Start Date: May 30th
End DateJune 4th
Please Watch before reading
My crazy journey began on Wednesday at 1:30pm. I took a 22 hour flight from ATL to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. If you know me, I cannot sleep on planes at all. I was able to squeeze in about 2 hours of sleep on my 22 hour flight. It was all good tho b/c I took Korean Air (best air line in the world) and on my TV set they had a ton of movies and all these documentaries. So I literally watched almost every documentary they had on the plane.
I finally get to Phnom Penh at about 10pm and Ken Petersen, owner of Apricot Lane Boutiques and 3 strands organization against sex trafficking picks me up and we get to our hotel at around 11pm. Now remember I only managed to get 2 hours of sleep in a 24 hour window, so im thinking I am going to pass out immediately as soon as I hit my bed.
BUT for some reason I could NOT fall asleep. I rolled around in bed for about 2 hours, then turned on the TV only to find out that the 60 channels the hotel was showing was half on half fuzz/snow. Part of it might have been because the assortment of Mosquitos, Ants, and geckos that were lounging in my room may have put me in some sort of un ease. But I quickly got use to them being my roomates. I decided to hop on my Ipad and listened to podcasts till 8am.
This is how I had to sleep every night so that I would not get eaten alive.
I wash up and head to breakfast where I get to meet Phillip Larue and his wife Lea. Phillip has been a Signed CCM recording artist since he was 15 and is based out of Nashville Tennessee. He has written tons of artists and bands such as Jars of Clay. We get to know each other over breakfast and I pretty much ordered this simple but delicious fried rice dish every morning, obviously it was mad good, but DO NOT eat those lil peppers….
So this was our squad Me, Ken, Phillip, and Lea.
DAMN was I not ready for half of the things I was about to see. The four days I am about to describe to you has been the most eye opening, shocking, and unimaginable experience of my life. Hands down the most emotional and mentally taxing 4 days I have ever been through.
My Homie Sumall picks us up in his pimp ass Land Cruiser and right off the bat I know I am in a different world bc of the extreme heat, humidity, smell, and sound of city life. As soon as I step out of my hotel, I need to cross the street it was like playing Real Life Frogger, it was an endless barrage of motos (Mopeds) taxi Motos, cars and bicycles going back and forth and I barely made it alive crossing the street to get to Sumalls car. These people were not gonna stop for me or anyone!
So we hop in the whip and we start cruising and I have to mention there are NOOOOO traffic laws in Cambodia. These people were gangster as hell with their driving. Not only do lines and stop lights not matter but there are entire families, im talkin about mom, dad, daughter and son on one of these Motos, just rolling along. As we are rolling its obvious how poverty stricken the entire nation of Cambodia is. We were in the Capital City of Cambodia and the whole time im wondering where their down town is or the nice area…. There is no “nice” area just random buildings every once in a while, the rest? Just one story shanteys that double as home and business store front. Almost 90% of the people I saw lived in this condition.
After about a 20 minute eye opening ride we finally get to Sway Pak, a small maybe 2 mile diameter city just outside Phnom Penh that was mostly a Vietnamese village, also known as the capital of child sex trafficking in all of Cambodia. And this is where Agape International Missions (AIM) has decided to plant their base… Right in the cut, I mean literally they are neighbors with the pimps and traffickers…. still blows my mind that they implanted themselves in the “Jungle” of it all, repeat after me people… STRAIGHT GANGSTER! You think you are hard? Son you dont even know what it means to Hard!
This is the street that the AIM center is on.
AIM head quarters
This is their backyard, and it seemed like every other house Don Brewster pointed was a Pimps house or a home brothel.
Down the corner from the AIM head quarter building was ATC Aim Training Center. This is where Ken Petersen and 3 Strands play a HUGE part in what AIM is doing and is able to do in this city.
