Angel Interview of the Month
Each month, The Angelrock Project features an Angel Interview of the Month, interviews with people who provide unique and life-saving services within large non-profit organizations. We hope that by reading their stories, you will understand their special contribution to society by working for invaluable NGO's within the organization's headquarters or in the field.
Pam and Randy Cope, co-founders of the Touch A Life Foundation, live in Dallas, TX. The Copes started the foundation nine years ago after their 15-year-old son Jantsen died suddenly of an undetected heart defect.
Their efforts started out small to help children in Vietnam and Cambodia and have recently grown across the globe to Ghana, West Africa. The focus of the organization is to stand in the gap for hurting and exploited children.
Q. When did you start Touch A Life Foundation (TAL) and what is the organization's mission?
A. The Touch A Life Foundation started in 2000. The mission of the organization is to eradicate child trafficking and to empower children in crisis. Currently, our programs exist in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Ghana.
Q. What was your inspiration for starting the TAL?
A. Touch A Life was birthed after the death of my son Jantsen. I saw the foundation as part of his legacy helping other children in need. Jantsen loved children and it seemed to be a pathway to keep his memory alive.
Q. You first started your work in Vietnam. What are the key issues and problems that children in Vietnam are facing?
A. The children in Vietnam are not taken care of by their families, whether that's because they have young parents or because their families are suffering due to extreme poverty. As a result, they end up being "street kids," or as they're called in Vietnam, "the dust of the earth." They roam the streets, selling items like gum, for pennies. They are forced into labor and many are sold into sex trafficking rings.
Q. Since you began your work in Vietnam, how has it positively impacted the lives of the children?
A. For the first time in many of their lives they are attending school, have plenty to eat and are not sleeping on the streets. How many TAL children do you work with and live in the nurturing homes that you have set up? 225 We support 111 children in Vietnam full-time. The full-time supported children live at our homes with houseparents and attend school and live as a family unit. The remaining children are partially supported by TAL. We pay daycare for single mothers, school tuition, and vocational training for the older children.
Q. Can you tell us a little bit about your work in Cambodia?
A. I partner with a Canadian woman named Marie Ens. Marie has lived in Cambodia most of her life. Her program cares for over 200 orphans, families dying of aids, elderly women, widows and unwed mothers who have nowhere else to live. She is dedicated to serving the families suffering from aids. Her program is called Place of Rescue. Place of Rescue is a safe haven for parents to come and die knowing that Marie will care for their children once they have passed. We currently support and sponsor 15 orphans living at Place of Rescue. Touch A Life has been able to assist Marie in fundraising on several building projects.
Q. You decided to start working in Ghana after reading a New York Times article on the situation facing child slaves on Lake Volta. What made you go to the continent for the first time with the determination to make a difference in the life of the boy you read about in a newspaper?
A. It was a deep knowing that I had to try and do everything in my power to help Mark, the child in the article. I don't remember ever being so moved by a story as I was with his story. I also have known for years that I wanted to be involved with work in Africa. Child slavery became a reality for me that day and I wanted to start being part of the solution.
Q. What exactly does TAL do in Ghana and what structure have you set up to achieve success?
A. Touch A Life works with our Ghanaian staff to rescue children who have been trafficked and sent to work in the fishing industry on Lake Volta, a man-made lake in the northern part of the country. We go into villages, informing the chiefs and residents that trafficking not only against the law and economically ineffective, but that it is morally unacceptable as well. Our Executive Director in Ghana, George Achibra, conducts relationship-based negotiations to get the children off of the lake. He never pays to get the children back; if he did, he'd essentially be participating in human trafficking as well. Our Ghanaian staff is the reason for our success. We provide them with the funding and guidance to do their job but, ultimately, it's because of their dedication, passion, and knowledge of the local area that allows them to continue rescuing children.
