APUS Alumni Stories: Stopping Human Trafficking Abroad
Author: Melanie Conner
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Start a public health degree at American Public University.
By Melanie Conner, APUS Alumni Affairs Liaison and Rebekah Journey, APU Graduate
Rebekah (“Bren”) Journey completed her master’s in public health in 2017 at American Public University. After graduation, she became an APU ambassador so she could effectively connect with other students and alumni. Bren was a part of the first ambassadors program.
Bren is now a corporate recruiter at Performance Matters Associates, an insurance agency in Carmel, Indiana. She specializes in recruiting insurance agents and managers, but Bren’s career also encompasses public health, a field she has been involved in for years.
As a victim of childhood domestic abuse, Bren is naturally interested in becoming an advocate for children and for the restoration of families. That interest evolved into a global education on child predators and anti-trafficking initiatives.
Once she completed her GED and started an associate degree at Moody Bible Institute, Bren pursued various paths – including the ministry – to gain an understanding of the causes of abuse. In 2001, she joined Legacy of Hope International (LoHI) after learning of the Khmer Rouge genocide from a friend and genocide survivor in the United States.
January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Learn more about Bren and LoHI’s human trafficking prevention efforts in Cambodia.
LoHI assists in community development through education and public health initiatives, including human trafficking prevention. Bren is currently the CEO of LoHI.
During this time, Bren renewed her interest in outreach efforts to help the homeless. She began fundraising for shelters and thrift stores.
Helping the Homeless and Educating Others about Human Trafficking
Bren started going to Cambodia in 2007 and has visited the country several times. Bren’s experience in Cambodia raised her interest in the public health issues that the country faces, including disease transmission, abuse and disparities. For example, women in Cambodia lack education in areas such as basic health, disease prevention and sexual health.
While enrolled in APU public health courses, Bren wrote a book for Cambodian village children. The book’s plot teaches readers an important lesson about safety, who to trust and to avoid it in a culture where forced labor and sex trafficking are an unfortunate reality. The story is printed into the standard school writing tablets that all Cambodian children are required to have in grade school.
Bren says, “We partnered with Chab Dai Coalition and Helpline Cambodia in hopes to have a broader base. We seek to help youths who are in trouble or know someone that needs help.
“We only have one dormitory for the children who are most at risk of being trafficked. Local predators know that these children live in families where the parents are not home full-time, there is poverty and family members have been lost.”
“We are currently meeting to discuss developing a curriculum that a local leader has created and needed follow-up research. Also, another non-profit has asked us to write a sequel story for those who are tricked into human trafficking by family members or someone who has built trust with a victim over the years.”
The book includes contact information (such as a child helpline) and offers a great starting point for the School Notebook Human Trafficking/Slavery Prevention program, which is called “I Am Safe.” The program is sponsored by individual donors, organizational grants, fundraising efforts and Freedom’s Promise.
Bren works with Kanhchany Sipha from Freedom’s Promise and Sam Raguigan, the LoHI Cambodian Director. She says, “There are also several volunteers in the U.S., Cambodia and the Philippines that we all work with. These volunteers vary throughout the year.”
There is also a pilot outreach program in conjunction with Freedom’s Promise and Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Cambodia. This program will study how human trafficking education works in the Cambodian school curriculum and follow-up efforts.
Future Plans in Human Trafficking Education
Bren is exploring various career options, including working for the FBI’s Innocence Lost Program. Similar to LoHI’s vision, Bren wants to see thriving communities where empowered locals provide life-changing education. She also plans to continue her fight against human trafficking.
Bren says that her education at APU and her knowledge gained from the public health program has encouraged her to study, ask questions and learn from the outstanding mentors she has known, including those from the Salvation Army, a forerunner of anti-human trafficking efforts and caring for the homeless. In her capstone course, she focused on the connection between pornography and human trafficking as they relate to Cambodia.
Education Is Vital to Preventing More People from Being Victimized
Bren advises anyone who is interested in a career in human trafficking prevention to continue to learn, read and ask questions. They should also watch training materials, such as “The Playground Project” by Libby Spears or “You Can Be The One” by the Texas Attorney General.
She believes in reading for growth and development. Bren is currently reading “The New Testament: An Expanded Translation” by Kenneth Wuest and “When Charity Destroys Dignity” by Glenn J. Schwartz.
Bren says that her greatest accomplishment to date is being part of a loving family and the peace that she feels with them. She hopes to bring peace to other families by raising public awareness of the need to end human trafficking and slavery.