An example in Cambodia

It's me (Dawn) visiting an orphanage in Cambodia during my trip there in 2009.

Random fact: If you get me started on the topic of Cambodian politics, I will talk for hours.

I travelled to Cambodia as a senior in college, but well before then, I had already developed a strong fascination (okay, obsession) with the country, reading volumes upon volumes of Cambodian history and closely following its current events.

In my opinion, one of Cambodia’s most endearing features is the way it has healed and rebuilt after the trauma of Pol Pot’s genocide and tyrannical government in the ‘70s. Obviously, it would be asinine to say Cambodia has fully recovered; you don’t have to dig deep to see examples of glaring issues just in the political situation: take, for example, the fact that Hun Sen (a former Khmer Rouge commander) has essentially controlled the country since the ’80s, or the fact that it’s taken three decades for those responsible for the Khmer Rouge genocide to stand trial – and those trials are largely thought to be shams.

However, despite everything, there is an almost tangible optimism in Cambodia, which is why I love the report from Claire Schaeffer-Duffy we published last week about a Maryknoll sister ministering to sex-trafficking victims in Cambodia. As Duffy explains, sex-trafficking in Cambodia is fairly new and driven by poverty – a poverty I believe stems, in part, from the Pol Pot’s disastrous economic policies.

In an effort to help Cambodian women leave the sex-trade, Sr. Helene O’Sullivan offers not only education to former sex-workers, but also helps them to move past the low-paying “pink collar” work traditionally available to Cambodian women.

I like this piece for several reasons. First, I think the international community has a moral responsibility to Cambodia for our role in the events that allowed Pol Pot to come to power. Therefore, I love stories of international efforts to do real work in Cambodia.

Second, I love that it highlights the importance of Christians looking at the actual ramifications of our ministries. If there’s one perennial complaint against missions, it’s that they have the potential to do more harm than good – that they can be culturally insensitive; they can strip local communities of their independence by making them dependent on the missionaries and their resources, etc. I find it admirable that O’Sullivan is intentional about the kind of work former sex-workers are moving on to. More than merely fixing a perceived wrong in the name of Christ, O’Sullivan is helping to empower women and create lasting change.

Third, I love that the women are being empowered. Studies show that empowering women in a society helps to solve a multitude of social sins, including poverty and violence against women. O’Sullivan’s program could be instructive for other ministries dealing with sex-trafficking and poverty.

And last, the piece is incredibly well reported, earning Claire Schaffer-Duffy some major #binderwriters cred in my book. The hashtag #binderwriters, a play on Mitt Romney’s 2012 “binders full of women” gaff, took off on Twitter several weeks ago as a way for female writers to support each other in a virtual community. It’s my favorite thing on the Internet right now, and I strongly encourage anyone interested in media diversity to take part of the conversation.

[Dawn Cherie Araujo is a staff writer for Global Sisters Report.]