”An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Since returning from Thailand, many, upon hearing of the plight of poor girls to prostitution, ask, “What do you think can be done?” The more I delve into the sex trade there, the more hopeless I feel. The problem is vast and historied and just as the answer for World Peace can’t be summed up in a sentence, either can this solution. But there is hope. I found it in a small village outside Chiang Rai.
After visiting the busy, crowded cities of Bangkok and Chiang Mai, it was refreshing to drive out to the country and see green fields and blue skies. Down a dirt road nestled between rice fields and teak groves, is a sturdy wooden building housing the SOLD Resource center, which consists of a large classroom filled with red desks, couches and computers lining the walls.
Upstairs are the offices and bedrooms for the staff and guests. A weedy lawn spreads about the property and we get a tour of the silk worm production, a new way SOLD is helping the villagers supplement their incomes.
The most welcoming site though, are the children. After school they come walking or riding in on bicycles, happy to give a wave to the group of Americans visiting, perhaps wondering which one of us is their sponsor, keeping them in school. My heart had already been racked by the girls at the Go Go bar. (see my previous post How far would you go to feed your family?
) and seeing these newly teen-aged girls it felt like I was traveling back in time, to the time before the bar girls were ‘recruited’ for work in the big cities. The Bar Girl’s eyes were empty and blank, the SOLD girl’s eyes were vibrant and sparkling. They hadn’t yet had their childhood ripped away from them. The SOLD Project is all about preventing this from happening. Besides pairing up sponsors (people like you and me) who scholarship these students so they can stay in school, SOLD teaches English, computer skills, mentors in life skills and provides Human Trafficking Awareness Programs at the school starting in every 6th grade classroom.
“Why do these children need scholarships? Why don’t they stay in school?” you might ask. Because school is not a given when you live in a poor community in Thailand where parent(s) are eeking out a living doing the back breaking work of a farmer or construction worker. To go to middle and high school there are fees in transportation to the school which is not walkable or bike-ridable, book fees, teacher fees and the cost of owning 5 uniforms, one for each day. If a there is money for school, it is usually bestowed on the boys in the family as the girls are encouraged to get a job. Or they are encouraged to get married. However the former is preferred as culture dictates that the girls in the family are to support their parents and even their extended family. You need a 9th grade education to work in 7/11 or McDonald’s so those simple jobs are not feasible. An uneducated girl from a poor village, has limited options. Which is why most girls end up leaving the familiarity of her small village and going into the bigger cities.
Here’s what I found out about the job opportunities for these girls:
1. Work in the rice fields. Long hours, back breaking work under the hot sun. About $120/month
2. 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)
3. 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
4. Work as a waitress (usually in a bar). Serves drinks and cleans up vomit. About $333/month.
5. Work in the flesh trade 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 get 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 send 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?
So you see the lure of this line of work. I wondered if these children at SOLD would be so attracted to the Big Money in the big city. For even though they are scholarshipped to stay in school, they are still at risk of being trafficked (which was a word this village had not heard of before SOLD came to it!) In fact, just before we came a young girl, Som Wang was being wooed by a madam who ‘recruits’ girls and sells them. This madam had lived in the village before but was sold into prostitution. She stayed in prostitution because the money was good and even better if she could ‘recruit’ fresh, young bodies. With a gift of a cell phone, this madam sought out Som Wang’s friendship. Som Wang knew from the whisperings around town what this woman did for a living and the madam finally asked her to go with her to the big city. ”This job makes lots of money. But you have to invest or sacrifice something in it.” Som Wang hesitated. The madam prodded, “It’s your choice but the people who do this job, some of them already have a better life. They are the minor wife (mia noi) of a rich man in Bangkok.” (A ‘minor wife’ is a second wife or mistress and having one is a common practice in Thailand, big city or small). Preying on a typical teenager’s desire for ‘stuff’, the madam informs Som Wang that she could get 30,000 baht or even higher for the sale of her virginity. That’s 1,000 dollars US. Here Som Wang might have been very tempted to go with the madam, but the voice in her head won out. That voice belonged to her mentors at SOLD. She told the woman, “I joined the SOLD Project and they taught us about the risks of prostitution and how it’s not good. I think this way also.” Som Wang chose not to go. Not only was this a victory for Som Wang, it was a victory for The SOLD Project! The message of prevention is being heard and learned! Multiply that by the 140 children SOLD is providing guidance and scholarships for and you have the beginning of hope.
There are many organizations that offer a safe place for sex workers if they want to leave the ‘business.’ But even then they need to be taught a skill or get educated so they can make a decent living, or else they return to the good money of prostitution. So if you still have to educate these girls after they have been selling their bodies, why not educate them before they even make it to the Red Light Districts?
Why not help keep these young girls in school so they can dare to dream of becoming a nurse or a teacher or even a politician! That is what SOLD gives such girls(and boys). That is why prevention is key.
Co-Founder of SOLD, Rachel Goble, with 2 of her scholarshipped girls.
There are many ideas to help the upwards of one million girls (with 40% being under 18) in the sex industry in Thailand alone. Create change politically. But this could take years. “Drafting and implementing viable solutions requires major changes in the minds of the public and Thai leadership regarding societal concepts. The concepts of equal stature for women, national social security programs, free education, national health programs, worker safety standards, worker training, minimum working hours and pay, etc. are difficult concepts to grasp in nations that don’t have them.” http://www.thaiworldview.com/poor.htm
Educate the men (Here’s a shocker: the bulk of the clientele are Thai men!) so that they value women and protect their ‘daughters’. Create heart change so that they value the person over materialism. (Some parents sell their own daughters or sons, for the monetary benefit they will receive.) Inspiring a culture to make positive changes when it will affect a multi-billion (yes, that’s a ‘b’!) dollar industry seems so futile.
But there is an organization that is making a difference in a poor, small pocket of Thailand. It is empowering girls to say “No!” to the sex industry by providing the resources to keep them in school– so they have future advantage like that of a wealthier daughter, the advantage that all girls, all children should have. And that hope for Thailand, today, is the SOLD Project. And if you, my readers, seek to make a difference with your dollars, then investing in education is a very worthwhile pursuit! But don’t take my word for it…experience it for yourself!! In Thailand, in Africa, in India, in….??? There are numerous places all over the globe. Take the adventure! Live Beyond your checkbook! Be the hope!
COMING UP NEXT: Pictorial Post of Thailand and a FREE giveaway! Stay tuned!