John and Leah Pence: Apathetic Social Workers

By Kevin Leland

Here is a bit of information on Cambodia, a third world country. To show how some rich (relative to Cambodians) white (relative to Cambodians) Americans feign concern with an obvious underlying attitude of apathy, it includes a blog post by a couple who visited this poor nation on their world-traveling honeymoon, earlier this year. It’s interesting to see how this young American couple reacts to the poverty. They are “humbled” by it, and forced to feel grateful for their quality of life here in America. But then, soon after the short-lived, obligatory “guilt trip”  -they thoroughly enjoy exploiting the shit out of Cambodia’s poor, young, “grungy” children.

It’s amazing to me that this couple was hired a few months ago to work with disabled people, through the Howard Center in Vermont. This job must have just fell in their laps like a four-year-old Cambodian beggar, because during their trip, Leah Pence seemed to have no clue as to what she was going to do for work, according to this statement:

When I get a job- at some point- back in the US- somewhere- I am hoping to reflect back on our trip and remember these moments... Leah Pence

You would think the $25,000 per year they receive from our own government to be personal care providers to a disabled young adult and good friend of mine, who might otherwise be in a similar situation as these impoverished children of Cambodia…would afford them a little more sympathy. Can you say “meal ticket?” I thoughtcha could!

To hear this talk of pre-school aged children being coaxed to sit in their laps to beg them for a dollar bill, along with how lucky they were to find a $50 per night hotel in the midst of the “red light” district, in Thailand, where child prostitution runs rampant…makes me wonder how they passed a pre-employment background check conducted by the Howard Center. Maybe not, because I know from personal experience that the Howard center has it’s own ‘in house’ way of investigating potential employees, and they conduct background checks on job applicants without following the rules set forth by the FCRA.


This nation was caught in the crossfire, during the Vietnam War, and became “collateral damage.” They suffered secret bombings and cross-border incursions. In 1975, when the Khmer Rouge regime seized power; they massacred about twenty percent of their own citizens in a crazed act of genocide.

Because of this horrific and senseless violence of the Khmer Rouge era, to this day, Cambodia has a very young and poor population. The median age is 21.7 years, and only 3.6% of the population is over the age of 65. (In comparison, 12.6% of American citizens are over 65.)

Out of fairness, I want readers to note that Jon Pence likes to drink, and as he admits, quite a few cheap beers were the muse for his jaded, negative reflection that I am posting here. I have also included the link below, that will take you to the source of the original posts. As an investigative Blogger, I want my readers to know that I’m always careful not to post peoples’ words out of context. I appreciate the same respect shown to me.

Post by Jonathan and Leah Pence of the Howard Center, Burlington Vermont:

Angkor Wat

I know this is a third world country but I don’t mean to say this place is ugly or bad in any way – just an eye-openeer in the simplest sense – more so than Thailand in many ways for me.  Our dollar will stretch further here (USD is actually prefered) and it seems as though our skin color will draw all of the kids off their stoops and into our laps – seriously, 4-5 year-olds push bracelets, books, movies, trinkets…whatever you can think of…they’re in our face and after our dollar.  Frightening?  At times.  Intimidating?…more so with the grungy teens, but admittedly, yes.  Chaotic…nothing but.  Humbling…hell yes!!

All of this being said after my share of $0.60 beers so the next entry may be a bit more postiive – haha, I can’t help but review my writings thus far and feel as though I’m a bit jaded in hour #8, or whatever it is so I must say I’m still extremely excited about seeing the sights inside the capital (Phnom Phen tmrw) and outside – does anybody know what this entails?  Come on…you must of at least heard about what is here??  Well if you don’t, ya best read up on Angkor Wat in the days to come – one of the best preserved wats (temples) in the world…after all, that’s why we came here – can’t wait for more youngins chasin our dollar!

By Jonathan Pence, Project Manager at

Yeah Jon, as a matter of fact most people know exactly what is there:

Unofficial estimates say that there are as many as 15,000 prostituted persons in Phnom Penh, and that up to 35% of them have been smuggled into Cambodia from China or Vietman, mostly from the southwestern provinces of Vietnam (Long An, An Giang, Song Be, Kien Giang, Dong Thap, Can Tho and Ho Chi Minh City). Brothel owners pay traffickers from US$350 to $450 (8,750 to 11,250 baht) for each attractive Vietnamese virgin 16 years or younger. Non-virgins and those considered less beautiful are sold from $150 to $170 each (3,750 to 4,250 baht). 

