In the slums and poor villages of Cambodia, the specter of slavery lurked.
Women and girls were sold into the sex trade. Poor people were held down with poor education and no chance to advance themselves. Workers were paid far less than a living wage.
Chris Alexander saw the perils facing these women and decided to dedicate his life to being a positive influence of change.
He founded the Center for Global Impact, a nonprofit organization that empowers the poor through vocational training programs in sewing and culinary arts. The goal is to take the talents that people have in extremely impoverished countries such as Cambodia and provide them with an outlet to earn a fair living wage.
ABOUT THE ORGANIZATION
Center for Global Impact
A faith-based organization designed to creatively connect financial and human resources with the less fortunate
2560 Fairview Place Suite W, Greenwood
Teaches impoverished women how to sew handbags and other accessories. They are employed by the Center for Global Impact, and the women receive fair wages while their products are marketed internationally.
Green Mango Cafe and Bakery
Students are enrolled in a two-year training program that will prepare them to enter into the most distinguished kitchens in Cambodia. They put their skills to work in the Green Mango Cafe, a working restaurant in Cambodia’s Battambang City.
A two-year residential program where girls receive life-skills training, education, health care, money-management and professional seamstress training. They craft gowns that are sold in the United States.
Educates kids and families on the realities of poverty around the world. The program creates fun and unique opportunities for kids to use their passions and abilities to make a positive impact in the lives of children around the world.
How to help
The center, at 2560 Fairview Place Suite W, Greenwood, is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, where it sells byTavi purses, bags and scarves.
Interested volunteers can contact Kristen Baynai at email@example.com.
Donations can be made at the center or centerforglobalimpact.org.
Since its founding in 2008, the Greenwood-based organization has helped close to 50 women. Heading into the coming year, organizers want to expand programming to men and children, as well.
“The heart is to engage people here to help the poor and impoverished areas throughout the world,” said Joyce Long, communications coordinator for the Center for Global Impact. “It’s a bridge between two cultures — one that needs help, and one that can provide that help.”
In impoverished areas of the world, sex trafficking is the only way some families can support themselves. The Center for Global Impact aims to prevent people from falling to that level of poverty, said Whitney Vance, marketing coordinator for the center.
“It’s not uncommon for family members to sell one of their children if they’re that desperate,” she said.
The organization doesn’t directly rescue women involved in human trafficking. Rather, representatives approach the communities where the practice is common and help train women to work and support themselves.
By giving them the skills to earn a living, they prevent people from resorting to human trafficking, Long said.
Focusing on Cambodia
When the Center for Global Impact was founded, its volunteers worked in several countries around the world. Alexander helped found programs such as honeybee hives in Kosovo, a bakery in Guatemala and poultry production in Indochina.
But over the past 1½ years, the focus has been Cambodia. Alexander chose the southeastern Asian nation because of the crushing poverty affecting its population.
According to the CIA Factbook, 31 percent of the population falls below the world poverty line. Poor workers make $1.25 per day or less, hardly enough to support one person, let alone a family.
Alexander described one 16-year-old girl they helped. After her mother became sick, she was forced to collect recyclable material to help support the family.
The girl would rise at 6 a.m. and canvass the slums outside her town for bottles, cans and cardboard. On her best day, she made $3. Most of the time, it was $1 or less.
Alexander helped the girl get into the culinary training program offered by the Center for Global Impact. She currently works at the center’s restaurant, able to provide her family with food, a larger house and schooling.
As a 20-year veteran of mission trips to Zambia and the Ukraine, Alexander witnessed firsthand what poverty can do to a family. When he returned, he served as missions pastor for Indian Creek Christian Church in Indianapolis.
As he was planning mission work, Alexander noticed that people were engaged in missions only when they decided to go on a trip. There were few sustainable projects set up where local residents could continuously help support the projects being planned around the world.