IF your like me you have heard, seen, maybe even been a part of a non profit organization before, and its always a great cause their fighting but it just seems like all of them are always trying to guilt you into giving them money. AIM and this blog for that matter is NOT about that. They are very intentionally trying to create sustainable income for their organization and more importantly for the girls that they are able to rescue. So last year May/June Ken was able to make a visit to AIM and saw a need, and decided he would create jobs for these girls and just a few months later the 3 Strands Bracelet was born. I could explain to you what this is but here is a short video clip that does a much better job.
Short 4 minute clip
We left the AIM Center and headed to the ATC Center where the director Isaac gave us a tour and I was able to be in same exact rooms and even got to meet some of the same girls… it is so surreal looking back at that video which seems like a commercial but I swear to GOD it is exactly like that, real life, no fabrication. Legit clean center, proper hours, triple wages, and safe working environments. Not only do they work 5 days a week 8 hours a day. They are given a full lunch and 1 hour of schooling every day. This is unheard of in Cambodia where profit is King.
ATC Employment Center that you see in the video above
Ken Petersen being able to meet and converse with the girls that have been saved from the Sex Trafficked Brothels, and now work as full time employees creating the hand made bracelets for 3 Strands. http://www.3strandsglobal.com/
Time for LUNCH, and I just gotta say Cambodian food is the bomb.com I tore up every meal I had there.
It was crazy to see and to meet all the volunteers, staff and the girls who have been rescued, but to be honest, I looked at them and my mind could not accept the fact that these were sex trafficked girls who were forced to have sex for money against their own will. They just looked like normal locals who were working. I mean they told me the stories, and I’ve seen the documentaires like Pink Room and Nefarius (shout out to Allison Rhee for taking me) But being there I couldnt really see it, or believe it.
After visiting the ATC they showed us a new project they are doing called the “Lords Gym” I know its super cheesy but whatever it was a “Training facility for Cambodia Kick boxing” Its in quotes b/c this “gym” is about the size of my bed room minus the closet and bathroom….
But they use this area to try and develop relationships with the actual pimps and traffickers directly, the same people who HATE that AIM is there because its affecting the DINERO! (money). This spot immediately caught my eye, mostly b.c im into MMA, but 2ndly b/c alot of the pimps are just teenage boys barely older than the girls they are trafficking…
After the tour they let us have some free time and allowed us to interact with the students there. Phillip and Lea jumped right in with the kids, and if you know me you know I love kids and get along with them fairly easily, but this time around I couldn’t do it, Im not sure why, but my heart was leading me back to the Lord’s Gym and the guys that were there.
So I went where my heart led, back to the Lord’s Gym lol. I walk in and there are about 4 guys in there lifting weights, 3 adolescent kids just goofing around and one white guy in his mid 20’s just over seeing everything. So I started to chop it up with the white guy and just kinda lingered around. I think I was nervous bc they looked like fighters, and I knew they were the neighborhood bad guys. So after about 30 mins of doing nothing I finally built up the nerve to say hey, can I show you a proper shoulder exercise? One of the guys was doing some weird exercise but it was all kinds of wrong lol. SO with no real verbal communication I picked up some 30lbs dumbbells… wait lets say 50 lbs… haha ok fine they were 20s! Anyways, so I show him how to do butterfly’s, and he jumps right in with me. He is doing it all wrong so I slowly and cautiously grab his arms and show him how to do them. I noticed a guy in white trunks watching us but he is stoned face so I dont say nothing to him. After that I should the guy the shoulder press. and now his all like grimacing and touching his shoulders like”damn this hurts” and we both kinda laugh, At that point I was confident enough to as the guy in white shorts to jump in with us and he jumps right in. We would all laugh together when they would be in pain, and even though they were jacked, they could barely lift half of what I was lifting b/c they were so small and barely get any protein in their diet. We just started to get into doing some bobbing and weaving boxing drills when Don came and got me b/c it was time to go. This was probably the highlight of my trip and this is just day one, When you read all the other things I experienced this moment is actually very small and insignificant but for me its stands out the most.
Here are two of my friends that I made.
