Sleeping Giant vocalist Tommy Green and guitarist Nelson Flores recently visited Cambodia, traveling to the Southeast Asian nation to witness, first hand, the widespread sex slavery the country is bearing. However, when they got there, it was almost too much to handle, and Green decided to do something about it.
On the spot, Green and Flores decided to make a live footage music video — they chose the song “Victory,” from their 2014 album Finished People, as the lyrics most closely align with their mission — shot locally with the express intent to raise awareness of the Agape International Missions group. The humanitarian aid organization was their hosts, a group dedicated to, as they phrase it, “ending the evil of child sexual slavery” in Cambodia.
After the video was released, the project gained momentum, so the band has decided to take it a step further and do a month-long giving campaign. For the next month, donors will receive a special order shirt for a donation of $30. Your shirt costs $15 to make, so for every donation, $15 will go directly to Agape International. There is no limit to donations; everything over $30 will all go to the organization. At the end of the month, on Valentine’s Day, the love offering of all proceeds will be sent to Agape.
Read on for the full interview with Tommy Green about the entire project, how it came to be, and what you can do to help.
HM: Give us a little background on the trip you took and how it inspired the new video that you guys put together.
Tommy Green: Probably 3 years ago, I met a couple in Northern California through some friends, and they had actually taken in and adopted a 14-year-old girl whose name was Soka. She was wonderful, and she had been rescued out of forced sex-slave work and, just, horrible conditions in Cambodia.
From the inception of Sleeping Giant, sex slavery has always been something on my heart, and, on the second record, I started singing about it with the song “Descending into Hell.” We started doing some donation work and road race stuff — like, 5k type stuff — trying to raise money to help.
It was probably ten years ago when I actually realized what was happening in terms of human trafficking and sex slavery. I really didn’t know, so when I heard about it, I was really upset and I started writing about it for awhile, but I wasn’t really sure how I could help, until about two years ago, after meeting this couple and finding out that they worked with an organization called Agape International. (I want to say they did a CNN special on Agape called “The Pink Room,” and Mira Sorvino went out there.) So I saw that documentary and I was just moved and was like, “We’ve got to go!” So we — the Revolution Gatherings, our ministry — put together a trip. We fundraised enough money to get over there just to document the trip. I brought Sleeping Giant guitarist Nelson Flores with me and was just like, “You document it so, that way, we can film and tell people back home, and we can show it.” The documentary — the media we create — will probably outlast what we can share personally.
We got out there, we went to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in Cambodia. We went to the Killing Fields. We saw the country. We were staying and hanging out with a team that, in America, works with Agape International. There’s a part of town that’s essentially the spot where Westerners go to have sex with children, and that’s where Agape International set up their headquarters and moved there and started trying to turn that whole area around. They actually have a fight gym where they train people that used to be involved (in the sex trade). Because it’s such a poor country, the only incentive these dudes have to stop is the pride that comes with being a fighter. It’s a problem that’s connected to poverty as much as it’s connected to the national identity and tragedy that took place in the late ’70s under the Khmer Rouge. It’s about poverty, and it’s about sex, and it’s about a total disconnect because there’s been such a generational slaughter that’s taken place in that nation.
HM: So when you set out with Nelson, you guys didn’t have an agenda, right? You just knew you were going to go to, essentially, learn about the life that they were living.
TG: Right. We went with Agape and were hoping for a chance to just go into one of the bars and be able to pay for, like, an hour and just sit with one of these poor girls and look at them and be like, “We love you, you are loved,” and not want anything from them and try to just be present in that place without the sexual stuff and to shine in some way there. When we got there, the head of the whole organization was involved in a motorcycle accident that week and went to the hospital — he got hit in traffic and was out of commission. So it changed our plans a bit, because we didn’t have him to help lead us through it. He looks like a white Westerner that would… He looks like “the type.”
HM: Like he would be a patron of this behavior.
TG: It’s like you see someone there that looks like anyone from the States or the UK or Australia, and it’s like, “What are you doing here?” Because it’s so prevalent.
“Rescue these kids. They’re being raped every single day. We have got to stop this in our generation. We’ve got to look at the perversion and the selfishness and the greed behind this stuff and see it in a museum by the end of our lifetime.”
I wanted to see it. I wanted to look at these people. I wanted to know that it was as real as I’d heard. I just wanted to know. I wanted to be there, and then I wanted to see what I could do to help. We just started documenting it, and I thought, you know, I’m here, my guitarist is here but he can’t even play… Let’s film a music video. Sleeping Giant’s platform is so much bigger than just my evangelistic platform. If I can reach out to our people that really care — the ones have passionate hearts, and the ones who are down, our fans, the people that care about our music and our ministry. So I’m thinking if they can see this, it will inspire them to do something just like it did for us. If you can get a hardcore kid on your side, it’s over.
HM: (Laughs) Yeah!
