Monday, March 3, 2014

Remember Nhu: A Story of the Hurt and the Healer - Day 21 of 30

I wrote this article a year ago or two and I thought that I would share it with you all. This is a journalism feature that I spent a lot of time researching and interviewing for, and is one of the greatest pieces that I have written!

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Remember Nhu: A Story of the Hurt and the Healer

By Marisa Leach

  Terrified. The only word to describe the pain and hurt inside your heart as you sit in the back seat next to this stranger of an American business man that has bought you for 1,200 dollars this weekend.

  Terrified, for what you know is about to come.

  As the taxi that you are riding in comes to a halt in the front of a hotel, you numbly step out of the car and follow this man into the hotel.

  He tries to make small talk as you make your way down the hotel hallway, to the room that you will be confined to for the next 48 hours.

 But you know he isn’t interested in who you really are.

  Silently praying you ask God, Why me? How could you let this happen to me?

  At twelve years old you have your virginity stolen that night.


  Sadly, this is only one out of nearly 12 million stories about children that are used in the sex trade.

  As repulsive as it is to think about people “buying” children to use for the sole purpose of sex, every minute, two children are sold into the sex trade.

  It was November 2003, when Carl Ralston of Akron, Ohio was attending a missionary conference in Cambodia, as part of his final project to graduate from Malone College, when he first heard about the hidden crime of the sex trade industry.

  After Ralston came back to America, he could not stop thinking about a story that a missionary shared a group.

  The missionary speaker told the congregation at the conference of a 12 year old girl Nhu, who was recently sold by her grandmother to the sex trade industry because of her Christian beliefs and as a source of income.

  At that time the missionary had not heard any up- to- date information about Nhu.

  “I instantly broke down crying for the last half hour of the seminar, and I was just overwhelmed by the thought that here’s this 12 year old girl, that is my sister in Christ and she is being raped repeatedly,” said Ralston in a documentary of Nhu’s story.

   When Ralston heard about Nhu he felt that God put on his heart, “Remember Nhu….remember Nhu”.

  “At that moment I knew I couldn’t continue to live my life the way I had before. I knew I had to dedicate my life to doing whatever I could do to stop this,” said Ralston.

  Intensely motivated to find and save Nhu from any further hurt because of the sex trade, Ralston went to Phnom Penh, Cambodia where the missionary thought Nhu might be.

  Dedicating his time and money to help Nhu, Ralston flew several times to Cambodia in attempt to find her, leaving his successful Independent Insurance agency in Ohio.

  Trying to find Nhu in Phnom Penh, Cambodia was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Phnom Penh is the capital of Thailand with millions of people populating the city.

  Ralston had no other information on where Nhu was sold to or where she was, all he had was a picture of her, adding difficulty in the search process.

  After showing Nhu’s picture to what seemed like a thousand villagers, by the grace of God on the sixth trip, Ralston finally found her in July 2006.

  Ralston found Nhu by way of a villager who knew that he was looking for Nhu and had seen her working at a hair and nails salon.

  Once Ralston knew that key piece of information, he found her working at a hair and nails salon.

  “There’s no other way to put it except that God interceded,” said United States Operations Director of Remember Nhu, Jim Hixenbaugh.

    Hixenbaugh learned about Remember Nhu when Ralston came to Grace Christian Missionary Alliance church in Middleburg Heights, Ohio to speak about the story of Nhu.

  Deeply affected by the horror of the sex trade, Hixenbaugh knew that he had to serve in any way that he could with Remember Nhu.

  “God spoke to me, when I heard Carl’s story. It hit me deep inside and I knew I had to do something to increase my involvement in this organization.”

  Ralston was prepared for the challenges that were placed in front of him as soon as he found Nhu, but the joy and relief that he knew that he could help Nhu turn her life around oversaw any roadblocks in the way.

    Once Ralston met Nhu, naturally, she was a bit distrusting because of what she had gone through. 

  “She did not like me at first because she had been abused by other white men. But she was very polite,” recalled Ralston.

  After about a year and a half of their relationship of Ralston going back and forth to Cambodia to visit Nhu, she and Ralston established a father-daughter relationship. 

  Nhu’s story was much like the story that you heard in the beginning of this article.

