Individual works for various publications
In addition to campus media and internship projects, I have submitted freelance works for outside publications. My article for The Ramona Sentinel shares the story of Ramona women and their experiences with human trafficking overseas. I also wrote an editorial for YMI about the way God gave me new insight about his generosity during my lifeguarding experiences at the Biola pool. My piece for Fathom Magazine discusses how I learned to separate light from shadows during my photojournalism classes. My latest article, published on Old Cove Road, is about how I overcame my fear of never being good enough for myself or other people.
News and Magazine
Two Ramona Women Share Experiences with Overseas Trafficking (The Ramona Sentinel)
November 18, 2015
Brenda Herr and Casie Germonto recently returned from a trip to Thailand and Cambodia with XP Missions, a group seeking to end human trafficking.
The group included people from different countries with a passion for raising awareness about human trafficking and helping victims of sex slavery in other countries.
“This video was talking about how a lot of people correlate who their earthly father is with their heavenly father and how much more difficult it is for these ladies to realize that there’s a God who loves them,” Herr said.
Germonto wanted to help bring awareness to the issue after hearing a speaker from the Los Angeles Dream Center present information on trafficking in L.A. at her at church. In addition, girls who experienced trafficking shared their testimonies. Listening to this speaker and the girls’ stories helped Germonto realize the severity of the issue and want to help those affected.
“Trafficking is here, it’s in the Midwest, it’s everywhere,” said Germonto. “It’s in third world countries, it’s in Africa — it’s such a big, global issue. The more I talk about it, the more passionate I am to bring awareness about it.”
The first week they participated was a leadership gathering and the second week was called Operation Justice. Both weeks centered on sex trafficking and stopping it.
The first leg of the trip started in Bangkok, Thailand, where they worked with a ministry called Night Light and stayed half a block from the Red Light District, a high risk area for trafficking. The group learned information regarding the country’s trafficking statistics, trafficking laws and what protection victims receive.
While in Bangkok, they did prayer walks and spent time going into bars, providing support in any way they could. They prayed for the victims and listened to their stories and experiences with prostitution.
The group also learned about Thailand’s culture and Buddhist views. Herr said 98 percent of the people are Buddhist, and parents tell their children that the gods will not bless them if they do not take care of their family. The daughters mainly take care of their parents and grandparents financially, presenting a heavy burden for them. Trafficked children often come from villages and provinces where people are not educated, and there are not a lot of work opportunities, resulting in pressure to go into the city and earn money for their parents.
“They’re sent or pressured through shame to go into the city and make money like some of these others, to send money back to the parents, and they don’t know how it’s being done,” Herr said.
In Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Germonto spoke with a 95-year-old woman who lives in a slum. The woman is ill and cannot go to a doctor because she is malnourished. Although a sponsor helps her, she has no means to support herself. The woman was sad that she couldn’t go to church, and welcomed Germonto, who said the woman’s stories affected her greatly.
“She was so open and welcoming to us, and hearing her speak and tell stories about her life, it really touched me and impacted me,” Germonto said. “She had so much life behind her eyes, when she would smile, she had so much light behind that, and it was crazy to see that, especially in her situation.”
After visiting Bangkok, the group traveled to Pattaya, a city in Thailand two hours away. Herr said Pattaya was a dark place and was worse than Bangkock. The city has a walking street lit up with neon signs and music playing. The street is lined with “gogo” bars that have many prostitutes and names like the “Devil’s Lair.” On this street, people hold menus of pictures with different sex acts and prices, trying to lure people to the bars. There is also a dark side street nearby known for pedophiles. Germonto said walking down this street was overwhelming because prostitution was so exposed and many westerners took part in it.
“They are literally in your face, offering menus … it was so overwhelming the first time we walked out and saw everything — it was so overwhelming how many westerners take part of it, “ Germonto said.
Herr said women and children are not offered protection because they are brought from different countries. Police work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., so people have to pay extra if they want help after hours, resulting in a corrupt law enforcement system.
“When you’re not a citizen, the system is not there to protect you at all, no matter what is being done,” said Herr. “So there’s a lot of corruption with the government and the police.”
During the last couple days of the trip, the group flew to the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, which Herr said had a different atmosphere than Thailand.
“Thailand was mostly clean and modern, and Cambodia’s not,” she said. “It’s very dirty, very polluted, overly populated.”
She learned about the country’s history and said the leader of the Cambodian Communist party called Khmer Rouge killed at least 1.7 million people 40 years ago. Due to these killings, 48 percent of the population is now under 25 years old.
“There’s a lack of identity in the people, a lack of excellence, quality and drive to do anything because it’s not what they’re taught,“ Herr said.
