Tag Archives: Thailand

Where I Belong: Our New Video!

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At The SOLD Project, we’ve been putting together a film project, and I’m happy to announce that it’s now live and ready to view! As you probably know by now, our students are selected for our program because they are at risk of being trafficked and sold for sex. Some of our students are highlighted as being at risk because they are stateless: that is, they don’t have any citizenship in any country. Whether because they are the children of Burmese refugees or because they are ethnic minorities that have been discriminated against, they have been denied citizenship and all that comes with it: access to public education, healthcare, legitimate jobs, etc.

This film is the story of two of our students, brothers, who happen to be stateless. When I met Surachat, he blew me away:

He said his hero was Abraham Lincoln.

He takes every opportunity to learn English, he is polite and modest, projecting a sense of sincerity and earnestness to improve himself. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch his and his brother’s story, and if you feel so inspired, to share it with others, using this link.

Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from hardships. It’s the capacity to bounce back. Our new film highlights the power of this capacity in action, encouraging us all to dream and strive for our dreams each day.

If you’re moved to help Surachat and Surachai, please check out our MATCHING CAMPAIGN where every dollar you give is matched 100% by going to DONATE NOW.

With Thailand, We Mourn

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It is difficult to express what the passing of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej means to Thailand and its people. I have been trying to find an analog in Western culture and history, and with perhaps the exception of Princess Diana or possibly President John F. Kennedy, I find myself coming up short. Even those examples pale in comparison, as many of us are too young to remember or know how their deaths impacted the general public.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej was so revered because he was more than a monarch.

He was a father figure, a role model, an inspiration, and a protector. He defies comparison in Western culture because no one in our recent history is so loved by people across the political spectrum, regardless of beliefs or ideologies, and the love and respect for him spans multiple generations. He has been the single constant force for harmony and unity, since Truman’s first term as American President. He has seen Thailand through the Cold War, through the Vietnam War, through the threat of communism, through coups and elections, through peace and times of incredible instability. In all that time, he lead through his example of boundless compassion, self-sacrifice, devotion to his people and his country, and a commitment to thoughtful, sustainable, and ethical progress. He was instrumental in bringing democracy to his country and he developed over 3,000 projects designed to help the poorest people rise up out of poverty, in harmony with the environment. He was often seen, with camera and notebook in hand, traveling to the poorest and most remote regions of Thailand, talking with people about their challenges and their needs, listening to them, and then devising innovative ways to help. He broke with traditions and empowered his people make change on their own terms, and they remain forever grateful.

In his youth, he never expected to be king.

It was only after his brother’s untimely passing that the right to the crown passed to King Bhumibol when he was just 18. He gave up his love for science and education to study law and political science so that he could better serve his people. He delayed his coronation until the age of 23, when he had completed his studies.

He was once quoted as saying after his brother’s death:

“I had never thought of becoming a king. I only wanted TO be your younger brother”.

To the people of Thailand, he was more than a king. For 70 years, he was the embodiment of all that was good in the world. He was a foundation of stability, a guiding light of moral authority, and the beacon of hope and grace.

We pray his legacy lives on, in perpetuity.

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Photo credit: Tatrawee Harikul

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Dr. Jade Keller is the Thailand Program Advisor and Editor for The SOLD Project. After receiving a PhD in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara, she moved with her family to northern Thailand to work in child trafficking prevention, education, and helping to raise awareness. She is half American, and half Thai.

 

Last Month, Today: The News from August and September

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LOCAL

California is decriminalizing prostitution for minors who are victims of trafficking. Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law several bills designed to better protect young trafficking victims by preventing disclosure of their personal details, providing victims’ services to trafficking witnesses, and allowing testimony through closed-circuit televisions in court. However, some of the bills were highly controversial, including ones to allow human trafficking victims to vacate prior convictions and seal their records.

Other bills are still pending, including one to repeal mandatory minimum sentences for some prostitution offenses.

Source: Jazmine Ulloa/LA Times

A special report from the FBI on trafficking in Thailand was released in two parts. The first part highlights how Thailand has ramped up efforts to counter trafficking with the assistance of the FBI and other partners, especially in regards to child exploitation, sexual abuse, and trafficking in persons. The second part highlights efforts to provide more and better services to victims, and how Thailand is starting to emulate victim-centered approaches that the FBI has been implementing since 2001.

