Monday, April 22, 2013

President Obama on Human Trafficking

"It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name -- modern slavery."
– President Barack Obama on Human Trafficking

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Thinking of Boston...

As I sit here, so far from home, I can't help but be thinking about the latest tragedies happening in the city I love so much.

Thank you, Mr. Obama, for promising to go the great lengths to find the people responsible for the recent bombings at our beloved Boston Marathon; but I can't help but understand that these promises from our president, that 1st grade bullet proof backpacks in Connecticut, that the new security in Colorado movie theaters, Boston Airport, and VT Tech won't stop the next person from killing somewhere else, causing more tragedy and trauma, and more empty promises.

What you really should be advocating for, Mr. President, is for your people to practice the fruits of the spirit. After all, peace in the world, starts with peace in the home. You should be advocating for people to treat each other well; with respect and love. You should be advocating for parents to give their children a stable and loving home to feel safe in and cared for. People react to how others treat them.

I wonder if the bomber would have wanted to kill so many if he or she had felt loved and valued by others?

We should feel lucky to have a country who cares about its people so much. I can't help but think about all the people in Burma right at this very moment who live every moment in absolute fear of their government, who is ruthlessly killing and oppressing its people. Our government wants to make justice happen for the three people who were killed in the bombings. Other governments want to make sure the hundreds of thousands of people they are in charge of are afraid. 

As only vinegar calms the burn of lye, so does love only stop the burn of hate. "Be the change you want to see in the world".

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Slavery Exists.

Who ever says slavery doesn't exist anymore is wrong. 

I don't really want to process what I saw tonight. I'm afraid it would be too devastating for my little heart to handle. I wanted to bottle this informaion up and throw it away actually. Women are sex symbols. This has been told to me ever since i was little, but I've never actually experienced this fact so explicitly. Tonight I did. It was repulsive really. Old western men isn't an accurate label for what they really are - coming to Thailand simply to exploit these girls who have no desire to be dressed in so little and have to be with countless men every night just to get enough money to send back to their families. I can't explain how badly I wanted to just throw my fists at their nasty drunk faces touching young girls who are probably more than half their age. Who in their right mind would think this is right? 

The poverty in Thailand is not apparent. Thailand is actually a thriving country, with less than 11% in poverty. However it is the sex industry that helps it thrive; with 90% of Thai men having gone to a prostitute and 40-50% going regularly, without forgetting the hundreds of foreigners coming to Thailand simply for the sex industry, and catering to most of the economic success. Because Thai girls have more opportunity and access to education in the city, it ends up being hill tribe girls and refugees from neighboring Burma who become trafficked and exploited for sex. These young girls who are not given Thai citizenship, who are looked down upon for being a prostitute, and who are the lowest of the low in society, are actually the backbone of Thailand's economic success as a country. 

That's not right is it?

While walking around the bars, I made direct contact with these western men - I couldn't help but with a disgusted look in my eyes. Don't they know they are the  reason for so many young lives being completely ruined? Do they know that these girls don't want to be here? That they would rather be at home with their families? But they can't because girls in Thai culture are suppose to support the family? Don't they realize how awful it would be to be taken from your family, deceived into prostitution thinking you were going to be working at a noodle shop, and be forced to sleep with 6,000 men in a matter of 6 years? Do they know that those in prostitution have much higher rates of PTSD than those that are war veterans? 

Do you know what you are doing to these girls? How could you?

As we drove by the Red Light District of Chiang Mai, i wasn't ready for the apparent-ness of the sex industry in Thailand. Every venue that has women, girls and boys for sale has to be fronted by some other venue - the most common are karaoke bars, massage parlors, alcohol bars, some restaurants and brothels. I thought we would be looking for these 'fronts', but i was taken by surprise. As i looked to my right, i saw a big open building with bright blue and purple neon lights bordering the opening. it resembled somewhat of a big fancy movie theatre or a night club. There were probably fifteen or so bar stools out front with young Thai girls wearing 6 inch heals and small skin-tight dresses sitting on them fixing their hair or makeup...waiting. The same sad, heartbreaking scene was found at the dozens of other karaoke bars we passed that night. As we walked into one bar, we found young girls around 6 or 7 years old, called "flower children". These girls are brought to the bars to sell flowers first, and then their bodies. Most of these children are refugees from Burma, miles and miles away from home. No 6 year old should ever have to be sexually abused and forced into prostitution so far from home. It just shouldn't happen. 

The following is from the NGO Nightlight based in Bangkok, the center of the world's human trafficking problem:

"Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. Through force, fraud and or coercion people are recruited, harbored and transported for the purpose of exploitation. Trafficking generates billions of dollars each year as people are transported around the world to work in prostitution, pornography, sweatshops, construction, housekeeping, agriculture, restaurants and more.

Often victims migrate willingly, responding to fraudulent offers of employment. Upon their arrival they are subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude or the commercial sex trade. Many international victims encounter language barriers, and are threatened with punishment or harm to family members in their home countries. In the United States, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 made human trafficking a federal crime but due to the hidden nature of the problem, it is difficult to locate trafficked persons."

