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A conversation with Shannon Bauman

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Q. Where were you born and how did you come to be in Swan River?
A. I was raised in Brandon and moved to Swan River, nearly 30 years ago. We moved because of my husband’s work.

Q. How did you first find out about organizations like Destiny Rescue (DR)?
A. In about 2012, I was watching a television program and in it, there was a girl sitting in the back of a car, in Cambodia. She was telling, through many tears, how she had been sold as a virgin and had to service 10 men in her first night.
I came to find out that was common, but I didn’t know it at the time, and I was struck with the horror of the situation. I knew doing nothing was not an option for me, so I got on the phone and called that number on the program and they got me started in the right direction. After talking and looking around, I ended up joining a team of 16 men and women from California that was going to be travelling to Eastern Asia to visit some of the organizations.

Q. What did you do with this team from California?
A. I connected with the team at just the right time as they were going to Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand to make connections with rescue organizations. I went with them in 2013, and at that point we connected with DR really solidly.
We were able to meet the people that founded it and loved their hearts, their humility and their passion to saving the children. They are so dedicated and have made sacrifices to doing this work.

Q. Have you ever gone back?
A. Six months after my first trip, I went back and took a few people from the Valley and we spent a couple of weeks with the rescue girls.
We taught some ukelele classes, visited some rescue homes and just had fun with the girls, while learning more about DR.
Then my husband and I went back again in 2015. We just visited some of the homes and spent time with a few of the girls we sponsored which was really fun, and spent some time with another organization in Cambodia called Why Not Now (WNN).
On that trip, we got to go out and do some work on the streets with some of the girls who were selling their bodies. We also had the chance to visit some of the brothels, but we didn’t do any rescue work because it wouldn’t have been safe, and so we left it for the people who knew what they were doing. We just connected with some of the girls and treated them like the princesses they are and had conversations with them to let them know we care and that we love them.
We also gave them some money that would hopefully buy them some time, and allow them to have a night off. You always hope for the best, but really we just offered solutions to connect with organizations if they wanted to choose that option.

Q. What was the most memorable thing about these trips?
A. We are able to connect with the children who have lived lives of unimaginable horror and finally get to see the smiles on their faces because they get to be kids again.

Q. How does DR help the children once they are rescued?
A. DR actually pays the girls once they are rescued, even if they choose to continue their schooling or education. Paying children in Asia is of prime importance because if you don’t, they end up biting the bullet and going back into the same work because there is such a strong obligation to support their parents and families. These children will live lives of absolute horror because of the pressure to do that. So DR pays them so they have money to send home.

Q. How do you support DR and its work?
A. I specifically sponsor DR financially. They used to have a system where you would support individual girls, but they have now switched to a program where you sponsor a home that cares for a number of girls. My support now goes to a home in Laos, north of Thailand, so the money I send is allowing all of those girls to have a better opportunity for a future, and to have safety.

Q. How do DR and WNN rescue these children?
A. WNN is based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and they work through the legal system to document abuse, to rescue, and to prosecute the perpetrators.
On our 2015 trip, we visited Esther’s Home as the first visitors. In the home there were three siblings, two who were already victims of sexual abuse and they knew the third was next, but they had now been rescued and were being protected.
Thailand doesn’t always work through the legal system, but they will if there is a big raid. In fact, in Bangkok, we visited a big brothel that had been shut down, and they had rescued 19 underage children in that raid.
DR rescues girls differently. The founder, and some of the other workers, will go into brothels a number of times per week, marking them off their lists methodically, checking for underage girls. When they find some, they will pay the mama-san, the lady that runs the bar, the fee to take the girl out. The mama-san thinks the girl has been taken out for sex, but what the workers do is build relationships. They have to do this because trust is low, and why wouldn’t it be when the last person that bought her raped her. It takes about three visits with the same girl before a trust is built.
All of the girls have cell phones, because they aren’t held with physical chains but through mental and emotional chains. If a girl decides she wants to come to DR, she is able to contact the workers and they can meet somewhere. The brothel never knows where she went - she could have run away or gone home, but they don’t associate the rescue with DR because it doesn’t happen on site.

Q. How has this impacted you personally?
A. It has made me more aware that this is a reality that kids are living through every day of their lives. It’s horrific and I didn’t realize how prevalent it was for parents to sell their kids into trafficking.
Their own parents are not fighting for them, so I feel the responsibility as a global mom that I have to do something, whether they’re my kids or not. They’re my kids in the sense that the Earth is my home. I can’t just accept the fact that this is happening to children.

Q. Do you ever look at statistics to see how things are changing?
A. I purposely don’t look at the stats. When I look at the numbers, it just looks ovewhelming, but looking into the children’s faces and knowing there’s one girl I can help, that’s what matters to me. I can make a difference in one life, and then another, and then another.

Q. You started Free Thru Me. What do you sell and what are the proceeds for?
A. I make and sell jewelry. I started as a means to raise money in order to rescue and care for child victims of sex trafficing.
It started on a whim and has grown over the years. The jewelry centres around locks and keys because of the symbolism. Locks represent captivity and the keys represent freedom, so we call our jewelry Un-Locket jewelry.
I simply market the earrings, but I make the bracelets and necklaces. I have them on my Facebook page, and I also sell them at Rumors Skate and Snow, and at some local trade shows.
Being here in North America, one of the things I’ve had to fight is being removed from the situation and forgetting the pain that these children go through. It’s easy to start thinking about the other ways the money could be used, but when I look at the pictures again and refocus about why I stated, it keeps me walking the path of integrity to send 50 percent of the proceeds, which goes directly to the rescue of and care for these children.

Q. Why should others become involved in supporting organizations like DR?
A. In Canada and North America, there are organizations, like CFS, that are involved in helping children in unfortunate situations, but it’s not always as easy to become personally involved.
In countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, India and Laos, there are no organizations. If the families of the children are selling them into this and aren’t doing anything to get them out, then someone has to do something. If we don’t step in and help, no one will.
For more information about DR, visit their website at www.destinyrescue.org. To learn more about Free Thru Me or to support them, visit their Facebook page: Free thru Me.

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Jessica Bergen
REPORTER
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