For the past couple of months, through my blog and otherwise, I have been telling you that something is coming that I couldn't wait to tell you. You see, I was waiting for the right time. Timing is everything when it comes to big life changes. I had to make sure the proper family and friends found out before having to read it through facebook, out of respect. I've also made a declaration in my last blog update to be more honest and real with all of my readers. I am so happy to be able to share what has been brewing in me the past five months (sorry it's long, but bare with me).
As many of you know, when I'm not blogging or working as a hairstylist in a salon, I am co-developing an program called the Freedom Stylist Program. The Freedom Stylist program is under the umbrella of the amazing organization called Rapha House. Rapha House exists to love, rescue, and heal children who have been rescued from human trafficking and sexual exploitation. They have safe houses throughout SE Asia as well as a few undisclosed locations. Unfortunately, SE Asia is one of the worst countries in the world for trafficking highly due to its very recent history of genocide; the Khmer Rouge. The average age of a child rescued from trafficking at Rapha House is 12 years old, although Rapha House has had girls as young as four.
[Graphic Paragraph] During the Khmer Rouge, two million innocent women, men, and children were killed to wipe out educational power, in order to create an Agrarian Socialist society. Every person with an education was killed along with their entire families often leaving just one, to create fear. Nurses, doctors, teachers, artists, and minorities were all tortured and killed in "killing fields." Those left were forced to work in agriculture often dying of starvation or thirst. "The Khmer Rouge believed that parents were tainted with capitalism, so they separated children from their parents, indoctrinated them in communism, and taught them torture methods with animals. Children were a 'dictatorial instrument of the party and were given leadership' in torture and executions."Those who were exploited and controlled by the Khmer Rouge were called "new people" who's motto was "To keep you is no benefit. To destroy you is no loss." "Money was abolished, books were burned, teachers, merchants, and almost the entire intellectual elite of the country were murdered to make the agricultural communism." "If you would like to read more on life under the Khmer Rouge, click the here and scroll down to that paragraph.
Because of the the Khmer Rouge, it is very rare to see anyone over thirty to forty years old. The entire education system was completely destroyed just thirty years ago and has picked up the pieces since then, but still has a long way to go. Most Cambodian people suffer from PTSD and about 80% suffer from clinical depression. They are in survival mode.
Human Trafficking became rampant in Cambodia. In the Cambodian family structure, it is the eldest girl who is responsible for her families well being. Not the man nor the oldest boy has such a responsibility as seen here in America. This coupled with a 30% non educated population has made it a feeding ground for coercion. Most families survive off a dollar a day (especially in villages), living up to ten families in one hut. In a lot of villages, secondary education isn't even offered. Many young girls have to work to help their families just from starving. Often times human trafficking happens when someone comes into their neighborhoods and offers the oldest girl jobs such as waitressing or working in a hotel "in the city." Most of these families have never been to the city and only know there is more opportunity there. Many families and girls agree to go with this person (often a neighbor or a family member) and instead of going to a restaurant to work, they take them to a brothel.
What is the Freedom Stylist Program?
In Februray this year, I visited Cambodia for the first time on a Freedom Stylist trip. I traveled with nine other hairstylists from around the country to teach at the Freedom Salon + Training Center, as well as spent some time at the safe houses and kids club (a child sponsorship program). The Freedom Stylist Program is a program that aims to stop trafficking before it starts. We are a prevention program. We target at risk girls who are in danger of being trafficked and give them the opportunity to learn at our hair salon. I truly believe that prevention is the next advocacy of Human Trafficking. Human Trafficking is 100% PREVENTABLE.
At the Freedom Salon + Training Center, our group taught them everything from basic precision cutting to highlights. We spent every morning, afternoon, and evening with them. When we weren't teaching, we were playing, singing, and dancing with them. Our goal was simple; to teach and to love. While in Cambodia, I remember when one of the first girls said they loved me. It was the second day in the salon. The week prior, we had been spending time at the Safe Houses, playing with the little girls who had been trafficked. My heart was heavy and stretched. It had inflated and deflated too many times to count. I felt like I was in mourning and in celebration all at the same time and now here at the training center, I was being told I was loved as I was told I was loved by the girls at the safe houses too. I remember the swell in my heart because I realized how much I loved them back, so quickly. I felt something immediately change. I knew the person I was before this trip was no longer who I was. That person had become a stranger in just a short amount of time. "I love you too," I answered back. I felt every wall I had built over the past years shatter to the ground. I found freedom through a culture so different from my own.
