Thailand. The land of mango sticky rice, mountainous scenery, Asian elephants, colorful marketplaces, tuk-tuks, crazy drivers, and some of the most welcoming people you will ever meet. While my time in Thailand was spent enjoying all of these amazing aspects of this wondrous country, we were also there to learn more about a darker side of Thailand. The human trafficking that occurs in this country was the focus of our trip. We experienced a lot of the wonderful things that Thailand has to offer and I am so blessed to have been able to experience that. Even though not everything was sunshine and roses, I am far more blessed to have been able to see the dark sides as well. Awareness and education is what WILL STOP human trafficking and my journey to see that through has only just begun.
In my first semester in the Criminal Justice and Criminology program at the University of Maryland, College Park at USG, I took a class called Child Abuse Investigations taught by a Department of Homeland Security agent. Learning more about trafficking and child sex abuse in that class is what led me to pursue a career in the anti-trafficking field. As soon as I heard about the trip to Thailand, I knew I had to go. As an older student, I was worried about doing a study abroad. Can I afford it? Can I leave my household for that long? Can I take off that much time for work? The fact that this program was a winter study abroad is what sealed the deal for me. The trip wouldn’t be too long and I finally had the opportunity to fulfill a life long dream of mine.
There was never a dull moment in Thailand. We visited with elephants, climbed mountains, visited temples, shopped, took a cooking class, visited markets, did some more shopping, and ate at some of the best restaurants I’ve been to in my life. All of that was just for the cultural experience. What really hit us most was working with DEPDC/GMS, an organization that takes care of children who are at high risk of being trafficked. We painted a building at an organization that has been working towards protecting high-risk children for over 25 years.
Another institution we worked at was a Thai government run school where we taught English to 5th graders. All of these kids are just like American children! You say “selfie” and they all pose! They just want to have fun, play, and learn. But the harsh reality is a lot of them will be trafficked, regardless of these programs and schools. The majority of them will not continue on with education past 6th grade. Some will become beggars. Some of the children we worked with had already been trafficked and their future is still uncertain. You can’t help but smile at these kids because right now, they are just silly children who want to play Heads Up, 7 Up, and Duck Duck Goose. But looking at all the children and not knowing which ones are going to be ok, is devastating.
My time in Thailand was some of the best and worst weeks of my life. But I did learn a lot. I learned that Americans can help these kids, and kids all over the world, by educating themselves and helping to educate others. That is what is going to stop human trafficking. There is a long road ahead of us to stop this from happening to children and adults, but everything has a starting point. My starting point was Thailand.