Friday, May 30, 2014

THE BITTER SWEET TASTE OF SUCCESS



 The return to their family of Rosa and Chita two days ago, stolen by Brisbane-based Citipointe church close to 6 years ago, should have been a joyous occasion. It was not. For reasons that I can only speculate about, Citipointe chose to make the re-integration as traumatic as possible for the girls.

Rosa and Chita will survive. They will get over this latest human rights abuse inflicted by Citipointe church, but it will take time.

Before recounting the events of the last few days, I would like to acknowledge the important role played by the ABC. A couple of months ago Lateline’s Steve Cunnane ran a story that was seen by many more people than read my blog, giving the story ‘legs’.

One of those who viewed Lateline was Mr Michael Johnson, a Brisbane based barrister and former member of parliament. He offered to act pro bono on behalf of Chanti and Chhork and wrote to the church. (See below if interested) Michael’s letter set in motion a sequence of events that led to the bitter-sweet conclusion of two days ago.

Without the ABC, without ‘Lateline’ and ‘Four Corners’ and other such programs unafraid to ask difficult questions and hold people in positions of power accountable, our democracy would be greatly diminished. The ABC is a national treasure. And without lawyers with a pro bono passion to see justice done, the poor and powerless are all too easily screwed by the rich and powerful. Thank you ABC. Thank you Michael Johnson.

The release of Rosa and Chita back into their family two days ago should have been an occasion for unalloyed joy and celebration. It has not turned out that way.  Rosa and Chita are both in shock.  The church gave the girls no notice that they were about to be torn away from their ‘SHE Rescue Home’ friends, their school mates and teachers, their familiar surroundings and daily routines. The only world they have known for the past six years was destroyed by Citipointe’s lack of empathy (and perhaps even concern) for the impact this would have on an 11 and a 12 year old girl - both unceremoniously delivered back to their family, unannounced, in a materially poor village in which there are none of the first world amenities Rosa and Chita had become accustomed to, living in a Christian institution.

The re-integration of children back into their families after a long absence is a process that must happen slowly, step by step, with the emotional and psychological well-being of the children always foremost in the minds of the adults in control of re-integration. The lack of such a process here has resulted in Chita spending much of the past 2 days in tears. She misses her friends. She refuses to speak with anyone, has withdrawn into herself and appears to be very depressed. Rosa is coping better but only just. If Citipointe had set out to make the re-integration process as painful as possible for the girls, the church could not have chosen a better way to do so. It seems that Citipointe, in a panic that the church might be sued by Micharl Johnson for the illegal 2008 removal of the girls, chose to get rid of them poste haste – hoping that in so doing questions surrounding the legality of the church’s removal and detention would simply disappear. The church has put self-interest above the emotional needs of the girls during what Pastors Leigh Ramsey and Brian Mulheran knew in advance would be a difficult transition.

The re-integration process, after six years of institutional living, should have occurred slowly and in accordance with a well thought out plan. Rosa and Chita should have been allowed weekend visits to their family for a few months to give them a chance to become accustomed to the radical changes that were to occur in their lives. They should be allowed, now, to maintain contact with the friends they have grown to love within the ‘SHE Rescue Home’ this past six years. They should have been given the opportunity to finish one school term in their Citipointe school and start a new term in their new school. As it has turned out, I was two hours away from flying back to Australia when I learnt that Citipointe had delivered the girls back to their family two days ago – the parents, Chanti and Chhork instructed to place their thumb prints on a document (which they could not read) that absolves the church of any wrong-doing (read below is such details are of interest).

I had to cancel my flight to Australia and have spent much of today arranging for the girls to be enrolled in a new school.

It would seem that Citipointe has timed the return of Rosa and Chita to occur at a time when I was not in the country and to do it in such a way as to cause maximum distress to the girls themselves – thus making them want to return to the ‘SHE Rescue Home’.

After all these years of coming to Cambodia, knowing the country well and understanding the way corruption works (it pervades every aspect of life here), I am nonetheless astounded that Citipointe has been able to manipulate the Cambodian judiciary and the Ministry of Social Affairs in such a way as to leave the church free to steal the daughters of materially poor Cambodians with impunity. More shocking, perhaps, is the fact that such illegal removals can occur with the full knowledge and tacit approval of the Australian Ambassador to Cambodia and the Department of Foreign Affairs; that the Australian Council for International Development – whose job it is to see to it that AusAID-approved NGOs obey the law of their host country and the ACFIF Code of Conduct – refuses to even ask Citipointe, or its funding partner the Global Development Group, to produce documentary evidence of the legality of its 2008 removal of the girls.