Source: FBI

 

THAILAND

Thailand has agreed to extradite to Malaysia over 10 suspects charged with involvement in the human trafficking cases involving Rohingya and Bangladeshi nationals found in mass graves along the border of both countries last year. Thus far, warrants have been issued for more than 60 suspects, and 50 of them have been arrested and prosecuted.

Source: The Nation/The Star/Asia News Network

Relatedly, a man charged with the trafficking of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, in the high-profile case that brought the mass graves and trafficking camps to light, has been sentenced to 35 years in prison. He was also fined 660,000 baht ($19,000)

Source: Reuters

Thailand and Malaysia are discussing the possibility of building a wall along the border between the two countries to help reduce trafficking and cross border terrorism. It is believed the wall will help enhance security, though details about the size and details of wall construction–including who will shoulder the costs–remain unclear.

Source: International Business Times

A Northern Thailand police and press conference highlighted recent successes in combatting trafficking in the region, with an announcement that 30 suspects have been arrested thus far this year, with 22 cases involving underage prostitution. Suspects have been caught in Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Phayo, and Phrae.

Source: Suwit Rattiwan/Chiang Rai Times

 

GLOBAL

Thai trafficking victims have been discovered in Oman, after a raid involving over 100 Thai and Omani authorities was conducted in Muscat. Twenty-one Thai women had been lured by a Facebook ad offering masseuse jobs paying 100,000 baht a month, but upon arrival in Oman, their documents had been confiscated, their communication was cut off, and they were forced into prostitution. Three Thai woman and two Omani men have been identified as suspects.

Source: Bangkok Post

A new USAID program has announced it will dedicate $12 million in the first year of a 5-year plan to protect and compensate victims of trafficking in South East Asia. Victim services, especially for refugees, is often overlooked and agencies in the area believe that the additional resources can help organizations redirect government attention to this part of the problem.

Source: VOA News

A Yazidi survivor of ISIL/Da’esh’s human trafficking has recently been appointed as a UN Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Nadia Murad Basee Taha, who is a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, suffered severe abuse at the hands of ISIL in Iraq and the Levant. Thousands of Yazidi, especially women and children, continue to be held captive and the UN is calling for their immediate release.

Source: UN News Centre

If You Care About LGBTQ Rights, You Should Care About Human Trafficking Too

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Let’s Get Intersectional

Do you ever feel alone in your commitment to social justice and ending child exploitation? Here at The SOLD Project we want to talk about how ending child slavery is not just for freedom activists, but how it’s also an issue that should interest and invite involvement from a wide range of other sectors in society. We’re introducing a new recurring feature called Let’s Get Intersectional, in which we will share how anti-trafficking efforts intersect with other concerns, and how we can expand the conversation to include others.

 

Min is vivacious, talkative and gregarious. She’s the live wire spark at any social gathering. Whether dressed in the slacks and pressed shirt of the boys’ school uniform, or, as she prefers, in bright silk dresses adorned with flowers, lacy scarves and a sassy wig, Min is unafraid to display her full smile and quick wit. One wouldn’t know it to look at her, but Min* is a child at-risk because she identifies as transgender, and despite Thailand’s outward acceptance towards LGBTQ tourists, the reality for LGBTQ Thais remains fraught with challenge: alienation, ridicule, and sometimes abuse.

Although Thailand markets itself as a “pink” tourist destination that embraces everyone, there is still widespread discrimination against LGBTQ people. Jobs are only available in sectors like waitressing, beauty parlors, the sex industry, and entertainment–where they are often the subject of comic relief and demeaning humor. More “serious” industries like banking, the medical profession, and law are usually off-limits. Families with LGBTQ teens might send them for psychiatric treatment, kick them out of the home, or even send them to serve as monks at Buddhist temples to “be cured.” In 2002 the Thai Ministry of Health finally declared that homosexuality should not be considered a mental illness—but it’s taking society a bit longer to catch up. Violence against LGBTQ people includes rape and murder that often goes unmarked because Thai law does not have a special classification for hate crimes. In a recent survey of 2,000 LGBT students, a third reported being physically harassed, and a quarter reported sexual abuse. Kids who are isolated from support structures, whether kicked out of their home or forced on their own and cannot get jobs, are precisely those most vulnerable to trafficking—the most susceptible to the demand for children to exploit. We hear most about the young girls, but young boys are in demand too.

