Margot Balliet ’20 created this video during her field study if human trafficking in Cambodia.
Before the plane took off for Cambodia last January, the 16 students of Nancy Janus’s Winter Term course on human trafficking knew they wanted to find a way to help.
“It does seem like a dark subject, but the way Professor Janus teaches it, it is more like, ‘This is what you can do to help,’” said Christine Lorentzen ’20, a human development and environmental studies double major from St. Paul, Minn. “This trip seemed like one of those opportunities that only comes around once.”
In October 2018, the students had created a Go Fund Me page imploring visitors to “Please help us stop child sex tourism in Cambodia” with a goal of raising $6,000.
When the group touched down in Phnom Penh, they’d reached that goal.
“I’m old fashioned. When they said, ‘fundraiser,’ I thought they meant car washes and bake sales,” said Janus, a professor of human development.
In Cambodia, Janus showed her class the realities of life in a country still experiencing the aftermath of a genocide. “It’s one thing to read about it but another thing entirely to see the conditions that some of these people live in.The sort of conditions that make it clear how someone who doesn’t know where their next meal can come from could sell their own child,” Janus explained.
Some of it was hard to see.
“We would get together every couple of days and talk,” said Margot Balliet, a junior communication major from Birmingham, Ala., who won first place in the “People” category of this year’s Winter Term Photo Contest with her Cambodian photograph. “We had a journal we had to write in, too. But I found that it took me weeks after we returned to really process and digest all that we had seen.”
Alicen Nico ’21 in the middle of the Ta Prohm temple at Angkor Wat, credit Natalie Turiczek ’21
Students toured nongovernmental organizations aimed at ending the human trafficking of children by providing resources to their families and education for the children themselves—including Agape International Mission, Harpswell Foundation, International Justice Mission, New Hope Cambodia, Rapha House and Khmer New Generation Organization (KNGO).
At KNGO, Christine was asked to teach English to students of different grade levels in a village outside of Siem Reap. “When the lesson was over, the students would raise their hands in a sort of prayer motion and say, ‘Thank you, teacher,’ and you knew they genuinely meant it because they were just so happy to be learning,” she recalled.
After touring and serving at various charities, the students discussed, without their professor, how they would divide their funds. Charities that educated children and protected the deaf and blind received part of the allocation. KNGO’s big impression convinced the class to give the bulk of the money to its school and fund the construction of three single-family homes equipped with bathrooms.
“A house with a bathroom costs about $850 to build,” Janus said. “So we donated enough for three.”
Homes will provide stability for families that might otherwise have considered selling their children to survive.
“Any charity that works with the community and gives children places to go is a charity to prevent human trafficking in Cambodia,” Janus explained.
Being able to leave a lasting impact, however small, made the trip that much more significant for the class. “I would definitely go back there to work more with the charities,” Margot said. “It was actually difficult to say goodbye.”