Girls bound by contacts to a brothel owner have their debt to the brothel owner subtracted from the number of customers serviced. It may take from six months to a year or more to work off this debt. The fees that have been paid to their families, trafficking agents, and border guards compound the total debt. Once all debts are paid off, the prostituted person makes from $2 to $3 [50 to 75 baht] per customer, this is after the brother owner has taken their own cut. (“The Street of Little Flowers,” rewritten from ‘Children of the Dust,’ by MIKEL FLAMM and NGO KIM CUC, Bangkok Post, 23 February 1997


7 responses to “John and Leah Pence: Apathetic Social Workers

  1. A few hours after I contacted Jon Pence at, he went back to the original travel blog where I got this article, and deleted the last line where he wrote:

    Can’t wait for more youngins chasin our dollar!

    So I guess the cover-up efforts have begun! Good thing I keep excellent records. We just wanted an apology, and instead he demanded one from me, on behalf of everyone at the Howard Center.

  2. If anyone follows the link to the “apathetic social workers” posting in question and reads the comments there, it can be seen that Mr Leland has commented to their post several times. Unfortunately for him he reveals that his real issue is the fact that he cannot pass a background screening, and is a questionably violent person. Perhaps the assualt charges Mr Leland refers to occured while he was under the influence of steriods. (another questionable behavior he openly admits to) I feel sorry for both the people being slandered in this post and the poor children of Cambodia. Mr Leland obviously cares more about settling some vendetta than he actually does about the issues of poverty and child prostitution.

    • Charles Stllwell

      I would have to agree with “Empty Forest” (whatever that means) that Kevin Leland did not write this post for the sake of defending and speaking up on behalf of the impoverished and exploited children of the world but more so for the sake of critisizing some Americans who traveled to a 3rd world and experienced a sight that shakes most people who experience it themselves. While the last part of Jon and Leah Pence’s entry (about youngins chasin dollars) can be perceived as insensitive I for one find it to be a pretty spot on commentary of the situation in poor countries. I have spent many years in India and sometimes the best way to explain to people how things really are there is to state the obvious which it seems Mr Pence was doing. On the other hand Kevin Leland bloated out a bunch of statistics and numbers in reference to the children of Cambodia, dehumanizing them far more than anything a honeymooning couple stated in a travel-blog post.

  3. Thanks for your comment E, and please, call me Kevin. As you know, the tone of my blogging is never formal. I’m not being snarky with you. I respect your right to pass judgement on my opinions. For the record, I don’t shoot steroids in my ass. I did an experiment with Androgel, under my doctor’s supervision, with a small dose of gel w/ synthetic testosterone, applied to the abdomen and shoulders. I’ll be blogging about the experience in another section of this blog. I’ve written a few thousand dollars worth of content on this topic. Now with some “personal experience” behind the writing -it’s even better quality for my clients.

    When I am faced with situations where I feel a need to bring something negative to light about someone, I do. It’s not about “vendetta” -it’s about justice. I don’t slander anyone either. I don’t do revenge, but I do give people a dose of their own medicine. I don’t care if it gets someone busted for murder, or if it exposes even a “small case” of social injustice -like this couple’s public statements about their experience with being in the midst of impoverished children from a third world country. The statistics I “mixed in” still helps to raise awareness of the plight of children in Cambodia

    I commented on their post, and voiced my disgust with their attitudes, like you just called me out on mine.

    You are right, there is a back story to this article. This couple, in cahoots with the Howard Center, are stepping all over the rights of members of their own community, including the rights of the young man that they are paid twice as much as they should be to help manage his life. They over-manage his life, and are treating him like their meal ticket, instead of the way we treat him -as our friend. There will be more posts to come as this story unfolds. Please follow it, and see if your initial perceptions might be wrong.

    The Internet gives everyone who can read and write a platform to do what only newspapers could do years ago. In this century, things you say and do get published, even if you’re not famous. Things you publish, get commented on.
    I appreciate your criticism and your interest in my story. It’s better for a blog discussion/argument if you stick to the subject of the post. E.g.; if you have an issue with my use of Androgel, get into it with me on the steroids post, not here on this post. It keeps things from getting jumbled and random.

  4. @ Charles: Thank you also for the comment. I try not to exaggerate in my own commentary. This post was more about this couples insensitivity to the children, which might be more acceptable if it was coming from a typical “tourist.” It’s more offensive when it comes from a couple who are professional social workers in our own country. Leah Pence has a Masters Degree in Social Work from Wheelock College. I’m not trying to have a contest to see who cares the most for poor children from Third World Countries. Anything I mention, even if it’s a bit of dry information, and articles I link to and reference, helps “get the word out” about these poor kids. When the Pences had their opportunity to state their thoughts about these kids, you heard their jaded feelings loud and clear, in their own words.

  5. Pingback: Howard Center: Violating Civil Liberties of Vermonters | Bangari Content Gallery

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