A lot of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have come in to help restore the country by aiding, developing, training, educating and rebuilding from the government to the slums. The NGOs also bring in teachers, and a lot of private schools have been established to help families who cannot afford an education in the public system. There’s a high level of poverty in Cambodia and the country recently allowed outside countries such as Japan to come in and help.
Like Thailand, the culture is Buddhist and parents are more concerned about their children providing for their family than receiving an education, so education is a low priority.
“It’s still about taking care of the older generation, so the sooner you can bring in money, the better,” Herr said.
XP Missions has three major groups. One of these groups, Everlasting Love, is for women at high risk for trafficking, and XP Ministries will teach these women a trade, such as sewing.
“They teach them quality, excellence and how to value themselves,” said Herr. “There’s counseling available to them, they learn about God, and they have free daycare because many of them have children”
When the children are old enough to attend school, they can become eligible for Education Empowerment, a sponsorship program for private education that XP Missions offers for children. People from around the world can sponsor a child by paying to provide lunch every day they attend school and/or supporting their education. With these funds, children can get a uniform, school supplies, private school fees, transportation to and from school, hygiene and haircuts, and a birth certificate, which is crucial for obtaining a job in Cambodia.
Herr said the program helps the children form an identity and the children who go through this program stand out from others.
“They teach them sports, they learn English, they learn about God, and they get a wonderful education,” Herr said.
They also have a children’s home where XP Ministries adopts and cares for Cambodian children who have been trafficked while providing them with an education, much needed counseling, love and a family environment.
The group also has “light house projects” where they rent a shack in the slum, clean it up and use it as a place to do ministry with the children and adults. They do feet washings, hold Bible studies, and provide medical care for those who cannot afford it.”
Germonto learned she can make a strong individual impact on victims of trafficking and said the trip humbled her because she realized her quality of life is much better than others who live in countries like Thailand and Cambodia.
“I don’t have to be a billionaire to make an impact on peoples’ lives, and that essentially everyone is wanting the same thing, which is to have community and be loved,” Germonto said.
Herr dreams of starting a XP Mission in San Diego after hearing that San Diego ranks the fourth highest in the United States for human trafficking. She wants to create a safe place for girls to go, and she wants to provide more resources for people who have experienced trafficking.
“ I believe we need some place like that in San Diego, like what Everlasting Love gives in Cambodia, where they have a place for these women to go to get counseling, to have day care, to learn a trade, to be educated if that’s what they need,” Herr said.
Germonto plans to help with “Cut Free,” a ministry that XP Ministries is starting to help rescued trafficking victims. The program is set to start by the end of 2016 and will teach girls how to cut hair. Germonto wants to bring attention to how people can help, noting that people can help the ministry by donating hair products or fundraising.
Herr and Germonto plan to host a fundraising dinner on the evening of Nov. 21 in San Vicente Resort, 24157 San Vicente Road, in the San Diego Country Estates. The event is open for anyone to attend, and Herr will share her experiences and photos from the trip. In addition, she will discuss the different ways people can become involved in XP Ministries and help solve the issue of human trafficking.
For more information about the event, contact Herr at Fundraiser_XP_Cambodia@yahoo.com.
After watching documentaries about human trafficking, Herr saw an XP Missions video and became interested in joining the group on the trip.
How a Hot Cup of Cocoa Pointed me to God (YMIToday)
February 2, 2017
The morning breeze mercilessly blew above the walls and enveloped any brave soul standing in its path on a frigid, December morning at dawn’s break. Woolen parkas, hats, sweatpants, mittens, and fur-lined boots obscured our frail figures as my coworker McKenna and I kept our eyes glued on the swimmers gliding through the water.
The frigid atmosphere instantly changed a few minutes later. Out of the blue, a regular swimmer, Andrew, walked up to us with two cups filled to the brim with hot, sweet, soul-satisfying cocoa—a gesture of simple and pure generosity.
Surprised, we quickly thanked him for his kind gesture.
As a lifeguard, I’m used to being in the background. Every Tuesday and Thursday morning or Saturday and Sunday afternoon, I set up my chair, grab my rescue tube and waist pack, and supervise swimmers coming to the pool for their morning laps or family weekend trip. The majority of people don’t give me a second thought. I’m part of the scenery.
Andrew––a lean built gentleman of medium height in his 30s, with wire rimmed glasses and fine-cut dark hair––always arrived on the dot at 6:30 a.m., every Tuesday and Thursday. I was stunned the first time Andrew talked to me, because I had come to accept the idea that people don’t notice lifeguards. He asked us how our day was, how difficult our semesters were, and even remembered little details like our majors and grades. He was genuinely interested in our lives, made us feel like we mattered, and helped us understand that patrons valued our presence.