Thailand isn’t the only place where LGBTQ children are at-risk. In the U.S., for example, LGBTQ individuals make up 40% of the runaway and homeless youth population, and it is estimated that over a quarter of LGBTQ youths are forced out of homes by families who do not accept them. And LGBTQ homeless youths experience an average of over 7 more acts of sexual violence towards them than their heterosexual and cisgendered peers.

The stigma against homosexuality invites other kinds of trauma as well. Boys who have been abused stay silent for fear of what it means for their sexual identity, and LGBTQ teens are dehumanized to the extent that predators target them for abuse because they “want” it or “deserve” it. Gender norms also tend to perpetuate the myth that “real men cannot be abused.” As such, the psychological effects of abuse often prevent kids from getting the help they need for fear of further violence—or because they don’t even understand that they have been abused.

I feel lucky because I have some natural ability to feel confident and I’m extroverted. This makes things so much easier for me, and for people to accept me. I think people who are more introverted have it much harder. They have to be strong to survive. – Min, age 15

It is our experience that poverty, social alienation, isolation, and exclusion from job opportunities are all key ingredients in the recipe for trafficking. However, acceptance, support, and encouragement can be life changing for vulnerable youths. Those committed to the fight against child trafficking must also be concerned with the struggle to uphold LGBTQ rights because violations against the latter so often put people at risk of trafficking. Likewise, if you’re concerned about the rights and welfare of LGBTQ youths, the problem of child trafficking should also be on your radar, because as long as both the discrimination against and the demand for children’s bodies exists, more vulnerable LGBTQ youths will always be at-risk of exploitation.

Min once shared her fear that she would not be able to pursue her dream job of becoming a flight attendant due to discrimination. Her mother once was depressed about who her son was. But now, Min has the support of the entire SOLD community. She shows up at all our events, dressing and behaving exactly as she wants to be seen, and her family feels encouraged to love her, just as she is. She is very aware of the value of this support as well—she knows how hard it has been for friends who face similar circumstances but who do not have that support. She feels lucky to have the encouragement to be herself, and she feels grateful for the chance to have a place in society, to go out and experience life fully. The challenges she still faces are real, but she knows she is not alone—and that has made all the difference.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

portraitforprofilesDr. Jade Keller is the Thailand Program Advisor and Editor for The SOLD Project. After receiving a PhD in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara, she moved with her family to northern Thailand to work in child trafficking prevention, education, and helping to raise awareness.

Last Month, Today: The News in July

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LOCAL

Ad Campaign Reveals ‘Ugly Truth’ About Trafficking in U.S.

In July, the San Diego District Attorney’s Office launched a new ad campaign directed at debunking myths about sex trafficking. These billboards can be found around the city, and even at popular sports events where the information is projected onto buildings. These posters say, “The Prostitution Myth: Sex trafficking? Not in America’s Finest City. The Ugly Truth: According to the FBI, traffickers are exploiting people here every day.” and “The Prostitution Myth: If a woman chooses to sell her body that’s her business. The Ugly Truth: Prostitution is rarely a choice.” According to the article, these messages illuminate the prevalence of trafficking..

Source: Sarah Grossman at Huffington Post

Thailand Cracking Down on Sprawling Sex Industry

Thailand has recently made the decision to eradicate its sex industry. Thailand is notorious for a vast number of sex workers and a huge sex tourism industry. Although prostitution is already illegal in Thailand, the law is not enforced. The goal is to close the sex trade to make Thailand a female-friendly travel destination. Moreover, the tourist minister is pushing to change Thailand’s reputation from being a hub for sex tourism to a place with beautiful landscapes and a fascinating culture.

Source: Newsweek/Reuters

 

NATIONAL

Truckers Uniting to Halt Sex Trafficking

Kylla Lanier founded Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) with her mother and three sisters a few years ago. Since then TAT stickers, wallet cards, and posters that provide information and a phone number for a sex trafficking hotline have become ubiquitous in the trucking industry, teaching truck drivers the clues that indicate a possible trafficking situation. Trucking companies and law enforcement are excited about this new non-profit. Nearly 250,000 drivers are aware of and on board with TAT’s mission, and drivers’ calls to the hotline have freed hundreds of trafficking victims.