  At 12 years old, she was sold by her grandmother for a couple days at a time to an American businessman, and was raped repeatedly, confined to a room for at least 48 hours and had no access to food or water.

  In the next six months she was sold to two more pedophiles.

  Statistics show that one third of the sex trade customers in Thailand are American businessmen, and 15-20% of their Gross Domestic Product is the sex trade.

  “American men are known as ‘sex tourists’ in these countries, some men will come to Thailand for three months to go on ‘vacation’, and shop for girls to rape. Once they find a girl that they like, they buy them,” said Hixenbaugh.

  For months after she was sold for the third time, Nhu begged and begged her grandmother to let her attend school to gain education in the hair and nail business.

  Her grandmother finally relented and Nhu, who was 14 years old at the time, worked as a janitor at her school to pay for the education that she was receiving there.

  After Nhu finished her education she was hired at a salon, working 12 hours a day with two days off a month.

  During the time that Ralston was looking for Nhu many ideas of how he could help Nhu had been contemplated.  

  As soon Ralston had met Nhu, she expressed how much she loved working with hair and nails and a strategic idea of creating a salon completely run by Remember Nhu took its course in Ralston’s heart.

  Before girls are sold to a man for sex, the parents usually bring them to a salon to be “prepped”. They have their children undergo a complete makeover, to make them look older and more attractive.

  Knowing that that is what happens before the girls go into the trade; Ralston thought that would be the perfect way to save the girls before they go into the trade.

  “The purpose of the salon is to intercept these girls as they come in. The workers at the salon know what is going on and as soon as they identify girls coming in to be prepped, they approach the girls family and explain to them that they don’t have to send their child into the sex trade and that we can take care of them,” explained Hixenbaugh.

  Ralston opened the Agape Beauty Salon in Phnom Penh, Cambodia debt free and Nhu was the first employee. Many of the employees of the Agape Beauty salon are friends of Nhu that lived by her.

  “I told her [Nhu] we would like her to be the first employee of Remember Nhu. I told her we wanted her to go to school half the day and teach the girls from her neighborhood Cosmetology. She asked ‘When can I start?’ that was one of the happiest moments of my life. At that point I knew Nhu would be safe,” Ralston said.

  Although Ralston had saved Nhu he knew that his job was not over. One of Nhu’s hopes was that she would be the last girl that would ever have to go through what she had to go through.

  With that, Ralston, just a local man of Akron, Ohio created the organization     Remember Nhu in Cambodia but is now, mostly centered in Thailand, to prevent children from ever having to be sold into the sex trade.

  “Remember Nhu has a network of Thai people who talk with each other. The villagers and the Thai people are a communication system to Carl [Ralston] so that he can approach the chief of the village for permission to approach the family of a child at risk of being sold into the trade,” said US Team Leader for the Overseas Missions of Remember Nhu, Chuck McMannus.

  Ralston and his team of Remember Nhu staff are informed of at risk children where the parents are not there anymore, or they are alcoholics or are in a vulnerable position of being sold because the family is very poor and needs the money.

  Once Ralston and his team understand the situation, they approach the family and lay out what Remember Nhu will do to help their child and them.

  “We have a network of pastors, teachers, neighbors who refer children to Remember Nhu. Most of our referrals come from our girls themselves. Remember Nhu’s staff talks to the children and their caregiver and get information on the child. From there, a form is signed by the caregiver giving permission for the child to live at a Remember Nhu home,” said Ralston’s wife, Laura.

  The main goal of Remember Nhu is to prevent children from ever having to be sold into the sex trade and globally one million children are sold into the sex trade a year.

  Once Ralston and his team explain what Remember Nhu does, and the guardians or parents agree to the partnership, the child comes and lives in one of Remember Nhu’s homes.

  At this time Remember Nhu operates 12 homes as a safe haven for children in danger. The locations of these homes are found in Thailand, Gambia, India, Myanmar, Philippines and Cambodia.

  Once the child and the family agree to Remember Nhu’s partnership, the child is brought into the home and is provided everything that is essential to growing up to be a successful citizen of their society.

  Raising the children in the Remember Nhu homes keeps them from ever going back into the trade because of money issues with their family.

  “Once girls are in the sex trade, they’re damaged forever. Even if they do get out of the trade once they are out, they are viewed as unclean and dirty by spectators,” explained Hixenbaugh.

