Fund for Investigative Journalism Awards Grant

November 25th, 2008

The email was succinct:

“The board of the Fund for Investigative Journalism met late last week and voted to award you a grant of $5,000 in support of your project documenting human trafficking in Cambodia.”

I was sweating on my laptop as late-season rains poured down upon Phnom Penh, when the email came. The biggest smile grew upon my face. It was half what I asked for and more than I’d expected when I sent the application off. But for an independent journalist like myself, working on a chapter (Cambodia) of a long term story (global human trafficking), this kind of support is incredible, rewarding, and reassuring that I’m not some crazy who is hell-bent on making his life more difficult than it need be.

Well, I don’t think I’m crazy but I do make my life more difficult; it’s a challenge that comes with the satisfaction of having tried to make a difference. Not that I think one should sacrifice too much to feel that satisfaction, but it seems to be sacrifice magnifies the reward. But then there are occasions when an organization like FIJ decides to support you. It’s validation. Just like when my community back home turns up to support this work; that’s validation on a more personal level, and is greatly appreciated.

Thanks. I like being able to do this work.

Excerpts from the grant application:
“…I am seeking funding to continue my documentary work raising awareness about the affects of and efforts to counter human trafficking. While there are many failed methods of counter trafficking, my goal is to show successful attempts; this involves a holistic view of international development, foreign trade, policy analysis, societal norms, and the lasting effects of psychological trauma. As I research the global impacts of human trafficking, I have seen how the United States, with it’s underreported trafficking issues, could stand to learn from counter trafficking methods in Cambodia.

For this phase of the project I am focusing on Cambodia, a nation torn by genocide and 30 years of occupation and civil war. This project interweaves a figurative Cambodia, Srey Neth who is a 19 year-old sex trafficking survivor, with a literal Cambodia represented by the government, police, and NGO’s. This is a story about the psychology of overcoming victimization in a post-conflict country through the narrative of sex trafficking.

Following on the heels of the UNTAC mission in Cambodia, sent in the 90’s to ensure democratic elections, many foreign aid agencies entered to help shape a prosperous, violence-free future for the country. Some of the more progressive minds concur that ultimately Cambodia will have to do this on its own; to use psychotherapy-speak, Cambodia must find its own voice or the cycle of violence and victimization will continue. I intend to follow up on Srey Neth’s story, reconnect with and deepen my relationships with the Cambodian government, as well as expand into labor trafficking. This will enable me to show how, because of the genocide and civil war, violence is ingrained in Cambodian culture. It will take strong Cambodian leadership and shifting of cultural norms to reduce the victimization….

…This work in Cambodia is part of what I see as a decade-long project. Because of the global nature of human trafficking, it is one story out of a myriad. The reporting I do in Cambodia will help reveal failed and successful methods of combating human trafficking in a post-conflict country; Cambodia is but one story of many.”

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