Preserving Dignity One Caricature at a Time with Transitions

On March 1, 2012, Summer, Clinical Supervisor, and Merry, Country Director, welcomed me to their “Dream Home” to meet staff, experience the first step to their healing program, and learn about innovations in trafficking victims’ rehabilitation care. Transitions is part of a movement to stop encouraging the exploitation of trafficked victims, making them re-traumatize by facing their stories and photos in the media, and potentially exposing them to their former pimps and traffickers if recognized. To represent their girls they have now switched to beautiful caricature drawings in order to share the stores and victories, but also to protect their identity and dignity. This post will tell the story of my visit experience in correlation to the way the organization works to protect and support their “family.”

Dream Home is Phase I of the rehabilitation process. Girls are referred to Transitions in extreme cases after rescued and then welcomed here to heal. This home is for their safety, security, and rehabilitation after severe trauma (the girls age 13-18 are rescued from sex-trafficking). When I entered the Dream Home, it immediately felt like well… a home. There was a comfy living room, an area with board games, and a box of different types of nail polishes. Summer mentioned the girls love to braid hair and do nails.  In the entry way were beautiful traditional Cambodian portraits. Upon arrival, each Transitions girl is able to do a “glamour shot” to have a chance to play dress up, have her pictures up in the home (like a regular family) and relax.

Beyond the entryway, I was able to visit the kitchen, kitchen staff, and see the chores board. Just like in a family the members have responsibilites to take care of themselves, each other, the house – each girl becomes a part of the Transitions family. It is a rotating board with names and items to do for each week – this is to teach hygiene, create responsibility and ownership in their home, and train how to take care of themselves for after they transition out of the program and are on their own – the basics that parents teach teenagers.

We went upstairs and I was able to see the rooms and then the computer and classroom. It was great to see the girls’ personal touches – everything from pictures, to stuffed animals, and stickers filled the rooms.  The computer and classroom consisted of computers for the girls to access, get computer training, and play games in free time. Some of the girls had just returned from school, were at the computers, giggling, and looking for games like Angry Bird, a local favorite.

After a tour of the Dream Home, I was introduced to the rest of staff and sat down to learn about the remaining phases the girls go through after Dream Home in addition to the support they get here. Not only do they get to go out on excursions like weekend trips and shopping with supervision, they get counseling, dental care, health care, yoga therapy (and for exercise), life skills education (like the responsibilities board), education, literacy, and vocational training when not in school.

Through Shine Career School, the girls are asked what they would like to do, and Transitions provides training in any career field they can dream of – stepping out of that boundary that society has implemented such as making handicrafts. These girls gain access to learn anything from cooking, to graphic design, and even social work.  This is to provide an opportunity for income generation after they have completed the program with Transitions and are ready to move on to support themselves and their futures.

The next step after Dream Home includes Star House – the first step to independent living and freedom to pursue their dreams. I asked how long it takes for a girl to be ready to move on – and Summer explained that age is a factor, but also level of trauma, progress, and healing.  Finally, I learned about Bridge which is going to address the gap of dealing with families – and reduce the stressor of being away from them. In many cases these girls feel obligated to leave and return to their families to make money and support them  – putting them back at risk for re-trafficking. Bridge will support families in order to prevent stress on the girls who feel the need to support their families back home.

Remember those summers at camp where you would come as strangers, scared and alone, then leave as family, confident and happy singing campfire songs… well that applies for what my experience at Dream Home is for these girls who arrive lost, victimized, and alone – and leave confident, empowered, and hopeful. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, an American Psychologist, once said “…our future will be determined in large part by our dreams and by the struggle to make them real.” And that is what Transitions is providing these young women – an opportunity to dream and a future to look forward to.

Transitions is part of a movement that I have experienced here in Cambodia to change the way victims are viewed  and the way their stories are told. I was explained to that no longer should sex-trafficking victims be portrayed in un-dignifying, re-traumatizing, and sensationalizing stories. It is not about the press and pr… sex-trafficking victims are real people… trying to heal, recover, and move on with a normal productive life – not another story to be told and exploited.

To learn more about Transitions programs and impact please visit: Transitions Global

GlobalGiving InTheField Traveler | Texas

Jacqueline is an InTheField Traveler with GlobalGiving and is now making her way across Southeast Asia. Jacqueline has lived all around the U.S., Central America, backpacked along Australia’s eastern coast while volunteering for the National Park Service, western Europe, and traveled around the world. You can also follow her via Twitter.

For more information about GlobalGiving, click here


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