RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — While Rapid City was covered in nearly a foot of snow in March, three local law enforcement officers were battling the tropical heat as they conducted training halfway around the world.
The Rapid City Journal reports that the idea for the trip hit Pennington County Sheriff's Deputy Jesse Fagerland one Sunday last summer, as he watched a film on human trafficking during a church service.
Fagerland, 35, a sheriff's office investigator for 12 years, felt a calling to share his skills and knowledge outside his country. The film propelled him to make something happen.
He proposed a mission trip to his pastor, the Rev. Bryan Faltynski of the Common Ground Church in Rapid City, who serves also as chaplain at the sheriff's office. The men invited other law enforcement officers within their congregation, and two signed up: John Olson, head of the Rapid City Police Department's Criminal Investigation Division, and Jamin Hartland, school resource deputy in the Douglas School District.
They reached out to international organizations that could help them set up the trip. After looking into service opportunities in Cambodia and Taiwan, they finally found something in the Philippines. They then raised funds to cover the nearly $2,000 that the weeklong trip would cost each person.
On March 11, the four men boarded a plane in Denver that would take them to the other side of the world.
After traveling for nearly 22 hours, including a layover in Narita, Japan, they arrived in the Philippine capital of Manila. There, they were met by Vanesa Perrigo, another Common Ground Church member who flew back to her home country to serve as their language and culture translator.
Over two days, at the Bright Lights Learning Center located about 20 miles west of Manila, the group conducted training on self-defense, basic crime investigation and combatting human trafficking. About 100 Filipinos participated, including students of criminology, teachers and high school students.
Hefziba Lagman, a 17-year-old participant, said the self-defense and anti-human trafficking training taught her to be more aware of the behavior of people around her, especially when she's walking on the streets or taking public transportation.
"Don't always be looking at your cellphone. Look around you," said Lagman, a 10th-grader at Bright Lights, a school in the municipality of Cainta that offers free education to underprivileged youth with the help of donations from foreign countries.
Lagman said she learned also to push back against bullying by saying, "No."
The training had its light-hearted moments, too.
During the crime investigation class, the officers set up a mock crime scene with Faltynski playing the role of a homicide victim. To simulate blood, they poured some banana ketchup — a local version of tomato ketchup — over Faltynski as he lay on the floor.
"We put fingerprints and footprints around," Olson said in an interview a few days after the group's return to Rapid City, "then the kids had to come into the class and they had to tell us what parts of the crime scene they saw."
The thick, sweet, red sauce attracted flies, but the pastor had to lie still as the criminology students practiced finding clues to the supposed crime.
The four Rapid City men got a chance to play basketball with local youth — and apparently got badly beaten — as they interacted with Filipinos on a more personal level. They also visited some local homes.
Olson said the group wanted to show that the trip wasn't about "just a bunch of benevolent, white cops coming in to try and help people from the Philippines."
They wanted to offer mentoring, and at the same time learn from people of another country and culture.
"Really all of us are just children of Christ," Olson added. "We just happen to be half a world apart."
The pastor, citing a common Filipino stereotype of Americans as more powerful and on a higher social level, said he and the officers tried to bridge that perceived distance. "We had to quickly learn how to lower ourselves and lift other people up, so that we met on the same level," Faltynski said.
The men had a chance also to visit Camp Crame, the Philippine National Police headquarters, and met an officer with its Internet Crimes Against Children unit. They offered Filipino police the technical assistance of the ICAC unit in Rapid City, as well as advisory help from the Rapid City Police Department and Pennington County Sheriff's Office.
"We really admire the work they are currently doing in Manila," Olson said. "We hope someday to do some training together."
The officers had such a memorable experience in the Philippines that they're already talking about a similar trip back. But they don't yet know when or how it will happen.
Fagerland, for his part, has already started saving money so he can take his wife and three children along the next time. Fagerland believes experiencing life in a developing country will enable him and his family members to grow beyond the comfort of the lives they know.
He has also started taking a basic course in the Filipino language, and one morning last week was practicing how to say "Good morning."
Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com