Remember Nhu, an IRS-recognized nonprofit organization to help prevent children from entering the sex trade.

"I had heard about Miss Nhu from a missionary in Cambodia," Ralston said. "After he told his story about her, God spoke to my heart. My wife and I wanted to help this young lady."

Six-year search finally finds sex trafficking victim

The Ralstons made six trips to Cambodia over three years before they found her. They walked up and down the Mekong River with Nhu's picture, asking people if they recognized her.

They finally found someone who recognized Nhu in July 2006. The Ralstons found her working in a hair salon in Phnom Penh.

Her story, which she told earlier this month in services at Grace CMA Church, evoked tears from the congregation, according to church Senior Pastor Jonathan Schaeffer.

Carl Ralston first talked about Nhu to church members three years earlier, explaining how he hoped to establish Remember Nhu. One member wrote him a check for $5,000.

Grandmother, deep in debt to feed family, sells girl into sex trade

Nhu, who spoke with The Plain Dealer at the church Tuesday, said her mother abandoned her when she was only 3 days old. She has seen her mother only three times in her life.

She was raised by her grandmother, but by the time she was 12, her grandmother had to borrow money to feed and clothe the family -- with interest at 10 percent per week on the unpaid balance.

Nhu said that since there was no work in Cambodia, her grandmother sold her to a woman who in turn demanded Nhu satisfy the sexual desires of a man who was 30 years older. She spent three days with him in a hotel.

Nhu was sold into sexual slavery two more times before she begged her grandmother to stop for fear she would be sold next to a brothel.

"I went to school to learn cosmetology when I was 13," Nhu said, "and I cleaned at the school because I couldn't afford the tuition. When I completed one year of school, I went to work when I was 14 -- working 12 hours a day with one or two days off a month."

Instead of intervention, giving children a home -- and hope

That's when the Ralstons found Nhu and were able to assist her. Carl Ralston decided to build a home in Cambodia to educate and shelter children like Nhu who were at risk of being sold into sex trafficking.

"My wife and I decided to focus on preventing sex trafficking rather than intervening," he said. "Intervention hasn't worked well. We researched and found it takes $6,000 a year to try and get a child out of the sex trade . . . and found 75 percent of them fall back or relapse into it.

"But the cost of prevention is only $700 a year to care for and train and educate these children, and only 3 percent of them end up in the sex trade."

The Ralstons' first home was built in Phnom Penh in January 2007, housing 18 children. Nhu became the home's first employee, helping train the children and then opening up a hair salon. Most children came via word-of-mouth seeking a haven from sex trafficking.

From this origin, Remember Nhu now has eight homes in five countries -- Cambodia, the Philippines, India, Thailand and Myanmar (formerly Burma) -- with about 200 children. The Ralstons have rescued 300 children.

"We teach the kids English, get them computer literate and send them to public schools," Carl Ralston said. "We want to get them into college, but if they're not college bound, we get them vocational training.

"We keep these kids safe from sex trafficking . . . and that can be up to age 22. We keep them until they are no longer at risk."

Caring for a child costs $60 a month

The Ralstons said they can care for each child -- giving them food, clothing, shelter, education, and medical care -- for $60 a month. The last home they built in Thailand cost $120,000 and houses 60 children and young adults.

Nhu and the Ralstons have received major help from 3,500-member Grace CMA Church. There are 70 individuals sponsoring 70 girls at risk, Schaeffer said, and 41 families are sponsoring the building of another Remember Nhu home next March in Thailand.

Carl Ralston, who is 49, and his 42-year-old wife plan to fight sex trafficking overseas until the problem is eradicated. They, along with Nhu, moved to Thailand in May.

"We're committed to stop this until the day we die," he said. "We figure sex trafficking became a big problem in a 10-year period of time, so maybe we can stop it in a 10-year period."

As for Nhu, her plans are to improve her English so she can speak eloquently on behalf of the organization named after her.
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Survivors Recall Horrifying Hours on Bridge

From left to right: Ros Kong, Bun Sophal, and Math Seila. The Diamond Bridge survivors were guests on Hello VOA, on Thursday.

On Monday night, there were sounds of joy, as revelers spent the last few hours of the three-day Water Festival on Diamond Island. But as they crossed the bridge, those sounds were replaced by groans, as more and more people packed onto the structure.

People were pressed from all sides, three survivors of the tragedy, which claimed 347 lives, told “Hello VOA” on Thursday.

“When the crowd became more and more narrow, with people pushing in, it was hard to breathe,” said Ros Kong, who was stuck among the mass of people that would eventually panic and stampede. “People then tried to push upwards to breathe. The whole crowd became like trees bent in a gust of wind, to the left or right, as the wave of pushing surged.”

