Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday Evening 9-27-2013

Hanoi is a much different city than Phnom Penh.  Traffic moves faster, though the side streets are still slow.  There were more motor bikes than cars in PP, but even more so here, and fewer rules.  Stop signs are completely ignored and traffic lights are only slightly obeyed.  Each traffic light has a visible digital timer showing how much time is left on either the green or red light, so once the red light gets to about 10 seconds left, everyone starts crossing even though vehicles are still crossing on the green. The direction of driving lanes is only a suggestion at both intersections and on straightaways as vehicles go against traffic until they find a place to cross over.  I would guess that less than 5% of our driving time are we ever more than two feet from a car or motor bike, and usually within inches.  Whole families ride on the same bike, driving just like everyone else.  Lots of cell phone use on the motor bikes, but apparently there's a helmet law because everyone wears one, though they look more decorative than functional.  Driving is mostly done on the right side of the road, but people mostly drive wherever they want to as it's not courteous to interfere with traffic going the wrong way. It's true!  And the far right side of the road seems to be reserved for traffic going the wrong way. This means that the middle of the road is available for traffic to go both directions, which they do, with the bigger vehicle seeming to have the right of way. Now, it's actually against the law to make a right turn at a red light, but apparently not against the law to go straight through the light or turn left, which we even do in a taxi.  Sidewalks are considered part of the road, but pedestrians can give a low downward wave and walk right across the street.  Life is great!!!

Spent the day with Hagar staff going over client programs and donor initiatives.  Also visited their support house where the girls stay while going through the various stages of counseling and working before going back into family situations.  This can take a couple of years, thus the reason for reviewing donor initiatives.  We met with some of the girls and heard their stories, which I'm not allowed to talk about.  So if you've been looking for me to share some details, I haven't and can't.  I can say that Hagar works in countries rated close to the worst when it comes to human trafficking and abuse.

Had dinner at an authentic Vietnamese restaurant, and drank a Hanoi beer while looking at a picture of Ho Chi Minh, Chairman of the communist party of Vietnam from 1951 - 1969.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Friday 9-27-2013 Cathedral

Here's a picture of St. Joseph's Catholic cathedral from my 7th floor hotel room in Hanoi.  Great start to the day as I had my first hot shower in a week!  On Sunday we get some free time which will be a great break from these 15 hour days.  Today will be spent with Hagar staff in Hanoi and the CFO of one of our partner companies.

Musings about Cambodia

We got our visas to Vietnam figured out yesterday, so we're off to Vietnam today.  Before my memories of Cambodia and Vietnam start to get commingled, I thought I should write down a few thoughts about Cambodia.
It's obviously a poor country, but nothing like East Africa.  Primary means of transportation is motor bikes.  Traffic moves very slowly and there appear to be no rules of the road.  But it's just that the rules are so different from anything we know that everything looks haphazard.  Again unlike Africa, there are very few buses and none of the 16 people (it would be 6-7 in the US) passenger buses that are everywhere there. So there is more wealth here than some other third world countries.  Instead of buses they have a lot of tuk-tuks, which are the customized motor bikes turned into open air taxis.  They are everywhere.

The people are very happy, friendly, and helpful.  Never a concern for ones safety.  Lots of good restaurants and coffee shops.  Some US fast food places like Burger King and KFC are here, but I didn't see a McDonalds.  Ruled by a King and by a Prime Minister (think I said President in an earlier blog).  Distant history seems to be embraced, but the genocide by the Kymer Rouge in the 70's is officially ignored... The leader Pot Pol was never arrested and died of a heart attack, and trials of two others have just recently been started.

Phnom Penh was a city of close to 2 million people in 1975 when the Kymer Rouge told everyone to evacuate to the countryside and leave everything behind because the Americans we going to bomb the city. They lied.  Those few people who stayed were killed in their homes and their homes destroyed.  Nearly everyone that left the city was killed as the edict was that anyone that was educated, was a teacher, a professional, a business person, wore glasses, was an urban dweller, or questioned the KR was to be executed.  Wthin three weeks, a city of nearly 2 million people was a complete ghost town.