Source: Frank Morris at NPR

This goes hand in hand with the latest initiative from The Department of Homeland Security:

Transportation Industry to Combat Human Trafficking

Since traffickers use transportation systems to carry out their heinous criminal activities, there has recently been an initiative to bring together various mediums of transportation uniting under the purpose of combating human trafficking. The Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign and the Department of Transportation hosted an event that brought together leadership from both departments, and representatives from airline, rail, bus, and trucking companies. As a part of the Blue Lightning Initiative, these departments train transportation workers to identify traffickers and their victims. They are to report their suspicions to federal law enforcement.

Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security

GLOBAL

Controversy Regarding Thailand’s New Ranking in Annual Human Trafficking Report

In June, the U.S. Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report upgraded Thailand from Tier 3 to the Tier 2 Watch List. The Tier 2 Watch List is designated to countries that do not meet the minimum U.S. standards for the elimination of trafficking, but are making significant efforts to do so. This new ranking is controversial because many who are working against trafficking in Thailand believe that this move is unwarranted and could slow progress. An international coalition of human rights, labor, and environmental organizations said that this would “undermine international efforts to significantly and permanently improve working conditions among migrant workers in Thailand.”

Source: International Labor Rights Forum

PREVENTION

Education is the Key to Ending Sex Trafficking

Sofia Aumann, a student at Cornell University, recently returned from a 10-day trip to Thailand, where she witnessed the prevalence of prostitution there, even though it’s illegal. Her research showed that it is vital to boost self-confidence when girls are young so that they will stay in school. Staying in school will keep them out of sex trafficking, drugs, and crime.

Source: Kathy Hovis at Cornell Chronicle

TECHNOLOGY

Why Syria Children are Holding Pictures of Pokemon

Recently a media campaign to highlight the plight of Syrian children emerged, making use of Pokemon Go. The new and extremely popular app operates on going to real-world locations to catch certain Pokemon. Therefore, young children in Syria are holding the Pokemon to help people become aware of the crisis. The United Nations estimated that 4.5 million people in Syria are living in “besieged or in hard-to-reach areas, with civilians prevented from leaving and with little to no access to food, medicine or other essentials.” These Pokemon characters are at least able to get a large population to pay attention to or become aware of an immense tragedy.

Source: Tucker Reals at CBS News

 

Real World Experience in Ethical Volunteerism: A Conversation with Rachel Goble

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Last year, Chab Dai, a faith-based anti-trafficking organization based in Cambodia, released a study on the impact of short-term volunteers, both on their own lives and on the organizations they volunteered with. The findings, based on a literature review, surveys of thirty two volunteers, and interviews with sixteen non-profit leaders, provide an enlightening glimpse into the phenomenon of volunteering. Posited within the framework of neoliberalism* — the dominant ideology of our globalized world — the findings suggest that while short-term volunteers often experience noticeable transformation in personal development, cross-cultural perspectives, and the expansion of a more global perspective, there is often little to no positive impact on the host organizations. Further, the impact on short-term volunteers is often a short-term attitude change versus a change in long-term beliefs. While the literature tends to paint a dismal picture of short-term volunteers, the surveys and interviews offered more insight and hope.

The entire study is a fantastic and crucial read for anyone interested in working in the non-profit world or international development. After reading it, SOLD staff writer and researcher Dan Olson thought it would be fun to use its findings as a springboard for a discussion with our President Rachel Goble about her experience with both hosting volunteers and being one. Here’s what she had to say.

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Dan: What was the best volunteer experience you ever had?

Rachel: Two come to mind. During one of my summer breaks while in college, I volunteered at a battered women’s shelter in Livermore, Calif. called Shepherd’s Gate. I oversaw the donation drop off point. It was super-mundane (laughs) but also fulfilled a real need. I loved it. Also, I was in charge of a folder where the women in the long-term residential program submitted requests, so I got to learn about their lives and needs and understand some of the non-profit’s systems. We also started a thrift store while I was there, which was super fun.

Oasis in India is my second. I could tell that some of the staff were skeptical of me us volunteers. I got that. Even while I was there, another volunteer, who wasn’t dumb or lazy but just wasn’t a self-starter, sat around and waited for people to tell her what to do. Fortunately, I knew enough by that point to be proactive. I came up with ideas and asked if I could implement them. People would be like no or yes or that’s ok, but this would be more helpful. So it took a little time, but it led to me putting together a prevention curriculum. That was the best moment, because after this one of the staff members, a guy who was really hard to please, came up to me and told me that I was the best volunteer he’d had. That was rewarding.