Authorities have not found a definitive moment when the overcrowding devolved into something more dangerous, but an investigative committee official said Wednesday he suspected people thought the swaying suspension bridge was close to collapse.

As panic ensued, people began to climb over each other. Those who could not stand fell beneath the feet of the others. Health officials say most of the casualties were crushed or suffocated.

For survivor Bun Sophal, the stampede led to an arduous wait on the bridge, as police and medical responders fought a heavy crowd to reach the bridge.

“I almost made it to the end of the bridge,” Bun Sophal said. “But because it was too narrow, I got stuck right there. I had to wait until I almost died for police to come.”

The survivors spoke live following a national day of mourning that brought some comfort to relatives of the victims. But serious questions remain as to who was responsible for allowing thousands of people to crowd onto the bridge.

Callers to “Hello VOA” said they wanted to know what caused the panic and who was to blame for the deaths. So far there have been few answers. The government’s inquiry is expected to issue results next week.

“I don’t know if there were police at both ends, because I was trapped in the middle of the bridge,” Math Seila, a third survivor said. “Had there been, they would have been able to save us on time.”

She eventually jumped from the bridge, escaping the crush of people but injuring herself in the process.

Ros Kong said it took almost two hours for police to reach the bridge.

“I could only see the authorities coming to help us after people started fainting and died,” Math Seila said. “Had there been security forces close by, they would have helped us long before. I just wonder why.”
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TV Raises More Than $1 Million for Victims of Tragedy

CTN and Bayon have continuously taken donations, at time broadcasting pleas for aid and running donation totals during regular programming.

Following Monday’s Diamond Bridge tragedy, nearly $1.5 million has come in from concerned Cambodians via fund drives by two TV stations, for both the families of the dead and for those injured.

By Friday evening, Bayon TV had raised more than $1.08 million and CTN had brought in more than $500,000.

A total 347 people died on the bridge and another 395 were injured, when a mass of Water Festival revelers stampeded on the crowded bridge Monday night.

The country’s worst tragedy in decades was felt across Cambodia and in expatriate Cambodian communities abroad, culminating in a national day of mourning Thursday.

CTN and Bayon have continuously taken donations, at time broadcasting pleas for aid and running donation totals during regular programming.

Officials from both stations said they would end their fund drives Friday and aim to distribute the money to families of the dead next week.

Hout Kheang Heng, deputy director general of TV and Radio Bayon, which is operated by the prime minister’s daughter, said 100 percent of the fundraising would go directly to victims as cash. Teams will travel to the villages where the families or survivors live or to hospitals to deliver the money, he said.

Chhun Kosal, deputy director of CTN’s fundraising committee, said so far with about 85 percent of the donations counted, the station has raised $420,000 and 373 million riel, or $93,000. They will also deliver 100 percent of the cash to survivors and relatives next week, he said.

Both said the relatives of the dead would receive more than survivors.

However, members of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party and a workers union representative said they are skeptical the money will reach the hands of those it was meant for.

That’s because during similar fundraising for soldiers stationed near a border dispute with Thailand since 2008, there was little transparency and it remains unclear where the money went, said Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Teacher’s Association.

A similar problem could plague the donation efforts for the bridge victims, he said.

“I really admire both stations for opening fundraising,” he said. “It shows that Khmer love Khmer. But what I’m worried about is that the expenditure of funds will not be transparent for the victims.”
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US-Cambodians Join Mourning for Bridge Tragedy

Yap Kimtung, president of Cambodian American for Human Rights and Democracy, signed in, while at the embassy.

Cambodian-Americans gathered at their embassy in Washington on Wednesday to pay their respects to those who died in Monday’s bridge tragedy.

Though none had relatives among the 347 dead from the Diamond Bridge stampede that has shocked the country, many wept openly at the incident.

“I feel deeply sad,” said Keo Tom, the main organizer of the gathering. “I am really sorry that there was such a horrible tragedy, and it has never happened before. We are so touched that we have to be here today to pay our respect to their souls.”

“I am so sorry, and it is not me alone, but many other Cambodian-Americans are also sad for such a tragedy,” said Yap Kimtung, president of the Cambodian Americans for Human Rights and Democracy.

Organizers will also hold a religious ceremony at a local temple to pray for the dead, who were trammeled Monday night on a crowded bridge following Water Festival celebrations.

The Cambodian Education Excellence Foundation will create scholarships for children whose parents died at the bridge, the foundation’s president, Kchao Sarang, said.

The Cambodian Embassy made an appeal for aid.

“There is still time for people to donate funds to support the victims,” Cambodian Ambassador Hem Heng told VOA Khmer. “If they don’t have the means to send it to Cambodia, the embassy will help facilitate that.”
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