  Because the girls have an unclean reputation after they are out of the trade, nobody will hire them for work.

  The girls find themselves then forced to go back to the sex trade because they have no way to get money except for that.

  “About 95% of girls go back into the trade once they are out. Remember Nhu is all about prevention,” McMannus said.

   Throughout Asia, Remember Nhu’s homes are run by Christian villagers that give up their lives to help improve others.

  Depending on the need, they house at the most 60 children per home. Currently, Remember Nhu’s homes range from 18 children to 50 children but one home will not have more than 60 children.

  “We want our homes to be homes with a family atmosphere,” explained Laura.

  They will not house more than 60 children at one time because research shows that going over 60 children in a home turns the home from a home into an orphanage or institution.

  “Remember Nhu takes care of children until they reach the status of an income producing member. While they are housed in our homes, we teach them what they would learn in school including speaking English. We also teach them job skills that they can use once they are at the age to get a job,” explained Hixenbaugh.

  Along with the educational needs that the children in Remember Nhu’s homes have been deprived of, most of them are disconnected from a personal relationship with a responsible, caring adult.

  Since 2007, Remember Nhu has opened the doors of their homes in Thailand and Cambodia and has embraced over 50 short term mission teams of adults to interact and form relationships with the girls that they house.

  Chuck McMannus, mentioned earlier, recently went to Thailand’s Remember Nhu home with Grace CMA’s mission team as US team leader for the second time.

  “I didn’t know about the sex trade. I was na├»ve. When Carl [Ralston] spoke about it, I looked it up and researched it and I knew I had to do something,” said McMannus.   

  McMannus’ mission team that he led and traveled with was made up of 12 eager and very selfless individuals from Grace CMA church that endured many countless endeavors as they made their way to the Thailand home located in a small village, 20 miles away from Chiang Mai.

  “Most teams visit the homes in Thailand, as this country has the most in country staff and is also the most set up to receive teams. Some teams go to Cambodia. For teams that visit Thailand, they will do cultural activities such as, elephant shows, temple visits, hill tribe visits, cultural dinners, work on the property, do crafts, teach English and spend time with the children. In Cambodia, teams will visit the Genocide Museum and/or Killing Fields (from the Pol Pot Regime) and spend time with children,” explained Laura.

  Although the team does not stay on the Remember Nhu home grounds due to the way that Americans are accustomed to their luxuries, they spend the day at the homes from 8:30am to 8:30pm.

  At first when the children at the homes meet the mission team they are a bit weary, because of their past but that is why the team is there, to build relationships with them.

  “For the first time, the interaction between us and the children is stranger to stranger, the kids there range from 5 years old to 15 years old. The younger ones are usually more trusting, so once we interact with them and show them that we are there purely, to love them, the older kids are drawn to build friendships with us too,” explained McMannus.

  The interaction between the children and the mission team consists of friendship building while also teaching them songs, how to play music, teaching a little bit of English, crafts and jewelry.

  “Jewelry is a very effective activity to do with these girls because not only can it teach the girls how to use their abilities to create something beautiful, but jewelry making is a skill that can get these girls jobs when they get older,” said McMannus.

  At the Remember Nhu team report earlier last month, many team members had the chance to talk about what an impact going to Thailand and seeing and interacting with the girls at the home made on their heart.

  Many of these people sponsor one of the Remember Nhu girls and had the chance to meet their sponsor child and build a personal relationship with them.

  Sponsoring a child is the greatest way that one can contribute to the aid of these once victimized girls.

   Anyone who chooses to do it can provide the money for a child to have an education, take care of themselves as far as dental and physical needs they may need and also can also provide love to a child that may not have ever experienced that before.

  “The growth of Remember Nhu is only limited by the amount of sponsor families we have for our children. The more sponsors we have the more we can grow,” said Hixenbaugh.

  As of now, Nhu lives in Thailand for a third of the year and is now 22 years old.

  She recently has made her first trip to the United States with Ralston and his wife Lauri to share her story and was amazed at the simplest things that we take advantage of.

  Through the painstaking times of hearing about Nhu as a 12 year old girl being in the sex trade to the joyous times of looking at her now as an strong, confident woman, Ralston kept to his heart and continued and will continue forever to heal the hurt and right the wrongs.


Thanks for listening...

Talk to you tomorrow,

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