As a young girl born to farmer parents in Cambodia, Thuy was considered as little better than the livestock. She was fed pig slop, which she shrugged off as being “nothing really. People eat a lot worse things.”
What truly wounded her was being treated like an animal by her family. “Growing up like this, I lost what it means to be normal,” she said. “I spent days in isolation. I dropped out of school. I never spoke. I was lonely. I was terrified.
“I was desperate.”
Thuy eventually ran away and found a safe haven with Hagar International, a Cambodia-based organization dedicated to the recovery and empowerment of women and children who are victims of human-rights abuse, particularly domestic violence, human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Tim Rann (’07) is the CEO of Hagar Social Enterprise Group, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hagar International. With a degree in accountancy from the Mendoza College of Business, Rann uses his business expertise to help young, abused women and children such as Thuy living in Cambodia, Vietnam and Afghanistan.
The international Christian organization provides shelter from violence and trafficking, with the ultimate goal of providing vocational training and employment so they can lead independent lives. Rann, who wanted to find a career that employed his business skills yet allowed him to be directly involved at an operational level – to “get his hands dirty,” in his words – fills a broad variety of roles. Tim manages Hagar’s portfolio of social enterprise investments, including Joma Bakery Cafe (a multinational café chain) and Hagar Catering and Facilities Management (Cambodia’s largest food services provider). Both provide dignified employment and growth opportunities to over 400 individuals from Hagar’s programs and other non-profit organizations. On any given day he might be helping the businesses with human resources development, financial planning, or business strategy. Tim is currently based in Vietnam and working closely with Joma Bakery Café as it opens its third café in Hanoi.
Hagar’s primary service is to provide a safe place for women and children in danger. But the group’s ultimate goal is to provide the women with medical care, counseling and vocational skills training so that they can pursue an independent life, whether that means working for one of Hagar’s business partners, reintegrating into their previous community or family, or starting a business enterprise of their own.
That means giving them the relevant skills they need to compete in the marketplace, not providing subsidized care and employment for life.
“We do a disservice to these women if we don’t give them a supportive, professional environment where they can learn to work up to the rigors of the actual market,” said Rann.
Rann made the decision to devote his life to service after being struck by the poverty of the villages in China, where he taught English his freshman year at Notre Dame. He saw a real need for business skills in many of the organizations that serve the disenfranchised, so he chose to earn an accountancy degree rather than the more usual route of social service.
His career includes working with a number of start-up social enterprises and development organizations in Southeast Asia, including PEPY Tours (responsible tourism), Hydrologic Health (water and sanitation), Discovery Farms (organic agriculture), Career Pathways (employability training and career counseling services), and First Finance (low-income housing loans and property development).
Now, after living in Cambodia for several years, he faces a fresh challenge as Hagar opens a chapter in Afghanistan, where decades of violence have created critical shortages in housing, clean water, medical care and food. According to Hagar, rape, prostitution and bonded labor are common, and the exploitation and trafficking of women and children are widespread.
Rann, who expects to relocate permanently to Kabul in May, writes about Afghanistan and other topics in his blog, Responsible Nomad (http://responsiblenomad.wordpress.com/). Here’s an excerpt describing his early impressions of the country:
There is a tension in the air – you feel it every time you step outside a compound. You feel it when you walk down the street and everyone exchanges glances at each other. But then something strikes you: children playing soccer in the streets, boys AND girls in little uniforms laughing and walking home from primary school, bustling street markets, overflowing multistory restaurants, paved boulevards lined with green trees framed by snow capped mountains, women in gorgeous bright headscarves (not always burqas). Life goes on. As a very good man told me: “We have been through a lot. So long as we can fly our kites and be with our families, that is all we need.” In the face of immense challenges, happiness appears relatively simple.
From my limited experience, you live as if that “moment” can come at anytime and that state of mind had a profound impact on me. Trivial things attract a new sense of importance. Acclimated to staying inside compounds or vehicles all the time, even just taking a small step out into the street in front of our office was like ecstasy. I remember taking a massive breath of air in the open street and smiling to the heavily armed guard in the adjacent courtyard. I’ve been in some sublime natural environments in the middle of nowhere and they failed to match the sense of freedom I had in the late afternoon moment on the dusty street in Kabul. Like I wrote last year in my blog about riding to Mondulkiri, sometimes you have to put yourself in extreme situations to be reminded about the beauty in the tiny aspects of life.
To learn more about Hagar International, visit http://www.hagarinternational.org/.