After a whirlwind couple days of training camp, 45 hours of traveling (including an unexpected overnight stay in Hong Kong!) and a week with lost luggage, my team and I are getting settled into the swing of things in Bangkok.The organization we’re partnering with here in Thailand is amazing. It assists women leaving the sex industry though counseling and by giving them job opportunities as artisans. At the moment, the organization supports about twelve women.
The night we arrived, the couple who runs the foundation was on their way to pick up their newest member. It takes a long time to build trust with these women, who are wary of being trafficked by people who offer to help them. They’ve been getting to know this girl for two years. She started working in the sex industry when she was 13 years old, and is now 18. It’s a huge honor to walk by her side as she starts her new job and begins the healing process.
Most Thai women who enter the sex industry come to Bangkok from villages, and are often burdened with their family’s debt. Many have kids who they leave behind in the village, vulnerable to exploitation. The women come to the city with hopes of earning enough money to send home to support their family’s needs, and to pay back loan sharks. Often, these women were left by their own mothers, who also worked as prostitutes, and are starved for love. Many of them were abused as children. This cycle of poverty leaves young women especially vulnerable for bar work.
On average, the women who work in bars have somewhere between a 6th and 9th grade education. Because they don’t have a high school diploma or GED, they’re not legally allowed to work in most minimum wages positions, for example, in fast food restaurants or grocery stores. When a woman without a diploma leaves her village and comes to Bangkok to look for work, she essentially has four career choices: to sell drugs (which is illegal and punishable by death) to work in construction, to work in a factory (which is often dangerous) or to work in a bar.
The average bar worker makes 18,000 Baht per month (roughly $503 U.S. dollars) which is substantially more than the starting salary for someone with a Bachelor’s Degree (starting salaries for people with Bachelor’s Degrees average roughly 15,000 Baht per month.) Because of the pressure these women feel to support their extended families back in their villages, bar work is an alluring option. Once they start working in the bars, these women are shamed and further exploited.
Most women I’m working with, who have been rescued and are working toward self-sufficiency, have suffered rape, been abused and have battled addictions. When they leave the bars, they feel worthless and unwanted. A theme I’ve noticed this week is the idea of creating beauty from brokenness. The foundation uses art therapy as a non-confrontational method to help restore the women it rescues, and it is so cool to watch the women express themselves through art, regain some dignity and begin to feel beautiful and worthy again. They can choose from lots of projects, like jewelry making, painting and sewing, and they light up when someone wants to buy what they’ve made.
PHOTO #1 View from Hong Kong hotel. PHOTO #2 Bucket Showers during my training. PHOTO #3 A couple of sweet kids who live here.Thank you all for your support and for following my journey. I will keep you updated!
“He has made everything beautiful in its time.”