His goal became to get everyone in the church involved in different ways, even if they couldn’t travel abroad. He left the church and formed the Center for Global Impact to serve as that bridge.
Needle and thread
Alexander spends much of the year in Cambodia. After coming back to Indiana for six weeks for the holidays, he returned to Asia at the beginning of January. Because Internet connection is difficult to get, he was unavailable for comment on this story.
One of the center’s first programs was byTavi, which teaches women how to use sewing machines and manipulate fabric to make designer-quality handbags. The stylish purses, satchels and scarves have been scooped up by social-minded consumers here in Johnson County.
The project was born when Alexander met a Cambodian woman named Tavi. The world she lived in had been ravaged by the AIDS virus.
Both her husband and daughter died of the disease. Tavi herself is HIV-positive. Struggling to feed and clothe her remaining son and daughter, she rarely could make enough money to pay for retroviral medication at the nearby clinic.
Alexander wanted to empower her and bought her a mushroom pod to help her grow mushrooms under her house to sell at the local market. Though the garden allowed her to make a living for her family, people soon started stealing the mushrooms.
So Alexander bought a sewing machine and started a seamstress program instead.
Tavi and three other women started sewing brightly colored pillowcases with Cambodian designs. From that, the project has grown to include 42 women.
“It’s better for them to feel empowered, instead of handing over supplies that will help them for a week but then hurt them in the long run,” said Kristen Baynai, the center’s volunteer coordinator.
With the success of byTavi, other opportunities presented themselves.
‘More than a product’
The center founded Green Mango Cafe and Bakery, an eatery in Battambang City. Students enroll in a two-year training program to learn culinary arts.
Part of their education is hands-on learning. The students work every day in the cafe, serving food, preparing dishes and running the business. The hope is that by the time they graduate, they can be hired to work in fine restaurants throughout the country.
Another of the center’s programs is the Daughters Project. Young women learn how to sew dresses and other fashion accessories. Over time, they can sell those goods to U.S. retailers the Center for Global Impact has partnered with.
Sales of byTavi items make up most of the operating budget of other Center for Global Impact programs. The various projects require $15,000 each month for supplies, utilities and wages for the workers.
In 2011 and again last year, the center brought in more than $180,000 to fully support its work. The money comes from product sales, donations and fundraisers.
The Center for Global Impact offers people the chance to hold trunk shows using byTavi products. It has set up booths at women’s conferences and seminars throughout central Indiana.
“It starts in the grass roots. Volunteers become passionate about the project and go out and sell it to others,” Vance said. “It’s more than just a product; it’s a story. It’s people’s lives, changed.”
Inspired by vision trips
One of the greatest tools the center has are “vision trips” to Cambodia. Volunteers and others interested in helping with the center’s mission meet the women being helped, see the facilities and witness how these programs improve lives, Vance said.
Greenwood resident Jaime Roscoe and her husband, Jeremy, took a vision trip in early 2012. They were exploring various mission organizations but were drawn to the Center for Global Impact.
They were particularly interested in working with children, both in Cambodia and in central Indiana.
“We wanted to raise awareness of missions by doing things here in the U.S., and this let us do that,” Roscoe said. “They call it a ‘vision trip’ so that you’ll go and see what the projects are and come home to put it into practice the way that God called you.”
The Roscoes have been instrumental in founding the most recent Center for Global Impact program — CGIKids. The focus is to create opportunities and events for young people to experience missions locally.
They do work at homeless shelters and volunteer at benefit races. Occasionally, the group will hold Sacrifice Saturday. Kids pledge to skip one meal, to get an idea of what it’s like to go hungry, or to not use electricity during an entire day.
“It gives them a little taste of what it’s like to live in these other countries,” Roscoe said.
In the coming year, the Center for Global Impact aims to expand and help even more people. Organizers envision work and training programs for children and men, to better support the family structure in Cambodia, Long said.
“We want to minister to the entire family,” she said. “So it’s important that we expand outward to include them all.”