After our tour of the AIM center and my workout with the Cambodian Kickboxers, we had the privledge to attend a wedding that Don and Bridgette had been invited too, So we are rolling down this dirt road towards brick factory row. Just a little info on the brick factories, its pretty much modern day indentured servanthood. Entire families will work, eat, and sleep at these factories or in “homes” that the factory owners provide. However the problem is they make less money than they owe so they are essentially enslaved to the factory owners for life.
We roll up and I see this tent where family and friends are gathered, and all I hear is this blazing loud music coming from the back. I walk over and I see this truck with like 10 different mis-matching speakers running off of a generator playing random EDM songs.
It was a very small and simple wedding, but there is very little rituals and ceremony, it was more like a nice picnic with crazy music and pretty clothing.
This is me and Groom, he must have been 17 maybe 18 at the oldest.
Pic of Don and Bridgette with the Bride and Groom, it was amazing to see how ecstatic the family was to see that Don and Bridgette attended their children’s wedding.
Random neighborhood kid who got his hands on one of our energy drinks….!
The Kitchen and Staff
The best part of the wedding is when we decided to just jump right in and start the dancing machine! The grandpa you see on the right was CRUNK NATIONS! He was getting down, and it was so touching to see b/c they say 50% of Cambodias people are under the age of 25. Clearly the health care system is almost non existent and it is very rare to see someone his age, so it was amazing to see this man just let loose and get his boogie on.
Another random neighborhood kid who heard the music, came over and started to dance battle Phillip.
It’s amazing, as simple and ghetto as this wedding was Don informed us that this family could not afford this wedding and that they would just add this to their debt to the factory owner and would spend the rest of their lives continuing to try and pay them back. We only stayed for about an hour but it was such a fun free and blessed time.
So we wrapped up our time at the wedding and we headed back to the hotel to wash up grab dinner and go watch one of AIMS top 2 fighters fight in a live nationally televised Kick boxing (MuayThai) Match that night. He was actually the main event fight. Now remember this guy strictly trains out of the Lords Gym…. I was SOOOo geeked to go and mind you i haven slept maybe 3 to 4 hours in a 48 hour window, So when get back to the hotel I tell the crew to go eat without me I NEED to get a nap in b/c there is no way im missing the fight. I shower and right as I lay my head down Ken knocks on my door and goes the fight is not at 9 its at 8 we gotta go! so Im like DAMN son i am soooo tired, but i was not going to miss a real life Cambodian Kickboxing pro fight.
We walk in and its EXACTLY what I hoped it would be, HUGE crowd, super loud, cigarette smoke every, 95 degree high humidity. Crazy weird flute like instrument and live drums, setting the intense tone of the night.. This card had men and women matches, Cambodian, French and Thailand fighter’s on it. IT WAS SO SICK, I was instantly awakened and Cheering my ass off.
This is a 2 maybe 3 year old girl who spent her night roaming around the arena picking up plastic water and juice bottles and putting them in here little plastic bag, im assuming in order to make just a few cents from the recycling center… There were atleast 2 dozen children doing the exact same thing…
Finally after an hour and a half our fighter walks in and its FIGHT TIME. His name is “Bun Tap” and he was super Ill.
He ended up fighting all 5 rounds and won by decision. We came down and I got a pic with him, then immediately after, he starts to limp and grabs a chair to sit down. After the adrenaline wore off I guess he felt pain in his foot and it was atleast swollen to double the size of his left foot. It was NASTY big…. I don’t know what round he hurt it but im guessing he threw a leg kick and the other guy checked it and hit in on the knee cap. SO he had to go back to the locker room.
This was my First day in Cambodia, and honestly it only gets crazier and more intense from here…. I honestly can say If I had to go home that same day, I wouldn’t have been mad and felt like I was able to experience an amazing part of Cambodia and Agape International, but there was more, so much more.
Day 2 will be up shortly.
In the meantime if any of this has struck a chord in your heart or you just want to get prive to the cause please visit.
Here is a link to a website for the documentary that Features Don Brewster and AIM