When our Freedom Stylist team is not in Cambodia (which because we are a very young, start-up program, we are only able to go once a year), we are able to afford two girls to go to a vocational cosmetology school outside of our Training Center, while the rest of the girls go to an English/Khmer school. We offer housing to our girls who are in danger of living at home (which about 95% of our girls live at the salon), as well as food, clothing, and other living expenses. They are well taken care of by one of our house mothers who love them like they are her own children.
Here we go.
Since I got home from Cambodia in February, our very small development team has been working diligently on making it the best program that it can be. We essentially restarted from the ground up. We created a new, easily to navigate website, logo, and foundation.
Although we had been focusing on making it the program best we could, there was a pull to something that I could not shake. I kept feeling like there was more to the program that we needed to look at. What if we had someone train full time at the salon for six months to a year, so we don't have to make decisions like "who can we afford to go to hair school while the others go to regular school?" What if we can give them the training they need, then train them to be mentors for new girls coming in, thus creating a revolving system of continued education and mentorship leadership so they wont have to rely on a team coming through once a year for all of their group training? I sat with it for the first few months being back in the States, sinking into a depression and longing I can't explain. I knew that I had felt the change within me when I was in Cambodia with the girls, but I didn't know what was happening to me as I got home. I remember waking up one morning and staring at my ceiling thinking I miss my home. Okay ... I grew up moving, I have had miles and miles separated from any of my homes I had growing up and had never experienced being homesick. What does that even mean? I remember asking myself, I was only in Cambodia for two weeks! Over the course of a few weeks, the word "home" kept coming to mind. Chandra, really? You can't speak the language, you have never lived out of the country, let alone a third world country. What are you thinking? You have a good job that pays you well, you LOVE Nashville, you have amazing friends, why would you drop that to live in a third world country, 9,000 Miles away! I remember praying and praying, asking why and what this meant. The answer: Because you were made for this. You can handle this.
Over the course of a few months, I told Crystal (our US Freedom Stylist Project Leader) over coffee that I was feeling pulled to go teach at the Freedom Salon + Training Center for a year. We talked about it for about two hours and by the end of it she agreed, "this should be you. You were made for this. Let's go through any door that opens and don't stop until one closes." Within a few weeks, the people on the ground in SE Asia were consulted, all agreeing that this is something that needed to happen and that it should be me to step into this position that has never been done. Crystal then sat with Stephanie, the beautiful and inspirational woman who first started Rapha House. Within forty five minutes, it was decided and done. I was officially going to move to Cambodia and pioneer a program never seen or used before in all of SE Asia.
I will be traveling to Cambodia twice in 2015. In February, I will be traveling with other hairstylist's on another Freedom Stylist Trip. I'm so excited because two girls that I work with at Salon Ya Ya will be joining the trip this time! I can't wait for them to experience what I first did this year. I will need to raise $3,000 for this trip, which will cover all expenses including food, housing, flight accommodations, etc.
My second time to Cambodia will be August 3rd, 2015, just five months after my February to move there for a year. I will be creating a self-revolving program for our girls in the Freedom Salon + Training Center that teaches them in-depth skill sets as well as how to be leaders and mentors for new girls that come through. The program aims to empower each girl through goals that they set individually for their future.
No one in the Freedom Stylist program receives a paycheck, myself included. We believe any money raised through our program goes directly back to the girls to provide them with every opportunity to succeed. I will need to raise $20,000 to fund my year of living there, flights, housing, food, living expenses, etc. Since I will be living in the Capital, it is more expensive as well as transportation to and from my apartment.
How you can help.
Again, this position has never been created in neither the Freedom Stylist Program or Rapha House, so I will probably be learning things the hard way! Prayer for safety, cultural awareness, finding community, etc... is one of the ways you can help.
If you would like to partner with me financially, I have a Go Fund Me page where you can donate a one time gift, or an optional monthly gift for long term partnership. I also accept paypal and personal checks.
I will also be selling my clothes (on Poshmark and instagram on @Shop_moderndaycharm), or if you live in Nashville and want to stop my my house and pick out what you want from my closet, that is available too.
If you are interested in the Freedom Stylist program itself, whether you are a hairstylist or have a hairstylist you think would love this, visit our website and check out our FAQ page.
Thank all of you who have supported me through this blog. You all keep this thing running. I appreciate all of my readers. Please leave a comment if you have any questions or thoughts pertaining to this post.