Q. What is the Village of Hope?
A. The Village of Hope is an orphanage in Gomoa-Fetteh, Ghana. It is located in the southern part of Ghana, about an hour outside of the capital of Accra. It is run by Ghanaian director, Fred Asare, and it is a reputable establishment, known for the staff member's kind treatment of the children and for the renowned school located on the orphanage's grounds. The first 21 children rescued by Touch A Life and our Ghanaian staff currently reside at the Village of Hope.
Q. Can you tell us about the current situation on Lake Volta.
A. The situation on Lake Volta remains a very serious problem. The land mass in the Volta region that is now known as the lake was flooded by the government in the 1960s. Residents weren't given proper notice and, as a result, many land-based job industries were wiped out. People began using the lake as their new means of income-generated projects, specifically focusing on fishing. When it became too much of an economic burden to hire adults to work, fishermen began buying children from their parents to use as extra hands on the lake. This practice persists because the economic situation in the Volta region is still extremely dire. Parents who don't have enough money to feed their children often sell them to masters for as little as $20. Sometimes they sell the children because they are deceived into believing that their child will have a better life; other times it's because they really just need the money.
Q. Is the work you do dangerous? Do you ever fear for your life?
A. No, I always travel with our Ghanian staff and they are the strong, protective type that always use wisdom in negotiating and navigating in their country.
Q. You call the first group of children that you saved in Ghana, "The Magnificent Seven." How are they all doing now?
A. Mark, Hagar, Kofi, Richard, John Arthur, Sarah, and Kojo are all getting along fabulously. They can read, write, and speak English (the national language of Ghana) excellently and they've made so many friends at the Village of Hope Orphanage. They are happy and healthy. They are so important to me and to the foundation because they are consistent reminders that our joy should not be dependent on our circumstance. They are so resilient.
Q. How often do you go to Ghana and how many children have been rescued thus far?
A. I try to go to Ghana every six months. I've been there seven times in the past three years. My most recent trip was in August 2009. Currently, we have 69 children in our Ghana program.
Q. What is your relationship like with all of the children you work with?
A. They have given me purpose beyond words. Every trip I make I come back determined to work harder to find the resources and funding for the programs that these children need to launch them into their bright futures. I love them so much. They call me Mama Pam and I cannot think of any title that could have more meaning. They are family. Randy and I feel like they are an extension of Jantsen and his life.
Q. I want to back up a bit and ask you how a mother from middle-America with no non-profit experience ended up starting a foundation and saving the lives of child slaves worldwide. How did you know what you were doing?
A. It was taking baby steps and walking through many doors that were unfamiliar territory. It started as simple as doing an international adoption and traveling to third world countries. The next step I feel was attempting to process a medical visa for a Vietnamese child desperately needing help after losing both her legs in an explosion. Specific small projects helping children before I read the article about Mark gave me the confidence that I needed to even think I could possibly help him. I think by the time I was ready to attempt to help Mark I had worked through the fear of failure or attempting things that seemed overwhelming.
Q. What drives you?
A. These kids are counting on us and the foundation to continue raising awareness and sending support for the education and future. What truly excites me is to someday know that I was a part of eradicating slavery on Lake Volta. It is a very tangible goal and I am trusting to see it happen in my lifetime. I do not want one child living in slavery if there is anything in my power to stand in the gap for them. What truly drives me is knowing that the children we have rescued will someday be the abolitionist fighting for freedom in Ghana. The Touch A Life children will be leaders of their country.
Q. How can we make more people aware of the atrocities suffered by children worldwide every day, such as slavery, kidnappings, child laborers and child soldiers? Moreover, how can we make them "raise a ruckus?"
A. Become informed on the issue. Read this year's Trafficking in Persons Report (a report that analyzes the varying degrees of human trafficking evident in 175 countries around the world; the report can be found here), and become aware of the types of injustices that are occurring on a daily basis. Obviously, I want to encourage people to investigate our organization to learn more about the issue, but we've partnered with other amazing non-profits that focus on this issue, as well. Free the Slaves (www.freetheslaves.net) specifically comes to mind as an outstanding organization. IJM International Justice Mission (www.ijm.org)
Q. Why should Americans be just as concerned about children in other countries as they are for the lives of U.S. children? As you know, some Americans say there are enough problems here in our country for children. What do you say to that?