The two beds in the ‘SHE Rescue Home’ occupied by Rosa and Chita will soon be filled by two other girls whose materially poor parents will have been duped into believing the church wants to help them. They will soon discover that they have lost all their rights as parents guaranteed by Cambodian law, by Australian law and by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The illegal removal of these two girls will be funded by AusAID approved tax-deductible charity dollars. The two girls will be re-packaged for gullible sponsors and donors as  ‘victims of human trafficking’. This will result in vast sums of money flowing into the coffers of Citipointe, whilst the church pursues its other religious goal – turning these girls into young Pentecostals and, in the process, alienating them from their family, their community, their culture and their religion.

There are days when Cambodia breaks your heart. Today is one of them for me. The bitter taste is offset by the sweetness of seeing Chanti’s family together for the first time in six years.

PS

Citipointe’s farewell gift to Rosa and Chita was a 50 kilo bag of rice ($35) and two second hand bicycles ($60).

12 comments:

  1. Witness to CorruptionMay 30, 2014 at 7:06 AM

    Wow! You're not worried about being sued for defamation,Mr Ricketson?

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    1. No, I am not worried about being sued for defamation. Indeed, I wish either Citipointe of the Global Development Group would sue me so that the facts, the truth, would be made available for all to see as a result of the ensuing court case. There should be the equivalent of a Royal Commission or an ICAC enquiry into the aid business. I think, if there were, that the public would be as shocked by the scams that would come to light as they are by what is being revealed by the current ICAC hearings in NSW. When there are tax-payer dollars floating free there will always be scoundrels and outright crooks who find a way of seeing to it that as many as possible of these dollars flow into their own bank accounts. When it comes to ‘rescuing’ ‘orphans’ or ‘victims of human trafficking’ these scoundrels and crooks know full well that there are few in the press or in any sphere of public life who will publicly hold them accountable. To question the motives of the wonderful people rescuing ‘orphans’ and other such victims is to leave yourself open to the accusation of heartlessness and cynicism. More than once (indeed many times) I have been presented with the proposition, “But even if only one child benefits, isn’t that a good thing?” My answer is usually along the lines of, “Would you apply the same logic to a hospital? Would the saving of one child at a cost of $ one million be a good idea if the same money, spent appropriately, cold save the lives of 100 children?” Scam operators such as Citipointe church (and its funding partner the Global Development Group) appeal to the hearts of donors and sponsors (cute kids, gushing water pumps etc) and invite these generous people to ask no questions but to accept, as a matter of faith, that the NGO has nothing but the best interests of the recipients of aid at heart. This is not so.

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  2. Christian scum!

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    1. No, just seriously misguided people who truly believe they they have a right, nay, a duty, to win souls for Jesus Christ. Any and all tactics used to achieve this end are OK in their minds. If this means pain and suffering for the parents of the children they steal, this is but a small price to pay for saving the souls of these children. If it means threatening to have someone such as myself arrested, jailed and banned from coming to Cambodia again (which Citipointe has tried to do) this can all be justified on the grounds that I am preventing them from doing the work that they believe God has ordained them to do. What appals me most is that this past close to six years Citipointe church has provided not one dollar in the way of support for Chanti's family. Instead, it has made money out of Rosa and Chita by presenting the girls to donors and sponsors as 'victims of human trafficking.' This is a lie, a serious form or fraud, but the church can and does get away with it because there is no rule of law in Cambodia and no-one in a senior government position within Australia to even ask questions about practices such as these - rife in Cambodia.

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  3. Here is another NGO about which lots of questions should be, need to be, asked. They are not because, as with Somaly Mam, Scott Neeson has such a well-oiled publicity machine and spends sufficient on marketing himself to make him immune from even being asked questions. Go to :

    http://cambodianchildrensfund.blogspot.com/

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    1. James this is a very interesting NGO operation.

      I just did a bit of a search on Scott Neeson and apparently he had a guy McCabe, who has a criminal record, as head of his Child Protection unit. OMG....what about Working with children checks??
      And he called you a "voyeur". Why would he even use a word such as this?? A projection perhaps?? I remember seeing him on Australian Story.
      He has even done a TEDX talk.
      I mean he portrays himself like a priest sacrificing all to help others.

      This guy really has his bases covered....but who is he really??....why would he give up his career and wealth??

