Items of Interest Archives
One Year in the Human Trafficking World
We were strangers, both from Queensland brought together by a deep concern for the plight of children forced into sexual slavery and an aspiration to help in some small way by giving our time and our talents. This led us to give up our carefree, privileged western lives and move to Thailand for 12 months to 2 years to work as volunteers with an NGO. In society many think that there is no more slavery in the world, yet sexual slavery is very much present worldwide and defies every form of human decency.
We were immersed in a world that we had certainly heard of through TV documentaries, but nothing could prepare us for being part of this world.
A world of such young beautiful, funny, cheeky girls who would laugh and sing with us, who would play tricks on us, who would tease us about trying to learn basic Thai, and who would become our friends. The same such beautiful girls who had been rescued from bars, typically undercover brothels, and who had often been sold by their families.
Being Westerners it is very difficult for us to believe that parents, particularly mothers, would sell their children into slavery. As volunteers, becoming immersed in their world, and hearing from their mouths the stories of poverty, and having to feed other siblings, one very quickly understands the plight of these families. Some stories seemed ‘absurd’ where we heard of young girls selling themselves for sex night after night so their family back in their home village could buy a play station for their brother, or simply so the family could ‘save face’ within the village.
As a volunteer you experience every emotion; anger, sadness, disbelief, compassion, and helplessness. We experienced times of extreme highs and times of extreme lows.
Whilst trying to contribute in giving our time, our contribution sometimes felt so small, and we questioned if we were making any difference. We came to realise that we can come to take our privileged Western lives very much for granted.
We also came to see that one NGO cannot save the world but just the smallest of milestones can be life changing. Seeing one of the girls get married and have a baby, seeing others learn new skills to get jobs, or girls who go back to their villages and set up their own businesses makes it worth the sacrifice.
But to hear about another girl who has decided to return to a brothel, after the hard work of many volunteers trying to reintegrate her back into the community, is an emotional and heart breaking experience. Blaming oneself for not being able to help, or being unable to give enough support, or not giving the right support are common thoughts and feelings that volunteers can face. Coming to the realisation that it was maybe the pressure from the family for her to return to the bar and earn the money for the family makes any volunteer understand the complexity of sexual exploitation and human trafficking. Young girls can earn very good money working in a bar, which will often outweigh support from an NGO, or what they could earn in a regular job.
How did we survive such a range of emotions as well as being so far away from our support network of family and friends? Caring for each other, encouraging each other, listening to each other, supporting each other, and crying and laughing together whilst sharing a bottle of Aussie wine, made the low times easier and helped us realise that this was an adventure of a lifetime! We had the support of fellow expats, who were living in Thailand for different reasons, some of whom were missionaries from various organisations, while others were retired expats living their dream.
Then comes the time when you know you must return to your “other” life. To leave behind the beautiful girls who have become close friends, the fellow volunteers you have shared this amazing experience with, and the other expats who you have also shared friendship and great times with, is just as challenging as leaving the carefree, privileged western lifestyle. It’s like leaving a “family” and a once in a lifetime experience, knowing that you will not be returning. There are mixed feelings: “I can’t wait to go back to normal and reconnect with family and friends at home” but also a sadness that this time in your life is over.
Once home and after the excitement of connecting with family and friends, comes a sadness of missing the lifestyle of overseas living in a ‘developing country’, working in a foreign country and interacting with all the wonderful people you have met. It’s a real adjustment to our western lives.
Amongst all the emotions, questions and adventures, did we make a difference, even a slight difference? Yes we did! Would we do it again? Yes we would!
It was all worth it and we have wonderful memories!!!!
We hope sharing our story in our home country, brings some awareness and understanding of the plight of these beautiful girls.
Wendy Townsend Megan Buxton
St Ursula’s College - Armidale (1970) Fellow volunteer and friend