Human Trafficking & Debt

This blog was originally posted in 2017 but this story still happens in Cambodia today:

One of our young leaders, a recent high school graduate has started University. She is bright, hardworking and has now begun volunteering at one of the Flame centres teaching English to the young slum-living kids. She is pretty and full of energy with a genuine, kind heart.

So far the story looks good, right?

About 6 weeks ago, she basically decided to take up an amazing job in Japan. The package included the airfare and visa, the monthly salary was said to be US$1500, which is a truckload of money for a 19 year old!

This kind of scheme draws in those who are struggling, the brokers deliberately target rural areas where there are known debts.

Our young leader's mother is supporting the family on her own, as well as looking after their grandmother. Out of desperate need, the mum took a loan from her employer. Now she works full time in a paid job but receives NONE of her salary. It goes directly to her employer to pay the exorbitant interest on the loan, 10% per month. 

With this kind of financial pressure hanging over her family- directly affecting her, with cultural pressures at play, the Japan job is SO tempting. Our young leader is willing to give up her own education and dreams of being an English professor at a university, to make quick cash, with the HOPE that she will be safe and that the job will be real. 

The reality is that all of the associated costs of the trip could become a huge debt held against her, so instead of repaying a debt she creates another one.  There is NO guarantee of a good income or safe working conditions, and once she has left her networks, language and everything familiar behind, she would be voiceless and completely at the mercy of a stranger.

This is THE standard human trafficking lure. 

Poverty is a complex problem and we have learned that there are no easy solutions. We have shared previously that primary education immunises the community against traffickers, and because this young woman is in Flame, she had a safe place to come with her fears and questions about the job opportunity in Japan. This is a timely reminder of the need to practically equip and arm our young people against those who would exploit and take advantage of them.

What other ways can we help this family?

Why does this job offer worry us? Just last week seven Cambodian women were rescued from a restaurant in Japan where they were allegedly forced into sex work.

The women, who are in their 20s, were lured to work at the restaurant in central Honshu in November with promises of high wages by a Japanese owner who arranged visas and airfares for them. Here's the link to the article

Japan has long been a destination for women from Southeast Asia seeking higher wages. Some find themselves forced into sex work or indentured labor.

Last August the Philippines warned its citizens against illegally traveling to Japan in search of work, saying they often risked being trafficked for sex or forced labor.

Washington’s annual report on human trafficking says Japan remains a “destination, source and transit” country for human trafficking despite a recent increase in prosecutions.

Let's keep the ambulance running at the bottom of the cliff... but work hard to build fences at the top.  

A Baby Is Born!

Flame recently celebrated the birth of a new baby: Thai Theraka! Thai and Chanthy are long time Flame mentors who give and give and love the Flame Leadership Academy young adults.


Thai has been a significant influence in the lives of many of our young guys, playing soccer regularly and meeting intentionally to share hearts, laughter and coffee! Chanthy has been deeply involved in mentoring the young women at the Flame Leadership Academy and is now a mother for the first time!

Please join us as we welcome their sweet, new baby :) An interesting twist is that the baby was delivered by Rithy!! We love the Flame Full Circle!!


The Flame young adults are the “top end of the Full Circle”... in university or vocational training, leading or participating in their initiatives in local slum communities. If you want to help young adults reach their potential, you can give easily using the donate button below. 

Rithy Visiting NZ

First, a massive thanks to our supporters. We cannot do this alone. Whether you give of your skills, time or tithe, or as part of your corporate CSR, you are an integral part of our core business of identidying, growing and launching leaders.

Everyone who attended one of the Stories from the Slums events we held in New Zealand last year would have seen the video of Rithy, the young doctor who leads our Flame Mobile Medical Tuktuk. If you missed seeing the video, it’s available for viewing on Flamecambodia.org

Next month Rithy will be speaking at different locations around NZ. 


Rithy’s story is a clear demonstration of the Flame Full Circle. As a child he was orphaned and wanderered the streets. As a doctor now, he is committed to providing basic healthcare for the slum dwelling communities around Phnom Penh. He has recently been accepted into the surgical specialization program at International University here in the capital. His entire degree was funded by a kind hearted GP in NZ.

We simply cannot do what we do without your support!  Please keep an eye out for the different times and places where you can meet Rithy next month. We will be posting details on Facebook.

We need new sponsors for our emerging Flame young leaders. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you would like to be part of the team. 

Again, thank you.


Support Flame and support a new generation of leaders who are making sustainable change in their communities.

Flame iNGO application successful!

Today amid cheers and laughter, Flame received the successful application of our iNGO application! This is the final outcome of well over one year of paperwork, interviews and pile upon pile of documents and some serious headaches!  

Thanks to our staff for their relentless hard work ... and for Maria Thyda who came alongside and really helped us get this over the line. Thanks also to the Ministries of Social Affairs and Foreign Affairs who approved our application. 

This is significant day in the life of Flame!   


