By Anna Seeley, EMI Cambodia
Agape International Mission (AIM) opened their doors in Cambodia in 2006.
Their mission: “To rescue, restore, and reintegrate survivors of sex trafficking through Christ’s love and Gospel.
“To prevent sex trafficking by protecting, equipping and empowering vulnerable and exploited communities, reducing demand and equipping the local church to do the same worldwide.”
Their focus is the community of Svay Pak—an area known for child sex trafficking. What started with a restoration home in 2006 has since grown to prevention, employment, rescue, and education.
AIM learned early on that education was a crucial factor in prevention.
Because Svay Pak was a poor community with a large number of un-registered Vietnamese, the opportunities for any education—let alone quality education—were nearly zero. And without education, children have little value in the eyes of society or sometimes even in their families.
When the AIM School first began in 2010, it was in one small building that AIM was renting. They then spread into two buildings, then three, and by 2015, AIM School was spread across the community in spaces that were never designed for teaching.
These buildings had unreliable plumbing and few bathrooms, making AIM’s child-safety protocol extremely difficult. At one-point teachers even had to escort the children across a busy road to eat lunch.
AIM was doing the work God had called them to with what they had, but AIM was praying and dreaming of a better space, the ‘promised land’ as they called it.
They first began looking at land and planning for a new building in 2015. This was followed by development, land-purchasing agreements. Finally, in 2018, construction began.
Also in 2018, EMI Cambodia opened their doors one year after launching and intentional language & cultural acquisition. Our mission: “To develop people, design structures, and construct facilities which serve communities and the Church.”
With five expatriate and two Khmer staff, the team was ready to start doing projects, but still lacked knowledge about the local context. Through the language school and church network, Chris Hardrick (EMI staff engineer) and Kimberly Hogsett (AIM School Director) got in touch with each other.
AIM was just beginning their new school construction project, but they were already facing many challenges in the process. Kimberly invited Chris to come visit the site with the Assistant Director, Eng Hong.
Before EMI came into the picture, Eng said she felt things were “messy.”
“We see the schedule, for example—the tile is finished. But we don’t know what kind of tile, or where they put it, does it match the plan or not? We don’t know,” Eng remembers.
The construction company was coming to them daily with more and more questions about quantities, time lines, and even the building layout.
Kimberly and Eng are educators. Though incredibly skilled in their line of work, they didn’t have the knowledge or resources to answer these questions with any kind of confidence.
From that first visit it was obvious that AIM needed someone to walk them through the process and help them understand the choices that they were making.
The relief and benefit was quickly evident for AIM: EMI provided the space Kimberly and Eng needed to focus on their educational skills and programs.
But the benefits of being part of this project have been equally valuable for EMI Cambodia as well.
During the course of the construction project, almost everyone on the team spent time on AIM School at one point or other. Now EMI Cambodia Director, Chris says, “Our entire construction management system was born out of what we learned from the AIM School project.”
The AIM School project allowed our team to take our theoretical knowledge and mostly Western experience and learn how it applies in the Cambodian context. We quickly learned where our expectations were too high, where and how we needed to change.
AIM came along at just the right time for EMI, and EMI came along at just the right time for AIM. Our help kept them from stressing about a construction project and released them to focus on their calling.
When AIM looks at their school today, they are filled with thankfulness for what God has provided:
A building in which to provide the education that gives children value in the eyes of the community. A place that gives confidence and self-worth to each child. And a beautiful space where future leaders of this community can learn they are children of God.