Since our last report in May 2014, life in Northern Thailand goes on with the Southeast Asian monsoon season bringing rain nearly every day. The 15 girls of the safe shelter are back to school and the director of the project in Chiang Khong, Ms. Puangthong Takan, recently received a visit from three International Volunteers who work at the DEPDC / GMS Mae Sai site to explain the main human trafficking issues and processes in the region. So, this an occasion to give further explanation about our organization's effort to fight against child trafficking in the region, which is not limited to this safe shelter project.
The location of this safe shelter for vulnerable ethnic minority girls was chosen strategically. International border areas are often critical areas for all kinds of trafficking. The Thai – Lao border is especially sensitive for human trafficking, because of the difference of economies between Thailand and Laos and because of the ease to cross the Mekong River which separates the two countries.
The recent increase in Thailand's national minimum wage to 300 baht (about 10 USD) per day has led to an increase in the recruitment of cheaper labour from Laos, since most businesses cannot afford to pay local (Thai) labourers at this rate. Furthermore, this region is not as developed as other parts of Thailand. It is mainly rural and many different ethnic groups live there, such as Thai Yuan, Leu, Lao, Kamu, Yao, Lahu, Mong, Chinese Hor, and Akha.
The Chiang Khong safe shelter is home to 15 girls, who are at very high risk of being forced or lured to into exploitative work, especially the commercial sex industry. This solution is envisaged when a girl’s environment (family or caretakers) is unsafe for her. The protection project provides them with a safe place to live and grow, an opportunity to study in public school (scholarship, uniform, educational supplies…), healthcare, food, and an on-going variety of vocational and life-skills trainings.
The work of this project is not limited to shelter protection of the 15 girls, however. Despite its limited capacity to host these children at risk, project staff also oversee a wide range of field research and intervention work. They first identify the children who are most at risk of being trafficked in poor, vulnerable villages and then conduct prevention work through awareness-raising workshops directly to their communities. There is also provision of financial assistance to vulnerable non-resident children to cover their school fees, because the project's mission aims to provide access to education as the first critical step in the prevention of child trafficking.
The Chiang Khong protection project is also the origin of an efficient prevention and protection network that involves governmental and non-governmental organisations, schools, health and social services, and concerned village residents. The network collaborates with the children's families and communities on many issues related to human trafficking such as HIV/AIDS prevention and care, drug addiction awareness and treatment, statelessness, child and labour rights, and child abuse prevention.
We would like to thank you so kindly for your help and generosity, which allows the safe shelter protection project to have a deep, long-term. and responsible impact at all stages of the child trafficking prevention process.
One of the many strengths of the Safe Shelter Center program is the frequency of high quality vocational and life skills trainings provided to its young female residents. On a Saturday in late January, Center staff and residents gathered for their weekly meeting and to do relationship and confidence building exercises with the guidance of the Center director, Ms. Puangthong Takan. At the meeting, Ms. Takan and the assistant director distributed clothes and shoes to each of the girls, asked for their input on the upcoming week’s menu for meals at the Center, and encouraged discussion of anything the girls needed to talk about.
Each of the girls was grateful to receive a variety of clothes and a pair of shoes, which they got to try on and pass around until somebody found a good fit. While Ms. Takan handed out shirts, jackets, warm hats, pants, sweaters, and sweatshirts, – it’s chilly in northern Thailand in January! – she reminded the girls to appreciate what they have and she talked with them about what is appropriate to wear in different situations. After the excitement about receiving some new things settled, Ms. Takan turned to the topic of relationship and confidence building.
Ms. Takan spoke first about the importance of listening and the value of an individual voice. She asked the girls to close their eyes and think about people and things that have made a positive impression on them and about their future aspirations. After a few minutes of meditation, Ms. Takan had them pair up and take turns to share what had come to mind. She guided them to listen wholeheartedly and to accept whatever their partners would say. The pairs then joined up to make groups of four and each person shared with group mates what her partner had said. Once everyone had their turn to speak, a representative from each group stood up and recapped the stories told by group members. Ms. Takan talked with the whole group further about how to be a good listener and emphasized that each individual has the right to be heard and for her voice to be valued and counted.
On February 14th, celebrated in some parts of the world as Valentine’s Day, the Center held an all-day workshop about safe sex and healthy relationships for the residents and girls from a neighboring village. A leadership and life skills training group called “Do Good and Be Joyful” came to conduct a range of serious and fun activities. The group regularly conducts leadership camps and skill- and knowledge-building workshops for the Center residents and other at-risk children in the Chiang Khong area. Participants were warmly interactive with the workshop staff, Ms. Takan, a DEPDC/GMS international staff member, and with each other. They were engaged to think about and reflect on topics of healthy relationships, sexually transmitted diseases, condom use, and confidence building.
The girls especially enjoyed talking about personal relationships and the characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships. They first split into groups of four to discuss and collaborate to make lists of both positive and negative relationship behaviors. Each group came up with long lists of thoughtful examples and then took turns to share with the other groups. Listeners were asked to say whether they agreed or disagreed with the examples their peers gave. Lively discussions and even a few debates took place, as all participants had a chance to give feedback and to reflect further on their own experiences.
The workshop wrapped up with a discussion of safe sex practices and a demonstration of condom use. Presenters spoke candidly about the dangers of unprotected sex, showed examples of male and female condoms, and talked about alternative birth control methods. They demonstrated how to open a male condom package and put it on a wooden replica. Then each participant had a try to do it herself. Many of the girls later reflected that this helped them to feel more confident about safe sex practices.
As with all of the essential services and activities at the M-CRP Center in Chiang Khong, these workshops aim to lift the children up day by day and put them in a better position for the future. This is not only to avoid becoming a victim of human trafficking and labor exploitation, but to be able to envision a safe and healthy life and to have the means to attain it.
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Director of Mae Sai Projects