The first time I ever boarded a plane I was making my way to Australia for three months of training, I had no idea what I was in for. After training, I found myself on a plane again headed to Thailand in the middle of their summer. We arrived in Bangkok, took a 16-hour bus ride to a small village near the border of Myanmar and so the work began.
I remember arriving at the orphans refugee camp to find dust thick in the air, no toilets, a hard floor for sleeping and a yard full of children whose language I couldn’t understand. It was hot, it smelled bad and the food was less than impressive. Immediately, my attitude fell and I craved all the comforts of home. It wasn’t long before I realized none of that mattered.
Throughout the next two months, I would work with at-risk Burmese refugee orphans – Thailand children who had been recruited to begging rings and women who were being sold for sex in the bars in Pattaya. At 20 years old, I never would have imagined a world like this existed.
Eight years later, there are several memories that stand out to me, however, there is one that flashes through my mind more than the others.
We were working as a team in an undercover drop-in center at the northernmost point in Thailand. The center allowed children to escape the abuse and begging rings for a few hours a day where they could just be kids, play, learn and eat without worry. Our translator helped to tell their stories and that’s when we heard the reality of their daily horror.
Most of the children had lost parents due to the world’s longest civil war in Myanmar. After being sent to beg for money on the border, they were expected to return to Myanmar each day with 30 baht (about 1 US Dollar) in profits. For those who met the goal, it was a good day. The children that returned short of demand would be beaten, starved, burned with acid or have extremities scarred or removed from their bodies. They would get down on the floor to show us how they begged and taught us the tricks of begging that would bring in the most money.
We received an invitation to visit some of their homes in the middle of a district riddled with civil war and explosive attacks. We made the journey across the border, holding hands with children who were also viewed as the dirtiest, lowest-class citizens, receiving odd looks each step of the way.
The day was full of eye-opening moments and it empowered us to help in an educated way. While you can’t save each child, we were able to speak with various individuals at the root of the problem, sponsor several children to attend school and, most importantly, we were able to partner with an organization who had feet on the ground day in and day out.
The world of human trafficking is vast, rapid and underestimated. There are many misconceptions and while we may feel powerless, it’s important to remember that we are the only ones that can make an impact.
Awareness is by far the most powerful tool that we have.
Human trafficking is not confined to a remote country in Southeast Asia. It exists right here in the state of Texas, click here to read more.