Flame's impact on the young adults

These are quotes from some of our young leaders about life before Flame:-


"After [my father] died we only had my Mum  -we had no one to help us find food.  We all stopped studying and climbed palm trees to get the juice to sell. The rest of my family decided that I should go to school and they all went to Phnom Penh to find work. I stayed alone in Kampong Cham. I was only 6 years old. My parents died because there was no medical care, now I'm working on the Flame Mobile Medical Clinic once a week, giving free medical care to people living in the slums."


"I don’t ever remember my mother being nice to me. I desperately wanted to hear her say something nice to me but I never did. She loved my younger brother, but not me and I don’t know why. She would beat me and hit me and I never knew why she hit me. Now I am teaching little kids about photography in the exact slum where I grew up and I love it!"


This is why we love the work of Flame - we are giving these young people opportunities to study at university, to work towards a future they never dreamed possible. Please consider giving to Flame and be part of the story.


Makara Graduates from Flame

Makara has been with Flame since 2015, and is now ready to leave the Flame Leadership Academy and be launched into a new phase in her life. She started her Biology degree at the Royal University of Phnom Penh but had to drop out when her sister became terribly unwell and needed her alongside to help with her care. As orphans, these family relationships are very important. Makara has been volunteering at the Flame Activity Centre in Sensok and has enjoyed her time teaching younger slum living kids.

Makara has recently been accepted into an elite cooking school here in Phnom Penh run by Pierre Tami, a Swiss entrepreneur. The Academy of Culinary Arts Cambodia offered Makara a full scholarship, and she will be attending the course for two years, with six months of the course in house, and six months in a placement. 

She is super excited already about what she has been learning, and will be able to live off site with her younger sister and younger brother. We celebrate families and are so happy that she will be able to be with her siblings. We wish her all the best in this new adventure!! 


Makara the up n coming chef!  

Graduation Celebration

Deth is one of our youngest at the Flame Guy's Leadership Academy. He is 20, and last week graduated from high school!! This was a huge achievement, and we were all waiting with baited breath for his exam results!! The photo above is him jumping for joy :) He's a really fun guy!

He is now deciding exactly what he would like to do, what he would like to study ... and has a broad, broad horizon of hope stretching out in front of him! 

We are looking for a sponsor to walk with  Deth, please let us know if you'd like to partner with us on this exciting journey!

Young adults away together this weekend. Photo creds (selfie) by Yuhan Brang

Young adults away together this weekend. Photo creds (selfie) by Yuhan Brang

Mobile Medical Expansion

At Flame, it's not just what we do,    but who does it

Let me introduce you to Sothy... (Soh-tee) the current leader at our guy's leadership academy.   He is dreaming of running a second mobile medical Tuktuk, bringing free medical care into the slums of Phnom Penh.  

        Would you consider helping him?

Sothy's Story

When I was a child, my dad suffered from mental illness, he wanted to kill us kids. He took his own life when I was a just little guy and I was the one who found him hanging. My siblings left school to help support the family after he died, climbing palm trees to get the fruit used for juice, but then it was decided that I should go to school.  So, at 6 yrs old I was left alone in our family home, while everyone else went to Phnom Penh to find work. I couldn't cook or look after myself but I took care of the neighbour's animals, and in return they helped me. I was really scared of ghosts, I would hide under the covers at night. I was so alone.

My mum got sick and life took another turn. I remember looking at her sad face and feeling sad too, knowing I couldn't help her. I remember thinking to myself that if I knew about medicine, I could help her and could help other poor people too.

We had to sell our family home to pay for my mother's medicines. The money only lasted 3 weeks and 2 months after it ran out, my mother died. I was 7, and my little brothers were 2 and 3 years old.

I went back to living alone, and still had no idea how to cook for myself. I begged the neighbours "I will do anything for you, if you just give me something to eat!!" I stayed with them for one year until at 8, I was taken away with someone to live with a family. I remember staring out the window of the car as we drove away, trying to memorise the road because I was sure that I was being sold and would need to know how to get home again. 

It turned out to be a foster home situation and my sister and brothers joined me there and lived with the family for 7 years. We knew that we weren't really their kids, they loved their own children more than us. 

Now I am living at the Flame Leadership Academy and have just finished my 6th year of medical school. I have 2 more years of interning at local hospitals here in Phnom Penh before I can continue with my 4 year specialisation in paediatrics, which is my dream. I want to provide free medical care in rural Cambodia to children so that kids like I was are able to get medicines and the care they need. 

A second Tuktuk and motorbike have already been donated,  but Flame still needs ongoing costs of US$100 per week before we set this expansion in motion.  Would you be able to help us? 

Sothy has been working alongside Rithy for a year now, and will have our volunteer ER Nurse Alister accompanying him to the slums. We can't do this without your help. 

Sothy has been working alongside Rithy for a year now, and will have our volunteer ER Nurse Alister accompanying him to the slums. We can't do this without your help. 

Book Tuktuk

At Flame we believe that a tough childhood should not mean a tough future... that each kid we work with has the potential to become a leader in their community. 

