It was there this morning that I learned of a new series of articles about a subject I had written about earlier this year by fellow Vietnam Veteran and Facebook friend, Tom Gordon, long time reporter for the Orange County Register. I wrote this post about Tom and his wife Chris who launched a business after an accident last May 2010. A new series of articles details the growth of what started out as an idea as small as a pepper seed, and grew into a thriving business that now helps people 8000 miles, away reach for a better life, as it also extends a helping hand to victims of the sex trade industry. In his own words Tom describes the past year.
I never thought I'd be selling pepper. Or jasmine rice and rose facial scrub. Or damask scarves.
In fact, until I Googled it, I had no idea what damask was.
Last year on May 13 my wife, Cris, had taken our black Lab, Shadow, out for a walk. While they were waiting at a stoplight on Main Street in west Orange, an SUV made an ill-timed left turn, hitting a small sedan and sending it up on the sidewalk. Cris and Shadow were both hit. Cris somehow got her foot caught under the car before rolling up on the hood. The result was not pretty: a trip to the UCI Trauma Center, six days in the hospital, more than 70 stitches, a compound fracture of her left ankle, a broken right leg and an amputated big toe.
Her recovery was long and slow. Over five months she progressed from bed-ridden to a wheelchair to a walker to crutches to a limp. We had a lot of time to talk and think and we discovered our priorities had changed.
This began an odyssey that led Tom back to Cambodia, where he began to make the contacts to bring the peppers back and introduce them to American palates. Along the way, he reached out to Daughters of Cambodia an organization that helps the victims of the sex trade to find employment and regain their dignity and a future worth living.Just a month before the accident we had visited Cambodia. We have been to Southeast Asia many times and Cambodia -- a poor nation with a tortured past -- touched us most. During our visit we toured a pepper farm in Kampot Province. The pepper was spicy and the farmers were sincere. We asked one farmer what we could do to help. His answer was simple: "Sell our pepper in your country."
The result has been described by Tom as a "kind of wild ride" as offers of help poured in.
Pepper to help former sex workers? How?
We have imported about 100 pounds of pepper. And on my last trip to Cambodia, in April, I handed Ruth Elliott, who runs Daughters of Cambodia, enough money to sponsor two young ladies for a year.
When we return this fall I suspect we will have made enough to sponsor another two or three.
The life of a sex worker in Cambodia is not pleasant.
Tom goes on to write about the two young women they sponsor. It costs about $80 a month to sponsor a girl. He notes."That's about the cost of a Field MVP seat at one Angels game."Some estimate the HIV infection rate at 40 percent. There's abuse and violence at every turn. Some are tricked into a life of prostitution, some have no other choice and some are sold into it. Most of their customers are Cambodian men who pay a couple bucks for services rendered. A brothel can be small building with a mattress tossed on the floor.
Using pepper to fight prostitution
I would urge all to ponder what Tom and Chris are doing. They are emulating what global grand strategist Thomas PM Barnett has called having an Individual foreign policy. Check out the Pepper Project for some great pepper and the recipes . know that you will be joining Tom and Chris's foreign policy team and extending a hand to people across the sea, every time the savory spice hits your tongue.