Sample Student Travel Blog
For the past few days I have been meeting with a variety of NGOs who deal with the human trafficking issue, including FACE, UNESCO, Amnesty Int'l, USAID, PHT and many others. The experience has been tremendously enriching. It is especially eye-opening to hear how they each have a different take on the problem... One of the most valuable events has however been yesterday's visit to a shelter for abused women and children - including human trafficking (HT) victims, forced sex workers (they are not referred to as prostitutes here and prostitution is not criminalized), and abused children. Most of the HT victims were under 18, from Burma, Laos and Cambodia. They had been smuggled into Thailand, forced into the sex industry, and managed to escape. They were all incredibly brave little girls who had survived the unthinkable. I don't know what one is supposed to expect, maybe nothing at all, but meeting them was one of the most real-life experiences I have ever had. They all looked so young and innocent, all dressed in uniform and sitting in a classroom learning various vocational skills such as sewing or cooking. At first glance you would never guess the tragedy in their lives. Interacting with them does allow you to see some of the scars however, and that was the most painful part. They hide it very well and mostly out of shame despite the fact that they are all victims. Even more tragic is the fact that most of the non-Thai girls will be forced to return to their villages as soon as their immigration cases are processed - they cannot stay - Thailand does not offer asylum - and the 'shame' , or stigma, with which they will be returned will prevent them from going back to their families thus probably forcing them to work the streets in their own country. I will not go into more details b/c I don't mean to lecture, but I just wanted to illustrate a little piece of what is happening here and in many other nations, and to comment on how different it is to read about it versus seeing it with your own eyes - it is too real for words.
Alright, I figured I must have depressed you quite a bit by now, why don't I end with a happier story. Tomorrow I am traveling to Pattaya, North of BKK, where I will visit other shelters but where I will also be spending time at a beach resort called "Cabbage & Condoms" - funny name right? Well, here is the story - HT has been a problem in Thailand since the 1960s but it really began to receive serious attention in the 70's and 80's due to the spread of HIV/AIDS. In order to promote safe sex and eliminate the shame and embarrassment associated with the use of condoms, Khun Mechai Viravaidya, now a senator and the chairman of the ÎPopulation and Development Association' which he founded, began distributing free condoms throughout Thailand and organizing public, and often televised events, with condoms as the principal theme. For example, he would give out inflated condoms as balloons to children at fairs, he would give out flowers made out of condoms to women in villages, he developed nursery rhymes speaking of condoms and their use for safe sex as well as games to show what happens when one does not use one - ie pregnancy, less money, kid cannot go to school, dad and mom need to work more etc - in short, Mechai ran an intense national campaign so that condoms could be as easily accessible and as easy to buy as vegetables in the market. The use of condoms is now widely spread in Thailand to the point where the govt. has been able to track a nearly 100% usage rate in brothels and amongst sex-workers. Furthermore, Mechai has become the slang name for condoms and is generally used in stores when buying them - talk about having left an imprint =)
Humility, Karma, 'nothing is for nothing' are just a few of deeply-rooted fundamentals of the Thai culture. Bottom line, the differences in our two cultures run deep, very deep, and they are not necessarily apparent. I have spent a year reading and studying what the West has to say about the world's problems. It is so easy to judge or decide what is best for others, but the truth is that we cannot help if we do not understand and open our eyes to what is really happening. We just can't. And worst of all, most of the time, we are to arrogant to even consider that we might be wrong in our perception of the issues to be dealt with. In many instances we go as far as trying to solve a problem that only exists in 'our' minds - I have actually seen this first hand, and the repercussions are endless. Good intentions just don't cut it - it is too easy to screw up, way too easy. Bottom line, it just isn't as clear as it seems and it is our responsibility to switch lenses and take off the blinders - pardon the cliches - I learned a LOT on this study tour.
—GDC Georgetown University student participant