Being as it’s the New Year, I figured it was time to do some self-evaluation and set some goals. I’ve been in Thailand for nearly four months now. I’ve had the fortune of traveling throughout the country and I’ve seen a lot. From the bustle of Bangkok, to the fantasy of Koh Phi Phi, to the charm of Chiang Mai, to the mountains of Pai, to the floating markets of Rachaburi, to the Golden Triangle where the borders of Thailand, Burma and Laos converge. Not to mention a mind-blowing week in Cambodia that continues to affect me deeply.
I’ve been volunteering with DEPDC/GMS, working on the prevention side of human trafficking by providing education and opportunity to at-risk youth from Thailand, Laos and Burma. Most of what I’ve done is teach English. It’s a major asset even if it’s not what I envisioned entirely. I’ve also co-taught sexual education workshops and written an international volunteer handbook. I’ve attended numerous meetings including several with large international NGOs and I’ve networked with other NGOs in the region doing their part to combat human trafficking: Destiny Rescue in Chiang Rai, Not For Sale in Mae Sai, and AFESIP in Phnom Penh. I’ve deejayed a weekly set on Child Voice Radio and been filmed in a documentary segment that will air on Al Jazeera at the end of this year. I may or may not make the final edit.
I’ve been extremely touched by my experience. I’ve grown to love all of my students and respect the dedicated individuals I’ve met who are on the ground trying to make a difference. Prevention work has been a good place to start. I knew a lot about sex trafficking prior to my arrival but I’ve learned so much more being on the ground. I’ve seen it up close and personal. I’ve visited more red light districts than I care to admit and I’ve talked with survivors in a shelter in Cambodia. While I often wish I could do more than I’m doing (set up shelters, schools, drop-in centers), I have learned that if you genuinely care about the people you are serving and make that known by providing what you can (be it toothbrushes, pencils, English lessons, notebooks, food, water, a shoulder) and impart a little joy in their direction by creating memorable experiences, well, nothing is more rewarding than that.
I’ve been out of the 9 to 5 for what feels like a lifetime already. I’ve shed more tears of joy in my time here and felt more alive than I ever did sitting in heels and pant suits in a law firm. I may not have much money in the bank and I have no idea what’s in store for the coming months, but I know in my heart that coming here was the best choice I could’ve made. I am so amazed and grateful for all of it and I know I am changed in profound ways even if I’m not fully aware of it. I know I can’t return to the life I was living in the U.S. For the first time in my adult life, I feel I have found what I’ve been looking for. I feel I am where I belong. The puzzle piece is no longer missing. As clique as it may be, I know it’s priceless.
So, what next?
In the coming weeks, I will wrap up with DEPDC/GMS. I have an International Department handbook to write, as well as a human trafficking presentation to redesign. I’ll continue deejaying my weekly radio broadcast and try to get it on some grant writing. If I can make the money last, I’ll stay until the end of June and help with the big MTV EXIT human trafficking awareness campaign.
If I can stay on longer in Thailand, I will venture to Mae Sot to volunteer in a Burmese refugee camp. I’d also like to offer my volunteer services to the hill tribes in the region. I’ve been completely touched by my interactions with the hill tribe people of northern Thailand and I would really like to spend some time assisting them in whatever way I can.
My mother visited for a month and together we donated food and water to the Burmese earthquake relief effort. My mother also raised nearly $1,000 for rebuilding.
Overall my experience has been amazing and I really hope it is just the beginning. I certainly have some goals – the biggest one is to remain in anti-trafficking work for as long as I can. What can I say? I’m a tried and true abolitionist. I’d like to work on the rescue side of human trafficking once I’m finished in Thailand. First in Cambodia, then in India and Nepal. So I will do whatever I can (within reason) to earn money and keep on keepin’ on.