Renovated rooftop garden brings joy to girls rescued from trafficking

A rooftop garden renovated by volunteers brought smiles to the faces of young girls recently rescued from trafficking.

The group of volunteers from Life Church in Memphis, Tennessee, spent more than a day creating planting beds, a sandpit and hanging baskets to bring life to the previously barren rooftop garden at Hope for Justice’s Lighthouse Assessment Centre in Cambodia.

When the renovation was complete, the 16 girls currently living at Lighthouse, one of whom is just three years old, were led up the stairs to see the transformation.

Volunteer Nick Gardner said: “When the girls saw it, it was a moment of sheer joy. It was a gift to me that we were able to make this for the girls, as it was a gift to them. It felt like a very safe place and a place of restoration.”

Another of the volunteers, Ingrid Kimble, said: “It really touched my heart – just seeing their faces light up at seeing what was once a blank canvas is now something they can really enjoy, if it’s just sitting in the swing, putting their hands in the soil or playing in the sand. It was a really beautiful moment.

“Being able to do the garden for the clients was really inspirational for me because it allowed me to be part of a bigger plan. God’s plan for these girls is for them to know they are loved and beautiful.”

The staff at Lighthouse provide immediate crisis support for girls who have been trafficked, as well as carrying out family and community assessments. The centre’s programme prepares survivors for long-term services or reintegration into their communities.

The church group visited Lighthouse as part of a week-long visit to Hope for Justice’s restorative care programme in Cambodia. As well as revamping the roof garden, they painted rooms at Lighthouse and held crafts, baking, photography, beauty and music workshops for the girls at Shine Career School.

Trip leader Lesley Kimble, who works as a receptionist at the Memphis church, said she felt there were two purposes to their visit.

“The first is ultimately to serve Hope for Justice and to lend a helping hand. Secondly, our goal is to learn from the organisation and bring back that knowledge to Memphis.”

The group first heard about the charity when Hope for Justice CEO Ben Cooley visited their church in 2015 and talked at their youth conference.

Lesley said: “I think Ben has done a great job at making the organisation so structured, and being here I have learned how important it is for people to work together so that girls can be rescued and have their lives restored.”

Lesley said she had not known what to expect when she met the girls. She said: “I didn’t know whether they would be really excited to see us or be really angry or shun us. But every encounter I have had with a girl has been nothing short of them having pure joy in their hearts.”

Chloe Pier, 18, said when she heard Ben talk about the girls that Hope for Justice worked with, it struck her how close in age they were to her and her sisters. Chloe said: “I just pictured that if it was my sisters I would want to do something about it. And these are somebody’s sisters and daughters so why wouldn’t I do something about it. They are girls just like me who do not have their freedom and their say.

“I think my favourite part of the visit was getting to spend some one-to-one time with the girls. When I was hanging out with them it reminded me that they are just normal girls having fun. There is so much hope here that it overtakes the darkness and the brokenness of the circumstances.”

Andrea Bailey, Career & Education Director at Hope for Justice Cambodia, said: “Part of healing from trauma is to provide a space to try new, healthy experiences, and recreate new memories. In this rooftop garden, they don’t only get to place feet and hands in the sand and practice mindfulness while feeling its texture, they also get to experience gardening in a new way and with positive memories. We at Hope for Justice are so grateful to the Memphis Church group for leaving a lasting impact for our littlest clients.”

Photography and words: Aly Walsh