A few years ago, NestlĂ© gave Hagar a large facility which Hagar has leased to a local micro brewery called Kingdom Beer.  Of course, we had to stop by before leaving for the airport to make sure the beer actually tasted okay.  It was great! Hagar is not only unique in the work they do, but also unique in using partnerships in businesses to provide income to supplement donations.

On to Vietnam!

Frank Thomas

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Restoring lives of Women

Last night we took a boat ride down the Mekong River.... didn't see Charlie Sheen, but you could buy Platoon t-shirts everywhere.

If you've read some of my blogs, you know that the main work of Hagar is to restore the lives of women who have been rescued from human trafficking and other severe abuse situations.  Two of the necessary steps are to train them in some employable type of work, and to place them in a paying job.      Hagar fills both of those steps extremely well.  The toughest one, especially in third-world countries where there are few opportunities and lots of available people, is to provide employment  opoportunities.  Hagar is able to do that because they are part owners in two food related businesses.  We met with both of them this week.

One of the businesses is a restaurant and food catering business. Hagar owns 30% of the business.  We had lunch there twice and the place was packed both days.  But the primary part of their business is catering for companies during lunch.  They employ just over 300 catering employees who cook 10,000 meals each work day for 21 companies, obviously some of the companies have a lot of employees.  Hagar currently has sixty-one of its clients working there.

The other company owns two coffee shops in Vietnam, and is about to open one in Cambodia.  Hagar owns about 9% of that company and has twelve employees working there.  Hagar is unique in how they work with rescued women, and stand alone in how they partner with companies to provide employment opportunities.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hagar Operations

The last item on our agenda today, before dinner, was a visit to the genocide prison, previously a high school, where over 20,000 people were tortured for months before being killed.  I stood where their blood flowed on the floor. Where their legs were shackled in iron.  Where their bodies were mutilated, both men and women.  Aftewards, I spent an hour and a half before dinner trying to decide how to write what I saw.  I couldn't.  I took pictures which I will never share.  The atrocities carried out by the Kymer Rouge are beyond comprehension.  Maybe in a day or two I will write a little about what I saw.

Otherwise, we had a great day visiting two of the Hagar operations.  The first was a school where they teach about 135 students.  There are two main types of students at this school.  One group is made up of very young children whose mothers are in prison.  In Cambodia, when the father is gone and the mother is imprisoned, so are all of her children under the age of 16 who can't be placed with other family.  The government doesn't provide foster homes or any care facilities for children.  Hagar takes the children and places them in homes and takes on the responsibility for educating them.
The second type of class is made up of students that mostly have never had any education, or very limited, for whatever reason.  These students are put into a three year "catch-up" program.  After three years they are ready for public schools at their appropriate class level.  Without these two programs, none of these kids would ever have an education.  Their lives will still be difficult, but now they at least have a chance.
The second school is called the School of Smiles.  The students in this school have either cerebral palsy, Down's Syndrome, autism, or other physical and mental issues.   Cambodia is a mostly Buddhist country. The Buddhist believe that if you did something bad in a previous life, you are paying for it in this life, and having a physical or mental limitation is one way in which it can show up.  So they believe these children had been bad in a previous life and deserve their current handicap.  These children are ignored by their families who feel they dishonor their families.  Hagar provides an education to these children and attempt to find employment opportunities.  Hagar also brings in the parents and teaches them how to care for their children.  There are currently 118 children in this program.  These kids will break your heart by just looking at you.  They deserve to live with dignity. Hagar provides them that opportunity.

