Young girls are locked away in seedy hotels in the worst areas of Phnom Penh. They have been kidnapped, bought and sold, beaten and forced into prostitution. They are sex slaves.
While it’s only human nature to avert your attention when hearing about the atrocities that have made Cambodia infamous, turning away isn’t the style of Gregg Burgess ’98 (M.I.B.). Burgess, who moved with his wife and three kids to the country’s capital in 2000, is the director of a new center in Phnom Penh that helps girls rescued from brothels.
“It’s easy to say that it’s just too big a problem and nothing can be done,” Burgess says. “Well, there are things that can be done, and lives can be changed.”
Burgess changes lives every day through his center, run by World Hope International, which opened this summer to care for girls during the first critical months after they’re rescued. These children — as many as 30,000 throughout Cambodia, including some as young as 5 — have been beaten and raped. Some are addicted to drugs that were forced upon them to keep them compliant. The assessment center provides caregivers, counselors, therapy, and sports and literacy programs. Workers also determine whether the girls, some of whom were sold into slavery by their own parents, should be placed in foster care or other shelter options.
Seeds for Burgess’ work were planted during the 1980s. It was then, as an undergraduate in Texas, that he helped Cambodian refugees being relocated from refugee bases in Thailand. His job was to find them shelter, food and clothing. “It really stuck with me for a long time,” he says.
So, just as many years ago he helped Cambodians who had escaped oppression to build a new life, today he’s offering a new way of life to these girls.
“As a Christian I look to God for answers,” Burgess says. “And God does answer our prayers, and He does do amazing things in people’s lives. So we have hope, and we work toward the day when slavery will end in Cambodia.”