This man’s generosity left a mark on both McKenna and me. Andrew could have saved his hard-earned five or so dollars he spent on our drinks, yet he chose bless us, without seeking anything in return for his kindness. Through Andrew’s selfless act, we realized blessings aren’t necessarily extravagant. And I believe that God can multiply one act of generosity, and those who offer even small gifts will ultimately grow richer than anyone concerned solely about themselves.
I believe that God can multiply one act of generosity, and those who offer even small gifts will ultimately grow richer than anyone concerned solely about themselves.
Proverbs 11:24-25 best describes the value of generosity: “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”
In a way, Andrew’s display of generosity gave me a glimpse of God’s generosity. Just as Andrew had clearly went out of his way to bless my friend and I and expected nothing in return, God shows us kindness unconditionally.
God’s generosity towards humanity is best seen in the gift of the life of His only son, Jesus Christ—the ultimate sacrifice that enabled mankind to enjoy a relationship with our perfect, heavenly Father. 2 Corinthians 8:9 describes Jesus’ generous gift of grace, about how He became poor so we could become rich in God’s kingdom.
And even when we turn away from God and try to accomplish things on our own, He forgives all of our sins and constantly pours out mercy. His everlasting love is so great that He accepts even the lowliest in society into His eternal kingdom if they call Him their Savior.
I have personally seen God’s generosity manifest in my life through the ways He constantly provides for all my needs. He gave me additional scholarship money and ensured I had the finances to continue studying at Biola University. He also provided numerous opportunities for me to gain journalism experience and develop writing abilities that enabled me to tell others’ stories and give a voice to the voiceless. Furthermore, He blessed me with a great family and friends who continued supporting me even when they were facing their own struggles.
We do not deserve any of the wonderful blessings the Lord pours out, yet He continues showering His love on us. Each time I recall the act of generosity Andrew showed McKenna and me on that fateful December day, I remember God’s generosity. This brief yet memorable moment inspires me to intentionally bless others and look for ways to put their needs before my own. It is truly “more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35).
Separating Light from Shadows (Fathom Magazine)
May 1, 2018
What kind of lighting is this?” my photojournalism professor asked one morning during our class. A classmate instantly replied, “Loop lighting!” I, on the other hand, stared at the picture for at least a minute until I actually saw the light instead of the shadows.
Another morning, my professor took us out into the quad area outside and placed someone underneath an overhang so a pattern of light shone on their face. “Now, what kind of lighting is this?” I still couldn’t answer that question.
On a Journey for Light
Much of this class taught me how to perceive the world differently from how I natively see things. And even though I specialized in graphic design as a visual journalism major, I needed to understand photography and lighting if I wanted to truly work in a multimedia magazine job. So, my quest for light began.
Eventually, I realized that I needed to flip-flop my vision. Instead of focusing on the shadows, I could focus on everything but the shadows. It’s similar to those optical illusions, such as the controversial young or old woman picture. After that, I started separating the light from shadows.
Eventually, I realized that I needed to flip-flop my vision.
I also discovered that I could often detect light through shapes: rectangles, diagonal lines, a triangular shape on one’s cheek for Rembrandt lighting, circles for loop lighting, a half-moon, crescent, ovals, and more. Associating a shape with a particular style helped me distinguish between those that looked similar.
It’s similar to playing a game of hide-and-seek: it’s hard to find someone when they’re hidden in a dark space, but once you find their form, see the color of their clothes, and separate the shadows from their body, then you can identify the person.
Adapting a New Process
Finding the light became much more difficult when my professor asked us to look for it in color portraits because I have an extremely high color sensitivity—I have a shirt that’s clearly indigo, yet most of my friends think it’s purple. My eyes often compress colors together. As a result, light just looks like another color to me. Later on, I realized I could actually look for lighting through color—light is generally yellow or white. After that realization, I looked for white and yellow spots when I took pictures—a practice which helped tremendously.
During later class sessions, we browsed through more color and black-and-white photos, so I implemented my new techniques. First, I looked for the brighter spots in the picture. Next, I looked for shapes that helped me identify a particular style, and then I finished with an observation of white and yellow colors. Eventually, I inched toward my classmates’ response times. I still couldn’t distinguish the styles as quickly as they did, but I at least knew what they were at this point: broad, loop, short, split, Rembrandt, butterfly.
Being able to discern this kind of light did not come easily to me. It took practice and still is taking practice in my photography. It even took me using techniques to rewire my brain to see something that I normally don’t see. It’s quite the quirky process and I’m still not the best photographer in the world—but at least I can catch the light when I snap the shutter, look at the digital copies of images, and say, “Look at that small, dark circle under her nose: it’s butterfly!”