Although they may not have known exactly where they were going, Doug and Donna Burkle started planning their mission trip to Cambodia back when they were dating in high school.
“We always knew we’d have biological children, adopt children, and then go into mission work,” Donna Burkle said.
Having checked the first two items off their to do list and raised their three biological and two adopted children to adulthood, the Burkles are now selling their house and most of their belongings and preparing for a move to Cambodia.
“It’s our last hurrah,” Doug Burkle said.
In Cambodia, they will work with Rapha House, an international non-profit organization that establishes safe houses for girls rescued from human trafficking. They will join their daughter, Hannah Burkle, who is associate director of operations for Rapha House in Cambodia.
The couple says the other four Burkle children have accepted their parents’ decision to move halfway around the world to be of service to others.“They’ve heard about it their whole lives so this is nothing new and surprising to them,” Donna says. This will be Donna Burkle’s second trip to Cambodia. The elementary schoolteacher spent a month at Rapha House training staff during the summer of 2012.
“I felt a calling to go back,” she said. She took a one-year leave of absence from her job with the Cedar Rapids school district for the upcoming trip.
While Doug did not make the earlier trip to Cambodia, he said, “I know this is where we need to be.” Rapha House was founded in 2003 to combat human trafficking, bonded labor and the sexual exploitation of children. It provides shelter and care to girls rescued from slavery along with counseling services and education to prepare them for independent living. The organization also provides preventive programs to vulnerable children and families.
The Burkles’ role will be to establish a home for girls who require additional support and care due to physical or mental disabilities, which in many cases were the result of trauma inflicted by their captors. The special needs house will be the first of its kind in Cambodia.
“There aren’t a lot of resources to help these girls,” Donna Burkle said. “We will give them a special home to meet their physical and emotional needs and to open up more opportunities for them.”
They also will help them become self-sufficient by teaching them how to raise chickens and sell the eggs and meat.
Having raised two adopted children with special needs, including a daughter who is legally blind, as are two of the girls at Rapha House, the couple are familiar with some of the challenges they will face. To prepare, Doug has completed a course on raising chickens and has trained his dog, Henry, to be a certified therapy dog. He plans to take Henry with him to Cambodia to work with the children.
“I know this is where we need to be,” Doug Burkle said.
The Burkles plan to leave for Cambodia by the end of October, or as soon as they raise sufficient funds for the trip, and to stay for a year. They will then assess whether it is time to come home.
“If we know there is a need we can fulfill, we will stay,” Donna Burkle said.