My time at Oasis shifted my perspective on volunteering. Before, while finishing grad school and looking for a practicum, I was frustrated by the hoops the organizations made us jump through. I was like, we’re graduate students, we’re educated, and we’re offering our work for free. Why aren’t they ecstatically saying yes, yes, yes? Now I realize that to have it be mutually beneficial for both the volunteer and the organization you have to weed people out.

Dan: How about the worst? Have you had a worst?

Rachel: I’ve observed organizations, but I can’t say that any of my volunteering experiences were bad. I’m sure I was bad! (Laughs.) I was probably someone’s worst volunteer at some point, but I never went into volunteering with a consumer mentality. I always felt like if the experience wasn’t great, it was up to me to get something out of it. The thing I wanted was to help. So I could always find a way to do that by trying.

Dan: In the Chab Dai study, it’s clear that volunteer expectations, specifically in regards to the impact they would have on the ground, were often too high. Have you found this to be the case when working with volunteers?

Rachel: That’s interesting. One of the challenges that I think people find when they volunteer, especially when they fly half way around the world, is that cultural differences are huge. In Thailand, things move slower. Whether it’s staff or volunteers, I think this is one of the things that non-Thais who work with us struggle with. I’ve seen it be incredibly difficult for some to learn how to navigate their achiever mentality in Thailand, which tends to be a much more relational cultural context versus an achiever cultural context. I’ve seen that transform people’s perspectives, but that takes time.

Dan: The study also highlighted some cultural tensions and potential power dynamic issues. Khmer NGO workers spoke about power dynamics more frequently than the volunteers and even felt that the volunteers communication with them was abrasive and belittling at times. On the other hand, some of the volunteers felt they had not been adequately prepared for the culture they were in and one even that the staff was resentful towards her for having her own computer and other signs of wealth. How have you tried to manage this? Have you had to?

Rachel: What comes to mind is, first, the way that we’re structured. First and foremost, it’s local leadership. Whenever a volunteer comes in, we draft terms of reference for them, so they understand their role. The Thai staff participates in creating this for each volunteer. Second, our staff tells us what the needs are on the ground, and they have to approve each volunteer. If someone applies, their app comes to the US office first. If we think they might be a good fit, it goes straight to our Thailand office. There our Resource Centers’ Directors look it over with our Volunteer Coordinator, the only Western staff there, and discuss the volunteer’s experience and education and how this could fit in with our needs.

While we’ve had great experiences overall, we have had times where our Thai staff felt that volunteers did not contribute as much as they said they would. But this has mostly been with teams. Teams are really hard. They basically turn our entire staff into hosts for a day, which would be fine if they didn’t have other important work to do. We’re not a hosting organization; we’re an anti-trafficking one. If we accept a team now, it’s usually just for a one-day activity that is very well planned.

That being said, we’re all about education. If an individual comes through or a team who wants to learn, we have that opportunity built into our model.

Dan: Yeah, one of the things the study said was that the discourse around voluntourism, a common name for short-term volunteering, should move from a focus on development and aid to a focus on international and intercultural understanding.

Rachel: Yeah. I love that. I agree.

600369_4053085766715_538333557_nDan: The study also highlights words used to describe ideal volunteers such as resilience, self-awareness, self-starter, relevant life experience, relevant training, and life experience in general. What do you look for in volunteers?

Rachel: I would add entrepreneurial and self-drive. The reality is that when you come in to volunteer unless it’s a giant and very well organized organization, you’re going to have to do a lot on your own. We only have one person to coordinate this, and even then it’s only ten hours a week of her job description. We need to bring people on who we can trust to make decisions in the best interest of the organization.

Also, I would add humility. I don’t know what word to put to the other thing I think is crucial, but it’s incredibly important that they have an awareness that their view of the world is not the only view of the world and that it may not be the best. I guess that could be summarized in openness, depending on how you defined that.

Dan: Some of the organizations in the study said that six months was the shortest they would accept a volunteer for, but that a year was better. Does SOLD have time constraints or limits when it comes to volunteers?

Rachel: It depends on what they’re doing. I find that if somebody wants to do a workshop, such as teaching a skill set or encourage and support a staff member in a particular role, then even one day might be enough.

Logistically, we’re limited. If you want to be a volunteer in Thailand for over three months, you have to get a work permit. The government only gives a work permit for one in every six of the staff who is national. We’ve had people who come in on an educational visa because they want to learn Thai and volunteer, which has worked well.

Really it all comes down to the volunteers’ skills and expectations and the needs of the organization being aligned. Long term volunteers definitely get treated more like staff, and their opinions are valued more because they’ve built trust. I would never put a short term volunteer, someone who’s only there for three to six months, in a position where their work required them to make decisions or work with the staff in a way that required them to have a high level of trust.

Dan: Is there anything else that stuck out for you or advice you’d like to give someone who’s looking to volunteer overseas?

Rachel: The power dynamics are huge. In the West, and I think especially in the Church, we have been taught that we can fix the world. There’s an element to this that is true and incredibly powerful because we do have choices and these choices can have huge negative or positive impacts on our world. But this has gone astray in the sense that we feel we are somehow more powerful. What I mean is, well, there are things people say like, “I just want to go love on them,” or “I can’t believe people have to live that way, and I just want to help.” That language shows an unrecognized feeling of superiority versus a real skill set.

Dan: Yeah, like why do they need you to come “love on them”? Do they not have love in their culture?

Rachel: Right. Exactly. I do see a desire in our staff for training and education. They want management training and counseling training. There’s definitely a place for education and training. That’s needed. But we need professionals, not just good intentions.

SOLD tries really hard to protect our staff from people coming in and telling them what to do. I still don’t understand what saving face is after eight years. I cause Tawee, our Founding Director, to lose face all the time without being aware of it. And he tries to save face for me sometimes, and I get offended (laughs), because that’s not my culture. We talk about it, and it’s okay, but to assume that a volunteer can step in and offer insight immediately is unrealistic.

My hope is that volunteers have a particular skill set and professional experience to offer. I always go back to the Brian Meyers’ quote, “the poor deserve our very best.” Somehow we’ve belittled the poor into these helpless human beings when the reality is that those who grow up under challenging conditions often become the most resourceful and resilient people. We seem to forget that.

Dan: Well, that seems like a good place to end on. Thanks for chatting Rachel.

Rachel: Thank you.

 

 

 

*“’Neoliberalism‘ most often refers to a loosely cohering set of economic, social, and political policies that (1) seek to secure human flourishing through the imposition of free markets and (2) locate ‘freedom’ in individual autonomy, expressed through consumer choice.”

Thailand Issues Major Crackdown on Trafficking Camps

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Following the crisis of Rohingya refugees being trafficking through Thailand from countries like Myanmar and Bangladesh, the Thai government has issued a major investigation into and a crackdown on trafficking camps found along the Thai-Malaysian border.

According to Reuters, seven camps and 139 graves containing the remains of migrants had been found after a thorough investigation, and the camps have since been eradicated. In addition, more than 50 officers have been transferred from their posts upon suspicion of links to traffickers, and at least 18 arrest warrants have been issued. Authorities believe there are no longer any camps left in the south after these actions have been taken. 

Furthermore, last month, Thailand called in a regional conference with leaders from other surrounding nations to discuss how to deal with the crisis. Thai authorities have also agreed to provide humanitarian aid to the refugees on boats and have indicated readiness to offer aid to Malaysia.

These most recent actions by the Thai government represent an important battle victory in the fight to end trafficking.

Meet the Woman Behind Counter-Trafficking in Chiang Mai

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One of the leading figures in the counter-trafficking movement in Northern Thailand, Boom Bean is the founder and Director of The HUG Project (and its offshoot, the ACT Center), which is a multidisciplinary team involved in the protection of victims and investigation of cases of abused and sexually exploited children. She collaborates with Police Lt. Col. Apichart Hattasin of the northern Thai division of the Royal Thai Police, who is devoted to investigating, arresting, and prosecuting traffickers and other perpetrators of violence against children. To date, the HUG Project/ACT Center has been involved in the rescue of approximately 40-60 children per year who have been sexually abused, trafficked, or otherwise exploited, and many other cases are currently under investigation. Boom Bean also helps train staff, volunteers, and members of other counter-trafficking organizations on raising awareness and on how to work with children who have been victims of abuse. She was nominated for the U.S. Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award in January 2014, and she has been one of TEDx Chiang Mai’s speakers on human trafficking in Northern Thailand. We’re thrilled to speak with her about the phenomenal work she’s doing.

