James Havey (left) and his anti-human-trafficking research team at a spiritual retreat in Kep, Cambodia.Halfway around the world, James Havey puts what he has learned in scouting to good use. Havey, who became an Eagle Scout in October 2004, has been working as a Maryknoll lay missioner in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, since 2013. He is currently helping Cambodian children and adult survivors of human trafficking lend their voices to advise lawmakers and social service providers on programming and policy.
Havey is the project advisor for an unprecedented 10-year research study of Cambodian survivors of human trafficking, exploitation, and/or abuse called the Butterfly Longitudinal Re/integration Research Project. It is a project of the Chab Dai (“Joining Hands” in the Khmer language) Coalition, a Cambodian anti-human-trafficking organization charged with serving vulnerable populations, victims, survivors and service providers alike.
“We are following the lives of 128 children and adult survivors as they have gone through an aftercare program and subsequently re/integrated back into the community,” he explains. All of this information is then fed back to grassroots organizations, law enforcement and policymakers so that their work can be informed by the needs of the survivors of this modern scourge.
Havey says that his scouting years and leadership experiences with Troop 777 at St. Columbkille Parish in Wilmington, Ohio, “gave me a sense of adventure and finding beauty in all of God’s creation.”
But the main thing that he learned in the Scouts that has helped him in his current overseas human-rights assignment has been adaptability. “Though not specifically a part of our Scout Law,” Havey explains, “all the experiences of leadership, backpacking, and survival skills that are foundational in Scouts have adaptability at their core. Adaptability requires patience, simplicity in lifestyle, and planning ahead—or, as the Scouts put it: ‘Be prepared.’”
It’s that adaptability that helps him in Phnom Penh “when the rolling blackout cuts off the fan on a 110-degree night, or when the monsoon has flooded all the surrounding streets so wading is required to get to work.” As a Scout, Havey remembers, “I’ve weathered the greatest of thunderstorms while in a tent, so a monsoon while living with a family in their traditional Cambodian house on stilts among the rice paddies is a much drier place.”
In Scouts he also learned to eat whatever his older brother concocted from the troop trailer on their monthly campouts, and he recalls a former Green Beret Scout leader teaching him how to eat raw bugs. “That makes the pan-fried crickets around Cambodia a welcomed snack,” he laughs.
And even his adventure backpacking through the New Mexico scouting ranch Philmont prepared him for his current life in Asia. “It made it an easy ‘yes’ to an offer of spending a month backpacking throughout Nepal to work with Tibetan refugee beekeepers to create a market link to Follow the Honey, a human-rights honey shop in Boston.”
Living in a country where 97 percent of the population is Buddhist, Havey says, “Adaptability and its sister, humility, have allowed me to see the face of God in the Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu and atheist. We live in a beautiful world of diversity with others who have lifestyles and beliefs that are different from our own, and my background in scouting has given me tools and qualities to move through this world with compassionate joy for other people’s spirituality.”
Havey grew up in a Catholic scouting family—his mother, Kathleen Havey, was a den mother in Cub Scouts, and his father, Dr. James ‘Pat’ Havey, an Eagle Scout and a troop leader in the Boy Scouts. In fact, his father helped found Troop 777 of the Tecumseh Council through St. Columbkille Parish in Wilmington. His two brothers, Raymond and Arthur, are also both Eagle Scouts.
During his scouting career, Havey received the Parvuli Dei Award, was inducted into the Order of the Arrow and acquired 34 merit badges—his favorite being water skiing. “Learning to slalom-ski in one week at Tecumseh Council’s Camp Birch was a challenge,” James recalls with a smile.
Havey answered the call to be a Maryknoll lay missioner because “it is in the gratitude of serving others that I am able to practice the charge of an Eagle Scout to ‘dedicate their hearts and hands to the common good.’”
He chose Maryknoll in particular because “this global community provides a network of formidable spiritual masters who provide the space and mentorship to challenge and grow my spirituality, morality and practice throughout my adult life. Becoming an Eagle was a foundational achievement in my coming-of-age story, but it was a beginning, not an end.” Maryknoll lay missioners first commit for three and a half years of overseas service. Havey is now in his sixth year with Maryknoll Lay Missioners.
To Havey, his work with survivors of human trafficking is about God’s “preferential option for the poor” and about our faith’s call to go out to the “peripheries,” the margins of the world.
“Jesus listened to the cries of the poor and advocated their pleas to the Pharisees and the Romans,” he says. “It has been a profound commitment, but I am happy to be a Maryknoll lay missioner in service to the people of Cambodia and Asia. I would certainly encourage other Scouts who are dedicated to engaging with all of God’s creation to pursue the opportunities Maryknoll Lay Missioners provides—because, as they say, ‘Once an Eagle, always an Eagle.’”
Photos courtesy of James Havey