By Laura L. Wood
The once-hidden problem of human trafficking has taken the limelight in recent years. According to the January/February 2013 issue of Prism magazine, the sex trade exploits approximately one million children annually. An estimated 27 million slaves exist in the world. The Center for Global Impact (CGI) fights this alarming trade.
Chris Alexander, president and founder of CGI, has worked in full-time Christian ministry as both a missionary and a missions minister. He sees the need to connect people who have financial and talent-related resources with those in developing countries who need such resources.
CGI was born, in his words, as “a faith-based relief and development organization designed specifically to empower the poor in developing countries and create avenues to make use of the most underused resource in the church: people.”
One Girl’s Story
Chris met Sreyka when CGI first began working in Cambodia. She was one of the first three participants in CGI’s program designed to help young girls escape the sex trade. Not long after she began working with CGI, a flood hit her hometown. Her family lost everything. They took her out of the program, sending her to a resort area to work as a prostitute. She was 15 years old.
Some time passed, and Chris heard that she had returned home after having suffered a miscarriage. He visited her, asking, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” Her answer revealed a great deal about the mindset of those caught in the cycle of poverty that leads them to choose human trafficking. She answered, “All I really care about is what I’m going to eat tomorrow.” She had no hope for a better life in the future.
Sreyka returned to the resort after she recovered. Being a beautiful young woman, she made plenty of money for her family, and they began to afford even some luxury items. Those luxuries gave them better social standing, and they could brag about how well their daughter supported them. As Chris put it, “Everything pushed against her giving [prostitution] up.”
Sreyka’s story is all too familiar to many women around the world. Desperate mothers, ill equipped to support their families, may have been trafficked themselves as young girls and fall back on the practice when they see no alternative. A family dealing with crushing poverty in a developing country may have so few resources that when a friend offers to take a child off their hands and put her to work, it can even seem like a relief.
Chris explains that the human trafficking problem is a complex issue, and that families struggling with extreme poverty sometimes feel forced to make such desperate decisions. Empowering those families, especially mothers and women, by creating opportunities for them to learn skills that they can then apply to form their own small businesses prevents them from falling into such extreme situations.
Chris calls his work a “small business incubator.” “When the poor are faced with a crisis they cannot overcome, that’s when their kids are at risk,” he states. His goal is to lessen those crises and give them alternatives to selling family members as a means of survival.
CGI primarily works in Cambodia and has started a multi-faceted ministry focusing on three main projects: byTavi, the Green Mango Café and Bakery, and The Imprint Project. Women and girls participating in byTavi in Phnom Phen, named after a Cambodian woman involved in the project since its inception, learn to sew and design handbags and scarves, which are then sold at conventions, events, and in trunk shows hosted by American supporters of the work.
Women who were formerly at risk for or already involved in trafficking complete the program with skills that earn wages as much as four times the poverty level in Cambodia. These hard-earned wages enable them to pay for food and clothing for their families, and for education and medication.
At the Culinary Training Center (CTC) in Battambang, Cambodia, at-risk girls learn what it takes to work in the fine dining industry. As a part of their training, the girls work in the restaurant that CGI started, the Green Mango Café and Bakery. The Green Mango provides the students with a chance to practice what they have learned at CTC. It has earned rave reviews and is a top restaurant in the city.
The director of the Culinary Training Center, Ryana DeArmond, left a successful career as a chef to help start the center and the Green Mango. She had been searching for what God wanted her to do with her life when she met Chris, who had been praying for a single female chef to move to Cambodia and work with at-risk girls.
Ryana says, “We strive not just to help the girls but to help the families as a whole. This varies from finding debt solutions, [to] connecting them with health care, [and] making sure younger siblings are in school.”
Not only has the Green Mango been helpful in training the girls, but it has also made the project self-sustainable, even providing funds to help support other facets of the ministry. The cafe has been such a positive endeavor that Ryana and the girls from the center are opening a Mexican restaurant and Western coffee shop across town from the Green Mango.
The Imprint Project focuses on girls whose lives have been impacted by human trafficking by providing them with mentors who invest heavily in their lives and spiritual formation. The girls in the project participate in a 12-month program designed to teach them the life skills necessary for staying out of slavery and living healthy lives.
The program includes classes on spiritual formation, general education, and seamstress vocational training. According to CGI, “Housing, healthcare, education, and crisis management are all a part of a holistic approach to build trust and create stability within these families.” The girls in the Imprint Project design and sew clothing that is then sold in American stores.
The Center for Global Impact has changed the lives of the girls in its programs. One indicator of this change came unexpectedly when one of CGI’s employees in Battambang lost her house in a fire that also destroyed two of her neighbors’ houses. According to Cambodian law, she was to pay back her neighbors for the loss of their houses since the fire started in her home. When the women working with the ByTavi project heard what had happened, they took up a collection and sent her $43. Women who not long ago would not have had the funds or the foresight to help a stranger in another city now can minister to a sister in Christ whom many of them have never even met. That is God at work!
Laura L. Wood is a freelance writer in Papillion, Nebraska.
Want to learn more? Check out these resources
Find out more about the Center for Global Impact, hosting a ByTavi trunk show, or how you can be involved in CGI’s ministry:
The Green Mango has a cookbook! Purchase The Green Mango Café and Bakery Cookbook:
CGI’s ministry is also featured in the online magazine, The World Next Door:
Prism magazine devoted its entire January/February 2013 issue to human trafficking:
Films and Online Videos About Human Trafficking
• Your Move—short videos about people who are fighting human trafficking:
• Gary Haugen, President of the International Justice Mission, speaks at the 2013 Justice Conference:
• Call and Response—A documentary featuring musicians that looks at human trafficking today and what people can do to stop it:
• Playground—A documentary on child sex trafficking in the United States:
• Born into Brothels—A documentary by Kids With Cameras that follows the lives of children raised in Kolkata’s sex district:
• Calcutta Hilton—A documentary about the start of Freeset (freesetglobal.com) in Kolkata: