Cambodia: Dateline NBC and Transitions Cambodia

January 25th, 2008

What I love about TV is light. They bring a lot of it and they control it incredibly well. Dateline NBC made the florescent glow of Transitions Cambodia into a comfortable studio environment. With their “small” kit of only a dozen cases of gear. (at left: James on the monitor)

In a follow up from their 2004 story on sex trafficking in Southeast Asia, correspondent Chris Hansen worked with a team of freelancers–based in Singapore, Bangkok, and the producer, Cindy Babski in France–to revisit the same places and people but also added James Pond, who with his wife founded Transitions Cambodia.

The Ponds saw that 2004 Dateline story, watched it again with their kids, and decided as a family to move to Cambodia and do something about the problem. Three years later, they run a unique non-governmental organization in Cambodia and its fund raising 501(c)3 out of Portland. (at right: correspondent Chris Hansen)

What is special about Transitions is that while most victim aftercare shelters work with girls 15 and younger, Transitions takes teenagers and helps them “transition” to adulthood by showing them dignity and respect and helping them find their voice. It is the micro model for what the entire country needs; victims of trauma often lose the ability to speak for themselves, to understand they have a choice in life. Transitions seeks to empower the young women by giving them a chance to learn marketable skills and live a “normal” teenage life. The hope is these teenage women will recapture their dreams and then try to follow them. (at left: Dave and Cindy discuss the setup)

James says the two and-a-half years the entire family spent in Cambodia was “a trip of humility.” There were multiple cases of E Coli, one of Dengue Fever, and one of Hepatitis E. They had left suburban Sacramento, leaving behind a six-figure job as a regional sales rep in the plastics industry, BMW’s in the driveway, and a “Christmas that didn’t mean anything anymore because we were just handing out checks to the kids. We couldn’t buy them anything they didn’t already have.”

What struck the Ponds in that 2004 Dateline special were the interviews with the victims and seeing their eyes as they spoke of their experiences. But even his son, who was in 8th grade at the time, said “If it’s just for you and mom then I don’t want to do it, but if it’s for all of us then I’ll go.”

And so, home and possessions sold, they arrived at the airport with three children and 15 bags, ready to go to Cambodia to start a new life, one of purpose. It was, James said, “a giant breath of fresh air.” (at right: one of the TCI girls goes to school)

The Dateline crew was great and I think James did a wonderful job in the interview. Next week I’ll be with Transitions heading to Sihanoukville for a reintegration and later to the no-man’s land between Cambodia and Vietnam for a repatriation. Two of the girls from Transitions are ‘graduating’ and moving on to a new life. (at left: the Dateline crew with James, Zaira, the center director, and the four social workers)

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