      If he has employed a guy with a criminal record [ drug trafficking ] as head of his child protection unit and stands by him is Scott Neeson in Cambodia to protect children.. if not then why is he there...?? Chris

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    2. Chris, Scott has done such a brilliant job at presenting himself as a kind of secular saint (as did Somaly Mam) that very few in Cambodia will even ask questions as obvious as yours. There are a few people now asking such questions but whether or not the English language newspapers would even dream of doing any investigative journalism remains to be seen. I suspect not. Every town needs its heroes and Scott has done a good job of presenting himself as one. And, of course, he is buddies with the right Hollywood starts and starlets and raises megabuck flying kids to Hollywood to dance for the celebrities at parties. Exploitation of the worse kind in my book. When I was filming a few days ago in a small community adjacent to the dump I spoke with one mother and father who earn, between them, $10 a week. Their 18 year old daughter lives in a CCF institution, goes to school there and visits her family once a month for a day. The model that Scott works on necessitates the separation of children from their parents - up to 2,000 of them. They live in institutions and he can present himself as their 'saviour;' whilst their parents and other siblings still work in the dump.

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    3. James, when these children are "rescued" from the dump how do they choose which child will be "saved"? Is it the most attractive child?
      I mentioned this practice to my journalist daughter and she made some parallels to a photographer/refugee/journalist Barat Ali Batoor who did a talk at TEDX sydney recently.
      This guy won an award with the Washington Post for an article he wrote about The Dancing Boys Afghanistan.
      http://www.washingtonpost.com/pb/world/the-exploitation-of-afghanistans-dancing-boys/2012/04/04/gIQAV8oRwS_gallery.html

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  4. James I have followed this story with interest...and having worked in child protection for the best part of a decade. I have also worked in institutional settings and how absolutely irresponsible are Citepointe church the way they just dumped the girls for fear of exposure ....and by traumatising the girls Rosa and Chita in this way that somehow it would appear the girls wanting to return vindicate them. They have only demonstrated that they never did care for the girls in the first place and who are by now highly institutionalised...

    As you say the Citipointe church will continue to exploit the poverty in Cambodia and sell their particular fundamentalist brand of "christianity" being Pentecostal.

    But you have exposed this particular NGO and mobilised some powerful/fearless allies. Your own journalistic integrity and determination to see this through has been second to none. Not to mention inspirational.

    Your telling the story over such a long period is a legacy and not only exposed the corruption of this church but the absence of accountability or political will by governments to do anything. Your work is a great contribution to all those agitating for change and social justice in these poverty stricken countries.

    I am sure on a personal level your association with this family will help give them the strength to heal and reunite. The girls Rosa and Chita are still young and no doubt resilient. Chris

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    1. Thanks, Chris. Yes, Rosa and Chita will get over this latest round of hurt. They are far better off than the majority of Cambodians who have no-one to advocate on their behalf; no-one such as myself to call if they have no rice to eat. It makes me angry, however, to think that two other girls will now occupy the beds that Rosa and Chita have vacated. I will probably never know their names,never meet them and never hear from their parents when they discover that they have been used by the church and that they have, in effect, had their daughters kidnapped. they will be devastated, as Chanti and Chhork were in in 2008. If I can get nowhere writing to four different Australian Ministers for Foreign Affairs, get nowhere writing to the Austlaian embassy in Cambodia, get nowhere making a complaint to the Australian Council for International Development, what chance do these parents have of getting their daughters back? Zero. Citipointe will enter into a corrupt deal with the Ministry of Social Affairs here in Cambodia such that the wishes of the parents, should they even know how to make a complaint, will be ignored. Citipointe will throw the ball back into the Ministry's court and say, "It is not our decision when these girls can be returned to their family. It is up to the Ministry of Social Affairs." There is a 'stolen generation' of Cambodian kids taking place before our very eyes and no-one in a position to do anything about it will do anything about it; even say anything about it. And, for reasons that remain a mystery to me, the mainstream media (with the exception of the ABC's 'Lateline') will not touch this story with a barge pole. This may be because Citipointe has a tendency to fire off threatening legal letters to any journalist who starts to ask questions. Perhaps, in the new cash-strapped circumstances that the mainstream media finds itself in, possibility of an expensive law suit is enough to induce them to leave a story such as this alone. Thank God for blogs but blogs such as mine are of limited value - reaching only a few thousand where what is required is a readership of 10s of thousands if politicians are to pay attention to this new 'stolen generation'

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  5. omg James, this story never ends. how awful for the little girls. how could they just dump them off without a little integration. my god that church is really full of sick sick people. these little girls are going to have issues for a long time. i hope the love in the family is really strong, i hope the litttle girls over time know how much there parents love them and what the church did to them. i hope there not brain washed by the church. amazing you were still there and able to go to them. Your a really good person

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  6. Hi James, sounds like the lack of 3rd party overseeing whats going on in these NGO's . how do they get the children in the first place, removing a child from a poor family in the name of sponsorship dollars is insane. how terrible for the family . watched some youtube clips on Neeson . its all about him and his job before who cares. he worked in a marketing dept.
    Beck (Aust)

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