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Khun Boom, thank you very much for taking the time to talk with us about your experience and perspective. Can you tell us a little bit about what led you to where you are now?

I grew up with a single mother and never knew my father. I had grown up knowing about sexual abuse from someone very close to me and I was never sure how to respond to it, so I remained silent. At university, I studied English Literature and, as part of the major, I read various books based on true stories of children being abused. I enjoyed working with children, so I initially chose a career in teaching language (Thai and English) to children and university students. Many of these students would often come to me and tell me their stories of abuse.

In 2011, I began researching, reading, attending trainings, and doing volunteer work on the abuse of children. It was during this time that I became aware of the issue of human trafficking. I felt called to be more involved in counter human trafficking efforts, so I decided to start a non-profit organization focusing on counter human trafficking. A few months later, the HUG Project was founded, HUG being the northern Thai word for love.

When I first started the HUG Project, it was with the intention of creating prevention mechanisms for children and staff through trainings and awareness activities. Throughout the trainings, I regularly heard children and adults share stories of abuse. Consequently, my team started to focus more on the protection and intervention side of human trafficking — the investigation and prosecution of traffickers and or perpetrators. Much of the investigation was done myself, with support from my team. At the beginning of 2013, the police on the team arrested a foreign pedophile who had been preying on street children. Following the arrest, Police Lt. Col. Apichart Hattasin and the HUG Project officially founded The Big Brother Project. Our goal was to protect, empower and restore children who have been exploited and abused, or who are at risk. The Big Brother Project (in collaboration with the ACT Center) works with children who may not be eligible for other programs due to the complexity of their specific issues.

Boom Bean -12 copyPhoto credit: US Embassy Chiang Mai

What are two or three of the biggest challenges you face?

One big challenge is putting a good case together to make sure that justice is served for victims. In Thailand, victims are the key witnesses, so you need very strong evidence, which can be difficult to collect, and you need victims who are willing and able to cooperate throughout the process.

The restoration time for victims of human trafficking and child abuse is also very challenging. They have been through an extremely traumatic experience, and may not understand that they are victims, and sometimes resist the process. It takes a lot of time, energy, patience, and dedication.

If you could change one thing to help end trafficking in Thailand, what do you think would be most effective?

I would like to see the educational system (schools) start reporting children who skip school, and I want to see authorities work together to prevent children from dropping out of school. Many of the victims that we work with dropped out of school at an early age. We need to come up with better and much more effective strategies and mechanisms to prevent children from dropping out of school and to keep them within the education system.

Please tell us about a case that stayed with you, affected you, or changed you in some way. What happened and how did it change you?

Every case will take something out of you. My very first case involved a young girl who dropped out of school in her early teens when her father’s life and money became consumed with alcohol. She began to go out late at night and started serving drinks and dancing at bars. Then a friend of hers told her she could make a lot more money selling her body for sex. She was connected with a “friend” who promised a certain salary if she worked for him, but as often happens, traffickers’ promises were not all they seemed to be. She earned far less than promised, but she had seen what could happen to her if she tried to leave, so leaving was not an option. It was at this point that I met her. The volunteers on our team opened our home to her and enrolled her in school.

This was the first time in her life that she encountered structure and boundaries, and she did not care for it. However, each time she ran away, we convinced her to come back. Each time she relapsed, we showed grace and forgiveness. She is now in school and doing well (and is one of SOLD’s scholarship students), and she is back at home with her father who now has a stable job. In the meantime, we continue our efforts to bring her traffickers to justice. But she still has a life-long road towards restoration. She has begun a life of healing, not only from the physical abuse, but she also seeks the kind of healing that can only be given by the grace of God.

This experience taught me that we can’t really change people, but we can motivate them to change themselves.

What are you most proud of?

I am always happy and proud to see children that I work with grow to become healthy, independent individuals, and to see them serve others!

If there were one thing you could tell foreigners before they come visit Thailand or before they try to get involved in supporting the anti-trafficking movement, what would you want them to know?

My encouragement would be that there is no single best method in fighting this crime. We must work together. What works in their home country may not work in Thailand. I want to encourage people to support the local people to help fight this crime in a way that is effective and sustainable.

 

**Note: The ACT Center is a recently launched pilot initiative to triangulate efforts between various governments (including the U.S.), NGOs, and local police officials to counter trafficking in the region. To find out more, read this article in Chiang Mai City Life Magazine.