Monday, August 11, 2008

Featured Organization: Transitions Cambodia, Inc.

The Mission

Focused on caring for victims of the sex slave trade and restoring their lives, Transitions Cambodia, Inc. (TCI) provides a safe environment where girls can heal and learn viable, sustainable 21st century job skills.

TCI empowers girls to become healthy and independent adults restoring dignity, health and, most importantly, hope in their lives.

Founded by James and Athena Pond, who have been actively working in Cambodia since 2004
TCI is an Oregon-based 501c3 Non-Profit Organization serving the needs of Cambodian and Vietnamese female survivors of sex trafficking.

The word transitions in Khmer “an-ta-rak-peap” means crossing over from one place to another. At TCI we believe that the imperative goal is not to remove a girl from one form of abuse, only to place her into a situation that will further her abuse or trauma.

While shelters provide necessary services to a small percentage of trafficking victims, they have a limited application. Research and experience has shown that young women coming from sexually exploitative situations greatly benefit from being involved in decision
making regarding their futures. These women need to have a broader scope of expression in their living situations, community, and family environments. We work with our clients to help them discover themselves, explore their possibilities and begin the process of crossing from one place to a better place.

In the Beginning

The roots of TCI began to develop back in 1987. Founder James Pond was in the U.S. Marine Corps traveling around Asia as an intelligence specialist. On a particular operation, James and a friend were in an Asian country wanting to find a place to relax and have dinner. They found a local bar, where the owner welcomed them in from the street. After dinner, as they sat around talking, the bar owner approached them with a young girl under his arm. He asked if they wanted some company for the night. She could be theirs for the weekend – to do whatever we wanted.

James and his friend were taken aback at how young the girl appeared to be and asked her age. The bar owner told them that she was 15 – she looked frightened and intimidated by the owner. James and his friend asked how much it would cost to have her all weekend. The price? $7.00. They paid the bar fine and received a green, circular token. After they went outside they gave the girl $10.00 and told her to enjoy her weekend, sending her away to her family that lived in the next village. The look in this young girl’s eye haunts James to this day – as does, the green token he received in exchange for her freedom.

Making a Difference

In 2005 the Pond family along with another couple moved to Cambodia and co-founded and co-directed the Agape Restoration Center (ARC), which is a high-security, long-term aftercare facility for victims of sex trafficking. After the ARC facility was established, it was clear that a trend was emerging. Clients were no longer 8 years old and younger. In fact, the median age of girls, was 15 years old.

There was a critical issue at hand – girls were in need of more progressive services. They needed to acquire adult, independent living and job skills that would assist them in having healthy and productive lives outside of institutional care. They were not receiving this in the current programs.
They realized that many organizations had initiated institutional care without any thought to the long-term implications. Athena’s greatest desire was to see girls developing outside of care and discovering their vocational and personal potential.

In October 2006, Athena and James piloted a transitional home model – called the Transitional Living Center (TLC) where older girls could live and do just that. The girls live in a family setting with a mentor and social worker. This allows them to transition into a low security environment and reintegrate into society with familiar oversight and social interaction. A model of care like this had not been used before and came with lots of challenges, but within a short time, they had an experienced staff, solid programs, and a center filled with wonderful clients.

The girls ranged in age from 16-22 years old and came from other centers and direct referrals from human rights organizations.
The primary objective of TCI is to provide quality transitional housing for female survivors of commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Clients participate in high quality 21st century vocational training, education and/or establish themselves in a job in Phnom Penh or the surrounding area. Providing a stable and semi-independent transitional home will encourage and facilitate these young women in becoming self-sufficient and prevent re-trafficking and re-entering the commercial sex industry as adults. TCI is a passion and life’s work for the Pond family and each client and staff member is a part of their own family.

Interview with TCI Founder James Pond

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get involved in the fight against trafficking?
Understand the issue first before you jump in. The primary fields to be involved with are - Prevention (education, awareness, advocacy), Intervention (investigation, rescue planning, coordination of victim services - this one comes with a warning - don't go rescuing people unless you are a field professional who works with the legal system, law enforcement, or others! You do more damage by playing Rambo than you think), Rehabilitation (working directly with victims - medical, dental, therapy, life skills, love, etc.) and the hardest area Reintegration (this is getting girls back into society with their futures ahead of them). But, learn more first - intern, study, and get some experience.

What do you find to be the most challenging part of your job?
All of it...this is not glamorous work. It is heartbreaking work. But, the most challenging is really reintegrative strategies...finding girls the opportunities that they need and deserve can be the most frustrating.

How do you see TCI growing in the future?
Transitions is going to expand in Cambodia, providing transitional aftercare to survivors in three Cambodian cities (Siem Reap, Sihanoukville (or Koh Kong) and Svy Reing. We are also establishing the first human trafficking shelter in Portland Oregon, and we are also expanding our work by assisting other organizations in replicating our model of aftercare in Greece, Holland, Indonesia and beyond.

What is something that you have learned about trafficking since you got involved in the issue that completely surprised you?
The issues are not as cultural as I had once assumed. Children are trafficked around the world for the same reason - human greed. Money is universal. But, I think in terms of working with victims, it has been how complex this [issue] really is...even if a girl appears to be 'normal' in social settings, she is also sitting on a ticking time bomb of emotional trauma that needs to be addressed.

How can people help TCI?
Support a girl. I know it sounds simplistic and typical, but running an organization like this requires money. Giving girls viable futures is a fairly expensive venture. So, people can donate - anything - $5, $10, $50, $100 a month and make a tremendous impact. But, they can also tell people about the work being done - with family, friends, work, etc. and spread the word. Join the Facebook Cause for TCI. Hold a fund raiser - be creative! Intern - if you have skills and can give your time, we can find a place for you. For more ideas, give us a ring and tell us what you are thinking!

Visit the Transitions Cambodia, Inc. website

Join the TCI Facebook Cause


  1. James and Athena, you've done such a great mission helping these women and children out of trafficking and slavery. Thank you for your efforts and good luck!

  2. Do you also help victims of Human traficking , who were sold to forced labor? I meet some case and I would like to exchange information