A. I think educating the children in the US about global issues will be the change that our country so longs for with this next generation. I love the vision Journey for Change has about service and reverse giving. The reverse giving will transform American children while serving children halfway around the world. Everyone needs to work and serve wherever they are called and support one another wherever the country or neighborhood might be. I find a child in SE Asia or Africa just as worthy of my time and energy as a child in need here in Texas. A child in crisis regardless of where the live should stop and gain our full attention every day.
A. I was approached by an agent in New York that had read the follow-up article about the rescue of Mark and she called to see if I would be interested in discussing the possibility of publishing a book. I was really surprised by the offer and agreed to share my story and pitch it to a publishing company. Just another unexpected open door suddenly appeared. I have been very grateful for the opportunity and support I received writing this book.
Q. How has writing the book changed your life and/or helped TAL?
A. I read the book and sometimes forget that it is my life. I am thankful to have this book that documents the restoration of my life that I thought was once so hopeless. It was a long process of becoming secure with the transparency I knew I needed to apply to writing a memoir. People have read the book and now feel so connected to the Touch A Life children and are joining the team to fight against injustice and poverty.
Q. As you know, it is one of my favorite books and I now give it as a thank you gift often. People tell me they cannot put it down and that they are profoundly moved by your story. How does this make you feel?
A. I don't need a bestseller book. My dream was for readers to identify with something in my story that gave them permission to truly be who they were created to be. My dream for the book is that it will touch hearts and lives and give hope to all who read it.
Q. How can the public support TAL?
A. Financial donations and child sponsorship are critical to our existence. Dedicated giving allows us the ability to plan out our agendas months in advance, providing us with the opportunity to not only provide for the children who are currently in our care but also to continually work on rescuing children who need our help. Raising awareness of Touch A Life and the cause of fighting trafficking is equally important. People need to know that human trafficking composes a million, if not billion, dollar industry. Innocent victims are sold to other human beings on a daily basis.
Q. With all of TAL's success, and I know there is much more work to be done, what has been your proudest moment?
A. Rescuing Mark. He seemed so faraway somedays and it was truly a dream come true for me. I remember thinking that if I could just one day hold him on my lap and put lotion on his legs and arms I would be a happy woman. He somehow completes me when I am with him. We have a special connection and knowing that we belong together.
Q. Who is your role model?
A. Mother Teresa. She was such an example of true servanthood. She got her hands dirty and loved as each one of us are commanded to love while on this earth.
Q. What is your favorite book?
A. "The Dream Giver" by Bruce Wilkinson. I read this book at a time in my life when I needed to leave the land of familiar and explore unchartered territory.
Q. What is your favorite quote?
A. Life is God's novel. Let him write it... Isaac Bashevis Singer
Q. What is your motto?
A. Nothing is impossible with God.
Q. Is there a lasting thought you would like to share that we may not have asked about?
A. Each person is created for greatness. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made. We are equals.
Support a Touch A Life Child for $50/ month
It costs $100 - $150 per month to support a child in Ghana and $50 per month to support a child in Vietnam. Ensuring that we have enough money every month to keep these children housed, in school and happy is probably our greatest stress. If you are interested in sponsoring a child, and can commit to one full year of support, we will be so grateful to you! We will provide you with a photo of the child and a letter exchange as well.
Past Angel Interview of the Month
Read about Sergo LaLanne, the Community Center Director at The Salvation Army Bushwick Community and Worship Center.
To view all past Angel Interviews of the month, please click here.
Target Gives $1 Million
Read about Ken Fredman, web developer and marketing executive in Manhattan.
Read about Pam Cope, co-founder of the Touch A Life Foundation, in Dallas, TX.
The Denise Amber Lee Foundation
Coaltion to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers
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