TG: So, I was like, let’s do this! We just started filming. I thought, what video can we do that is really a worship song or something easy? So I was like, “Let’s just do ‘Victory.'” Because it’s a worship song; it’s sort of like a declaration. It took on the nature in my heart of like, I’m gonna sing this over Cambodia. We’re gonna see change in this place. That country was called The Pearl of East Asia in the ’70’s. It was like what Thailand would be now. It was a cultural trendsetter before it was decimated in the late ’70s under that dictator. It was like Pol Pot just decided he was going to take that country to zero and just erased all traces of identity, pride, and family. They did a number on that nation. I was blown away. We filmed the video, and it was crazy. It was filmed all over the country. I wanted it to sort of “take” the people there, because you don’t see a hardcore video in a place like that.
It’s just taken a long time to put it together and really get on the same page to figure it out. It’s been this project where I want to raise awareness, and, honestly, the only reason to do the video was to hopefully raise the necessary finances and the attention and interest for the people of Cambodia, for these kids. It’s like looking at salvation as a Christian. It’s like looking at someone being taken from a life that was horrible into being rescued.
We went to an unnamed location, and there are SWAT team dudes that will rescue these little kids. They’ll rescue children out of these forced prostitution places. They rescue and bring them to these restoration homes where they can stay as long as they need to. You watch a process where some of them aren’t talking, where some of them are super social. We played volleyball and had lunch with some of them, and some of them have jobs and work. There are a couple of restaurants that offer what they call hospitality certificates where (the kids) learn to bake and cook and be baristas. They’re given jobs, and they’re given a sense of pride and purpose. So we watched what this organization does to take them from these horrific circumstances, and then they walk them through everything so they actually have a future and have a life. They do everything. I was like, we could actually get behind these people. I’d throw all my weight there.
The whole purpose of doing the video is to raise money for these guys. I don’t care about the video; I care about people looking at the video and going, “Whoa! That’s a whole nation of little people. Let’s heal a nation.” Let’s do what we’re supposed to do. Let’s pray for this country. Let’s go help this organization out. Let’s check our own hearts. I don’t know what it’s going to be, but I just want everyone to help them.
“The overarching goal was, let’s raise thousands and thousands of dollars for this organization because the price of a car here could build a rescue home for them.”
When we were leaving the undisclosed location, and we just played volleyball with these — (audibly chokes up) sorry… with these, like, seven-year-old kids to teenagers, and they’ve all been rescued. I’m like, Oh my god, these kids are as young as my daughter. I was freaking out. And Nelson, our guitarist, just grabbed me and went, “Tommy, we have to help these people.” So I was like, let’s just do it. Let’s do a video, then. Let’s start filming and utilize this medium of music and raise awareness. That’s where it all came together.
I hit up my friend Eric that is a screenprinter and one of my closest friends and said, “Hey, if we get you a design, can you print shirts? And if people donate, can you print a shirt for them?” The overarching goal was, let’s raise thousands and thousands of dollars for this organization because the price of a car here could build a rescue home for them. You know? It’s just insane to me. I feel like — Everybody! Give them thousands of dollars! (Laughs) Give them all the money!
(In a serious tone) Rescue these kids. They’re being raped every single day. We have got to stop this in our generation. We’ve got to look at the perversion and the selfishness and the greed behind this stuff and see it in a museum by the end of our lifetime. Like, we cannot believe this USED to happen. We’ve got to heal this nation of Cambodia. My heart just breaks for them. So, that’s kind of been the journey, man.
HM: You say you don’t care about the video, but the video makes this situation very real. It puts the proverbial name to the face. I think it’s very cool that you guys decided to do that.
I think it’s also crazy that, spur of the moment, that was your decision, and, based on the outcome, it’s pretty brilliant. It came out really well. The passion in it, and seeing the people in the video, does a great job of making what you guys are trying to do real. You have a very real smile on your face looking at these people.
TG: I hope so.
HM: Do you want to talk more about the shirt and where people can get it, anything about what their donation does and how it can help?
TG: I’d love to say that we got this, that everything’s hooked up so everything’s free, but it’s not. I think to print and ship the shirt to everybody, it’s going to be like $13-$15, so we just called it $15 even. So, if you want a shirt, donate $30 and half of that goes to the cost of the shirt. Everything above that goes directly to Agape International at the end of this campaign.
We’re going to deliver this love gift, essentially this offering, to them on Valentine’s Day, just going to send it to them. The goal is, over the next month, to get as many orders as we can. Give any amount over the $30 suggested donation! Anything over $30 goes to them to do anything they can. We’re not touching any of the donations. We just want to cover the cost of the shirt and the shipping and the printing. We’ve got a month to do it.
My goal is to just get thousands of people to give a small donation of $30 or more. And he’ll have the site and the link here that you’ll be able to see through HM. Click on that, you pick your size, donate, and at the end of this campaign, you’ll get your shirt shipped out to you right around Valentine’s Day. We’re going to give it a month so we know how many orders to fill, then he’s going to print everything, then we’re sending all the money to Agape and all the shirts to all of you who donated.
A very special thanks to Danielle Martin for her help with this feature.
Sleeping Giant in Cambodia was posted on January 14, 2017 for HM Magazine and authored by David Stagg.