Monday, September 23, 2013

First Day - Killing Fields and Hagar Staff

For any of you who haven't been to an Asian or third world country, the traffic is something you can't imagine.  Due to an early morning political show of protest, the losing party in the latest Presidential elections decided to block a couple of streets for a short time.  The effect was a city-wide traffic jam that caused us to be two hours late for our first meeting.  There must be ten times as many motor bikes as cars, and no one obeys and traffic laws.
If you know anything about Cambodia, then you've heard about the Killing Fields.  There's even a movie by that name.  The communist party, called Kymer Rouge, which was in power in the late 70's, tried implementing a purely agrarian society that w completely self-sufficient from the rest of the world.  They also forced everyone with an education or who were capitalists (business people) to move to the countryside and farm.  In the process they killed 2,000,000 to 3,000,000 of their own people, out of a total population of 8,000,000.  Included in that number are the children of the parents killed because the regime was afraid of revenge when the children grew up.  We visited one of the many sites where the killings took place.  Very depressing.  Lots of broken skulls, in fact, a fifty foot monument of broken skulls.  Because the rulers wanted to be certain they killed everyone that fit their criteria, they kept great records which allows for an accurate count of those killed... the ones that starved to death weren't listed, thus the range of 2-3 million.
To refresh you on why I'm on this trip, it's to see the work of Hagar International, a non-profit company whose main work is to restore the lives of women, girls, and recently boys who have been rescued from human trafficking and other severe physical and mental abuse.  Their mission statement is "Whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to restore a broken life".  They work in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Afghanistan.
Spent the rest of the day with Hagar staff who manage the counseling and education of the Hagar clients.  It's a long recovery process which on average takes several years.  Hagar has over sixty counselors that work with the people brought to them, usually by government agencies.  Once the client is deemed ready for reintegration to society they are either put into a family situation, or frequently a foster home as their own family has either disowned them or caused the abuse or slavery.
If they are uneducated, Hagar provides a three year "catch-up" program.   Check them out at   More tomorrow.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Flights to Cambodia 9/21-22 2013

After a short hop to LA from Phoenix, and a 4 hour layover, we flew to Seoul and then Phnom Penh. Flew the first 12 1/2 hour leg on an Airbus 380, the European version of the Boeing Dreamliner.  It has 6 more inches of leg room than most planes and very comfortable seats, even in economy.  So our flight is scheduled to board at 12:30 PM and leave LA at 1:00 PM, but as boarding time nears there's no one around so we're expecting a mad rush at the end.  Okay, so this is too amazing to believe; boarding starts at 12:25 and is very orderly, and by 12:44 everyone is in their seats and all the overhead bins are closed, and there are only two seats open on the whole plane. I saw it and I still can't believe it.  But very few passengers carried anything on the flight.  Of about 500 passengers, the were 5 or 6 Americans.  And of those two open seats, one was next to me so I got to move from the middle to the window and have an open seat next to me!  Life is good.

So besides being a huge double decker plane, it also had the latest in electronics for passengers.  We had 11 inch screens and about 60 movies, games, TV, documentaries, etc.  But I learned the hard way that the airways requires all sea backs to be in their most upright position during meals, of which we had lunch and dinner.  It's the right thing, but not needed on this plane.

Our layover in Seoul is scheduled for 45 minutes!  And Mark checked his bag, so the bag also has to make it.  But get this, the airline had a representative waiting at the gate for us.  She first put a sticker and number on us so she wouldn't lose us.  Then she took us through another customs area, where they took my pocket knife out of a pocket in my bag.   Good job TSA....  up and down escalators and to our next flight, one of only 5 1/2 hours this time.  Amazing service!  Oh, and they put my pocket knife, which I couldn't find since my trip to DC last month, in a special envelope and said it would be on the baggage carousel when we arrived in Phnom Penh.  It was!  But I'll bet I have it taken away for good on my last flight from LA to Phoenix.
Well, it's after midnight and breakfast is at 7, so I better try to get some sleep... Got maybe two hours on the flights.

Friday, September 20, 2013


Just found out we don't have aisle seats on our 13 hour flight to Korea! Sure hope I sleep some, but since that flight starts at 1pm, chances of getting much sleep are slim.

Vietnam Segment in Jeopardy

The day-to-day itinerary seems to have firmed up and every minute of every day is scheduled, at least through Thursday in Cambodia.  Our visas for Vietnam were denied.  Apparently there was some confusion about who was handling the applications, so our staff got a late start.  And then there were some local issues with Catholic demonstrators and police fighting.  And apparently our staff did not thank the local officials enough for prior visas, so the result is they denied ours... there's a lot more grey in Vietnam than there is black and white.  We will try to get them in Cambodia once we arrive, but not sure it will happen.  Since we fly home from Vietnam, this could present a costly problem!