I'm kickstarting my return to regular blogging, with help from one of the abundant and free wi-fi cafes in Chiang Rai. It's pretty obvious that I'm a fulang (foreigner), since I'm about twice as tall (and wide) as most Thai people, and very pale. Though I'm a fulang in Kyrgyzstan too, it's less obvious because I can pass for Russian. Here, there's nothing I can do (short of extensive and probably world-first surgery) to blend in. Thus, I have embraced my foreignness by ordering a rum frappacino and cranking up the Mac, while Bess is off buying supplies for cafe training.
What am I doing in Chiang Rai? That's a sensible question, and thanks for noticing. It's the last stopover along a very frantic summer. My sister, Bess, recently started working here, and since I can write openly about it, I shall proceed to do so.
She works for an organisation called Destiny Rescue. Please read about them here. To summarise, there are about 800,000 child prostitutes in Thailand, which contributes to a billion-dollar sex industry - one of the biggest destinations for 'sex tourists.' Destiny Rescue exists to rescue and restore sexually exploited children, in Thailand and elsewhere. How do they do this?
- They send trained teams into red-light districts, who identify and rescue children being exploited. Last month in Thailand, 25 children were rescued by DR teams.
- The children are brought to "safe homes" where they are given intensive psychological, emotional, and physical care. They are also given tools and skills to reintegrate into society.
- DR focuses on hill tribe communities and slum communities. They offer opportunities and employment to 'at-risk' girls, and provide education and awareness training.
- They also alleviate poverty by providing training/development programs for families; things like small business loans, agricultural training, supplying running water, etc. This means families are less likely to sell their children for income.
Bess's job is to train a group of rescued girls to run a cafe: she is teaching them to cook, to wait, to speak enough English to serve fulangs. The cafe opens in a month and she'll be overseeing and managing the project for at least a year. She also teaches dance classes - fun! And let me tell you: these girls are happy. They are cared for; they have hope for the future; they're not just rescued from unthinkable darkness, they're being redeemed. It's impossible to see this work and not respond.
Please read up on the DR website - this is truly remarkable and heart-rending work. You can sponsor girls, you can volunteer here, there are so many tangible ways you can help.
I've heard such stories and I'm bursting with the desire to write about them - I'm leaving on Friday, though, so it'll be a while before I can do that.
In the meantime, there has been much motorbike riding and delicious food, torrential rain and crazy humidity, elephants and coffee and waterfalls. I've been posting the pictures on FB, so go check them out!