Dine Against Darkness, a “limited light experience illuminating child trafficking,” is a fundraising dinner event set for November 3 at Duling Hall.
The Hard Places Community, a Cambodian-based mission in Phnom Penh who works against human trafficking, is the beneficiary of the evening, a chance to recognize supporters and sponsors who have taken the organization’s mission to heart.
Hard Places’ U.S. Director, Drew Mellon, a fixture in Fondren, managing Chane’s Swell-O-Phonic by day, crusading against child trafficking by night, spoke to Find It In Fondrenâ„¢ to promote the event. His sister, Alli Mellon, is Hard Place’s Executive Director and runs the organization in Cambodia.
“Alli had the idea of doing something different, playing off the themes of dark and light,” Drew said, a force we deal with in the trafficking industry. “It’s an alternative fundraiser, a book end to our Walk Against Traffick Fundraiser held each spring.”
Dine Against Darkness will feature Alli alongside Hard Places lead social worker, Panha Yin, who has obtained a special visa just to be able to attend the event.
Drew explains the schedule that will include a 30-45 minute gathering in the courtyard outside Duling beginning at 6:30pm. There will be appetizers, a cash bar and silent auction including art from local artists and pieces from some of the children in Hard Places’ care. Singer-songwriter Larry Stewart of Restless Heart fame will entertain during the gathering.
Inside, diners will be lead to their tables in a room completely blacked out. Once seated, a series of interviews with Cambodian children will be shown. Drew says that component was “the idea that hooked me, having our kids be there in that way.”
A three-course meal — top notch food, Drew explains — will be served. “People my mom’s age ask, ‘Will y’all will put us in dark and make us eat gross things?’” Drew laughed. “This isn’t Fear Factor.” No spiders, no crickets, just a nice formal dinner.
The “big push” for the night, The Hard Places’ biggest need, is to build an assessment center for boys, an after care facility. “Right now, if we find boys who are being exploited and don’t have a safe place, they have to live in all girls orphanage run by the state,” Drew said. “And the orphanage doesn’t have an understanding of dealing with the unique needs of traumatized boys. You need a place that understands males.”
To build this facility, Drew said the $120,000 needed is a “drop in the bucket” in terms of developments here. “The U.S. dollar can go a long way,” he noted. “We run our boys and girls centers, a tour company and many other little things, on an annual budget of less than $200,000. We do a lot for a little bit.”
What is the goal of The Hard Places’ mission? Drew said it’s about instilling a sense of worth and hope for a future. “These kids who are exploited, they can come out of it, in spite of traumatic events in life, with a sense of pride and dignity in who they are. We want to redirect them, to show them, this isn’t who you are, you are made for incredible things and have so much potential.”