One day in Calcutta, I had one of those Oprah Winfrey “aha” moments while wandering past Mother Teresa’s mission, and I began a very personal mission to get more involved in humanitarian causes. The following year I joined a group on a trip to Cambodia, organized by Airline Ambassadors International and Deborah Quigley. Ironically, we both worked at Honolulu Airport only one ticket counter apart. However, Cambodia and our shared passion for humanitarian causes brought us together.
Arriving in Phnom Penh a few days before the group, I had the pleasure of spending time viewing Cambodia through Deborah’s eyes. My first impression of her – “Holy Crap this woman has energy!” Although her energy and passion are infectious, I still required coffee to keep up with her.
Deborah’s 31years in the aviation industry allowed her to explore the world and opened her eyes to many humanitarian issues. Her connection to Airline Ambassadors International enabled her to use her travel benefits to make a difference. She organized the Cambodia trip where we met and also led volunteer trips to the Philippines, worked in a Shanghai orphanage, assisted foster children in Romania and contributed to a program to provide food and clothes for kids in Argentina.
After many years working for United Airlines in Honolulu, Deborah retired from aviation a few years ago. She could be spending her retirement years sipping a Mai Tai on Waikiki Beach, watching the sunset with her husband.
Instead, she’s using her unlimited energy traveling to places like Nepal, India, and Bangladesh. In these countries, she supports the many causes she passionately believes in, like human trafficking, women’s health, and child protection.
Human Trafficking – the beginning
Deborah recalls, “I was in Myanmar after the 2008 cyclone hit the delta and learned about “child soldiers”. Who could be more vulnerable than children, many now orphaned, swept from villages where families have NO last names? Easy prey for traffickers always on the hunt. Then on the ground in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, we again learned more about the horrors and tragedies of this global “industry” – exploiting the most vulnerable.”
Meeting Somnang – a turning point
In a 2009 trip to Cambodia, Deborah met a small child in a village outside Siem Reap. They shaved her head to keep the lice away. The young girl had no name so the local people called her “No Hair”. She had no home so she lived in the dirt, no clothes, and no family. Deborah and her group just couldn’t walk away from her, so they found a sponsor through Kerry Huntley of Feeding Dreams Cambodia, their local contact in the area. Kerry named “No Hair” Somnang (meaning “Lucky”) and rescued her from the very likely possibility of being sold into the sex trade. Meeting Somnang was a turning point for Deborah, turning her awareness into advocacy.
“Child Protection Advocate”
In 2011, Deborah created a training program, “Human Trafficking and Awareness Training for Airline and Airport Personnel”. As part of this program, she trained frontline tourism leaders to be able to identify human trafficking situations. Considered by many as an “Aviation Expert” in this field, she worked closely with the Department of Homeland Security and gave speeches promoting trafficking awareness. She also encouraged new legislation to address this important issue. Her expertise in human trafficking evolved into her new title, “Child Protection Advocate”. This opened doors to work as an independent contractor with three non-governmental organizations:
Days For Girls
With her endless energy, she’s now actively involved in the “Days for Girls” organization and recently spent time in Dhaka, Bangladesh assisting in a Women’s Health Education training program. DaysForGirls.org provides washable feminine hygiene products for girls in communities that do not have access and are forced to stay home from school for 5 days every month. Their mission statement:
“Every Girl. Everywhere. Period.”
According to Deborah, “It was beyond awesome to be amongst so many brilliant women who want to share the knowledge about women’s bodies and how they work.”
Deborah also serves as Global Outreach Coordinator for Cause Vision.org, an organization that produces educational comic books to spread information on human trafficking and other urgent local issues. She networks with in-country partners to coordinate the creation and distribution of these comic books, aimed at bringing awareness to under-informed communities.
Deborah’s volunteer schedule also includes attending travel expos around the world on behalf of Friends-International, a child protection organization based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Her talks focus on how to respond to begging children without putting them in further danger. She also tackles the controversial issue of “orphanage tourism”. Both of these are growing problems in Cambodia.
Deborah’s advice for people who want to volunteer in orphanages?
“It’s still hard to fathom that traffickers actually run some orphanages. So you must do your vetting and apply your experienced skills where they can be best used. If you’re NOT a trauma counselor, a school teacher, or an ESL teacher you shouldn’t volunteer in an orphanage working with children who might be traumatized.”
What keeps her motivated?
“We just do what we can to help,” Quigley says, “and I just want to do more.” One thing that keeps her motivated is the idea that even a tiny effort can change the course of a child’s entire life. “I don’t think I have a choice,” Quigley says about why she is compelled to help. “It’s just bigger than me.”
Another thing that is unusually big is her heart!
After some serious arm-twisting, Deborah finally agreed to let me write her story. Although she’s too humble to feel she qualifies as an “ordinary person with an extraordinary story”, I think most who know her would disagree.
“To the world, you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world.”