I shot a quick video today of the Flame Book Tuktuk... check it out, it's shirt but cute! 

The Book Tuktuk is similar to Mobile Medical but instead of medicines, it brings BOOKS to kids who either aren't in school, or who are -but still need extra help. Read to a kid and a kid will read... great concept if the family are literate or if there are books at home, but with our families this isn't often the case. 

Sokann reading to the kids today

Sokann reading to the kids today

One of our case workers, Poeurn had the idea of bringing books to the slums. He remembers when he was a kid, that there just weren't any books at home and now as a Flame case worker he visits our families, and saw he same thing. He asked if Flame could do something ... and with a huge thanks to St Paul's Collegiate, the Book Tuktuk was born, 

Poeurn meeting with one of the families, with five young kids, none were in school... and they had lost their mother

Poeurn meeting with one of the families, with five young kids, none were in school... and they had lost their mother

Sokann is our book Tuktuk staff, otherwise known as the book Tuktuk star!!  He drives the Tuktuk and teaches the kids. The original idea was more like a mobile library but Sokann quickly found that even kids up to grade 4, were simply unable to read. So, responding to the need, he has turned this into a little mobile school, reading to the kids and teaching them their letters. The kids who attend the Book Tuktuk are often responsible for their younger siblings, so Sokann arranges a clean tarpoline for the littlies and today's activity was colouring in.  


If you like projects like this, please help us! We need regular monetary support to continue our work with these kids, to identify ones who should be in school and then help overcome the obstacles and break the poverty cycle. Check out our website and see what else we are doing!


Book tuktuk


Flame Heroes

Thai is a mentor at the Flame guy's Leadership Academy Home and spent some time talking with me last week. When he sees the young kids in our programs, he is reminded of himself as a grubby little boy. He believes that each of these kids, with the help of our supporters, can become adults like him who are able to be agents of positive change in their communities, to become leaders who know what's right and have the wisdom and strength to act.

The previous day a young man hurtled past Thai and Hounthy (our Sensok Activity Centre Leader) who were hanging out together. Hot on the man's heels was another guy, wielding a machete. The chase was on.

Without hesitation Hounthy took off after them -he wasn't going to sit back and watch a murder. This was no game, no rehearsal: someone was going to get seriously hurt.

The moment Hounthy ran off, Thai dropped everything and joined the chase, no way would he let Hounthy face the machete man  alone.

Thai tackled the machete man from behind trapping his arms to his sides, and Hounthy grabbed the machete before any harm was done. Disaster was averted.

Were these Flame Leaders right to get involved? Hounthy's conscience would not allow him to be a passive bystander. Thai felt it was his responsibility to step in when the security guard simply watched.

How often do we know what's right but lack the courage to do what's right? 

Flame promotes courage: to 'live boldly with the knowledge that God is with us.'

Honestly, it takes courage to invest in the lives of broken kids, not knowing what decisions they will make, where they will go, but we see the fruit of that investment in Thai and Hounthy today; street kids turned heroes. 

You can invest in the lives of these kids too and become part of their story. It's easy to become a Flame partner, just click here


Breast is Best

Newborn babies and mother's milk, a beautifully designed combination, right?

This mum would be able to feed her baby, but her wee girl is the 6th child in the family and dad's in jail. Mum is alone, so although she has plenty of milk, she will go to work and leave bubs to one of the siblings to mind. This is a choice she will make to feed the family. She has asked if we could help by providing baby formula. Babies born into struggling families cannot get the "Best", but with some help, they can survive.


Huge thanks to our kind donors who make the work we do in the slums possible. We can't do this without you! If you'd like to help, please donate on the Flame website

Where is Hope?

Warning: I found this hard to write, you may find it hard to read.

A Flame child has been raped. The perpetrator has been arrested, but the crime committed against this girl will follow her for life. Can anyone communicate this kind of thing without loosing hope?

We have been waiting for some closure or news before letting our supporters know, letting the dust settle around the publicity too. Her picture was published in the papers and she was ostracized and bullied for telling. When someone is arrested in the community, there is a sense of betrayal, and a communal acknowledgement of lost income, and she's to blame. Her journey is a long hard one, that's for sure.

The perpetrator was arrested the day after her grandmother went to the police with the support of the assistant village leader and reported the crime, but we are unsure of where it's been left. Often times the perp will pay off the police and give a gift to the family, a kind of out-of-court settlement.

We are glad to say that the girl has been removed from the community and placed into protective care. When she returns to her family she will need ongoing counselling and support.

I know a young adult who has incredible trauma in her past, her childhood was a series of nightmares... but today, she is a confident leader in her community, she is bright, vivacious, and determined that her past will not limit her future. She is a student at university, and her dream is to help women to be safe when they travel as migrant labourers. 

I think about the little girl and I am so deeply disturbed, but when I look at what she has the potential to become, I feel I can breathe again.  

If you want to help kids like this to become strong nation changers, please donate.  


Kids colouring at one of our centers