A Visit to Thailand | Coming Home With so Much More Than Souvenirs
We all have a lot of ideas on how we can make the world a better place. Our opinions are discussed around dinner tables everywhere, but once the dessert is served and dishes are cleared, thoughts of world change are exchanged for thoughts of a warm, comfy bed. But there are some who lose sleep trying to wrestle with this question and want to do more than just talk. That’s why I got involved with SOLD, because a group of 20-something-year-olds wanted to make a difference and set out to do just that. Personally, my sole passion isn’t just for saving children from sex trafficking as I’m involved in many good causes. But I like to be around passionate people and when I saw these young people dedicating their lives to prevention, I wanted to help them out. So I’ve worked on several yearly fundraisers that SOLD does in December. I do my ‘job’, get a few months off, and help plan again for the next one.
I always told [President] Rachel Goble that I would love to go to Thailand with her. (Between you and me, who wouldn’t want to vacation in exotic Thailand?!) I would see some beautiful countryside, experience a totally different culture than my own and eat some really great food. Oh, and I’d get to see some cute kids who I help support through SOLD.
The opportunity came up last fall to join SOLD on a trip to Thailand. I was game! I was up for adventure! I knew I would learn about the sex for sale issue in Thailand, but I did not know my heart would become full with heaviness for a country that does not protect it’s little girls.
We started our trip in Bangkok, a crowded, pollution-clogged city with modern, glass skyscrapers contrasted with rolling food carts that most of the population eats from. We stayed near the Red Light district and my first thought when driving by the young Thai girls that were peering in our taxi seeing if we were paying customers, was, “Why are you doing this! This is wrong! Don’t succumb to this degradation!” But I didn’t know the backstory, which was to unfold in the days ahead. You see, poor girls from the North have little say and little value. For the most part, boys get all the privilege and get to continue in school. But girls are discouraged, even forced to drop out around the 6th grade. Sometimes this is of necessity as the family is so poor it cannot send their girls to school (middle school and above is more expensive than elementary school- transportation fees, uniform costs, book fees, teacher fees…) So if a choice is to be made between which child to continue sending to school, it almost always comes down to the boy. So what happens to the girls? She could marry and start a family. Or she could go to work. In fact, the later is preferred as culture dictates that the girls in the family are to support their parents and even their extended family. But job opportunities are few. You need a 9th grade education just to work in a 7/11 or McDonald’s, so even the simplest job opportunities are not feasible. An uneducated girl from a poor village has limited options. Which is why most girls end up leaving the familiarity of their small village and going in to the larger cities.
To break it down a bit for you, here’s some of what I learned:
- Work in the rice fields. Long hours, back breaking work under the hot sun. About $120/month
- Work as a maid. This is a 24/7 job with little pay, lousy hours and most times harsh ‘bosses’. About $166/month (if they see fit to pay you the full amount)
- Work as a factory worker. The pay is a bit better than that of a maid, the hours are only 10-14 a day with one day off a month, and the work is tedious. Oh, and she now has to pay for her own room and board and transportation. About $266/month
- Work as a waitress (usually in a bar). Serves drinks and cleans up vomit. About $333/month.
- Work in the sex industry in a Massage Parlor, Brothel, Escort Service or be a Go Go Dancer… In a Go Go Bar she dances half naked in front of men who are 2-3 times her age, but they buy her drinks which she gets a cut of, or pays her bar fines and take her for a short or long time. Tips are tremendous. She is seen as an object to be used not as a person to be valued. Works all night, but she gets to sleep in. About $1660-2666/month (to put this in perspective a university educated teacher salary is about $1066/month).
So if you were a poor, uneducated girl, with no hope of continuing school, and it was considered your spiritual and familial duty to provide financially for your family, which job would you choose? If bringing honor to your family is measured by the amount of money you sent them, which job would you choose? Would you sacrifice your reputation, your pride, your body to feed your family or help keep your sisters in school so they would not have to make the choice you are making?
In passing moral judgement, I was harsh and ignorant. But as I came to understand what brought these girls to the dance tables, my heart broke at their sacrifice. And at that moment of realization, I was so proud to be a part of the SOLD delegation.
Our last stop was Chiang Rai, where SOLD has a Resource Center. We finally had fresh air to breathe and were surrounded by green fields. We got to take a step-back-in-time to see where the city bar girls grew up. We met the children scholarshipped by supporters of SOLD abroad. As I looked in the dark eyes of vibrant, giggly girls learning guitar and playing volleyball, I wondered what their future would be. Would they ride the bus to the big city and learn the trade of the uneducated ones before them? The answer was a hopeful, “No.” I say hopeful, because even though they are being scholarshipped to stay in school, even though they are learning about being trafficked (a term they had not even heard of 5 years ago before SOLD came) they are still at risk, as ‘recruiters’ from the city are always luring fresh, young bodies.
The highlight of the trip came after a talent show put on by the SOLD children. After much laughing and dancing and eating, we circled up on the ground as the sky darkened and shared the hope of the future. One by one the children told of the dreams they had. “I want to be a nurse.” “I want to be a teacher.” “I want to be a tour guide.” Before SOLD got to this poor village, their choices would have been between a field worker, a maid or a sex toy, as school was not in the future for any of these girls (and boys). But with the certainty of education these girls have a chance of surviving and thriving in a culture that is so stacked against them.
I got more than an exotic vacation to Thailand. My heart got tendered as I saw what my dollars to SOLD were helping to prevent. SOLD needs to be in many more villages. While there are organizations that provide a safe haven for the girls to leave prostitution, you can see the money is so good in that line of work that many choose to stay in it. Even if they choose to leave, they still must be educated in order to get a safer and less shameful job. So why not educate these girls in the first place! So they can skip this step of going to sex trade. That is the mission of SOLD and to me that seems to be the best answer for Thailand’s daughters.
I said earlier that this issue was not my ‘sole passion’ and maybe it isn’t yours either. But I can without a doubt say that I have not stopped thinking about the girls of Thailand since I returned home a month ago. I have gone from being a casual supporter of an organization that is doing a ‘really good thing’ to being convinced that SOLD is making a radical, life changing difference in the lives of children in poor, rural Thailand, one grade at a time. Maybe you want to become passionate about the causes you are giving to. Then dive in! Take the next step beyond your check book. Put your feet on the ground! Go and learn and affect your heart… forever.
Emily grew up in San Jose and was always fascinated by stories of missionaries who lived in far off countries, helping to make the world a better place. She has explored her own mission fields in Mexico, South Africa, France and now Thailand. Emily’s background is teaching, so education is near and dear to her heart. Emily speaks and writes and encourages others to help make the world a better place for all, even if its just one person at a time. You can find more of her writings on her blog at www.beyondtheredchair.com.