If you want to learn more, here are a few websites of Human Trafficking NGO's that we have visited personally. These NGO's are doing great work in the prevention, eradication, and restoration of human trafficking in Thailand. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Phkuet and Bangkok Post-Practicum Trip

About a day after we got back from out practicum sites, our group took a red eye plane from Chiang Mai International Airport to the beaches about two hours outside of Phuket - a less touristy place called Khao Lak. Khao Lak is a collection of beaches on an island in the very southern part of Thailand. It's beaches are filled with the whitest, finest sand your feet just sink right into. The aqua colored ocean radiates with serenity like the pictures you find on beach calendars - those places you think just can't be real. I could stay there forever; drinking coconut banana smoothies inside of a coconut shell, basking in the hot sun, and swimming in the warm ocean, without a care in the world. This really is the life.

After about four days of relaxing, snorkeling with amazing tropical fish, swimming with sea turtles, getting horribly sunburnt, kayaking through mangrove rain forests full of poisonous but beautiful snakes, eating island Thai food in a beach-side sala, making friends from France, and attempting not to sweat every second of every day, we took an overnight bus to Bangkok - my home away from home! 

This was the day i could not wait for. I love Chiang Mai's rich cultural flavor, i love Phuket's tropical breeze and beauty, i love the village's quaintness and ruggedness. But i love Bangkok. Maybe it's the nostalgia from living there with my mom and my sister: two of my best friends, maybe it's the magical busyness of city life, maybe it's those bright pink taxis. I don't know. Whatever it is, i love Bangkok, and being there made me want to go back, forever. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

ARDA Skills Center Post-Practicum

On Thursday at two pm, I left my internship in Laos for the long over-night bus ride home. It was so hard to leave the people I had come to know and adore so much. As I road back to Thailand in the dark bus, my ears were filled with the sounds of an older Australian man talking - very loudly at that - to a younger amateur German traveler about how awfully arrogant, ignorant, liberal, drunk, and disrespectful Americans are. I wondered if he knew how disrespectful he was being, talking so loudly on a bus full of Thai people who were attempting to sleep through the night. Their conversation was centered around how "poor" Thailand was, and how awful it was that Americans think they can come to this country and impose democracy on it's oh-so-poor citizens. I wondered if they had forgotten about the colonial era, when dozens of European countries invaded African and Asian indigenous people groups and dominated their culture and ways of living, leaving the indigenous groups impoverished and exploited. I wondered if they knew that the Lao word for foreigner "falang"is a derogatory word which means "French man" because of their dislike towards the Europeans who induced war on their country. I wondered many things that night. After our bus ride was over, I told the German traveler that not all Americans were as arrogant, drunk and liberal as he thought - including a kind smile as I turned to leave. Kill them with kindness right? Generalizations and stereotypes are never a good thing to be yelling about in a bus full of quiet people who are trying to sleep. 

But my thoughts that night were not dominated fully by European voices. I thought about the friends that had become so special to me that month. As I was reluctantly leaving the bus full of students waving goodbye with tears rolling down their faces, one student said with a quiet smile "see you in Heaven". I wanted to cry and rejoice all at once. He had it. There was no need to make these goodbyes any harder by saying, "I will see you again one day, I will come back to visit". Because reality is, I've said those same words to everyone I have left behind in different countries. I'm going to have to get a lot of plane tickets to visit everyone I wish I could. Reality is, I probably will never see those students again; because even if I do visit Laos again, they will all be back in their villages in the mountains, already having graduated from ARDA Skills. This makes me want to cry. But knowing I will see them in heaven one day makes me rejoice with gladness. That's the power of the Truth. 

My month at ARDA was unforgettable. My days were spent roasting coffee beans, teaching English, eating with my hands on bamboo tables on the floor, editing school curriculum, painting murals, and just spending lots of time with the students at Skills - but more importantly, my days were spent learning from the people who so kindly let me into their lives for that month. 

But enough of me rambling about Europeans and tears... pictures say a thousand words right? 

the market near ARDA - which supplied my unhealthy obsession with coconuts 

 This is the Patuxai in Vientiane, built to replicate the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. It is dedicated to those who fought in the struggle for independence from France in WWII. It was built with American funds intended to build a new airport for Lao. Instead, of course, the Lao government used the money to build this monument which has a nickname "the vertical runway"

love these translations 

a few pictures of where i stayed at ARDA... 

coffee tastes better when you roast it yourself 

the students loved eating sour mangos from our mango tree


...and after 

cutting up our pigs for the ARDA feast/open house 

just a couple of the beautiful animals of Laos 

Until We Meet Again

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Things I Love About Laos

1. I'm sweating as soon as i get out of an ice cold shower

2. There are so many ants they come out of my computer keys

3. Everything is finger food... including soup

4. My name means chemical explosion

5. They tell me i look nice because i'm so white... sweet.

6. I eat sticky rice every meal, every day

7. Thai soap operas

8. The only things i can say are "i'm sweating" and "big problem"

9. Korean tourists

10. I'm forced to love food that will burn my mouth off and make my nose water because if i don't eat it i will starve.

That's all for now!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Arrived! Again.

We've decided it's okay for me to blog while i'm in Laos... so here i am again! 

As I bounced, jerked and slid around in the very back of the beat-up 15 passenger van that was taking us through the night to Laos, I realized this could be the first time I considered throwing up from motion sickness. I felt like a nomadic stow-away that snuck into the back of a vehicle to find some sort of restless sleep and un-luxurious transport. My eyes wanted so badly to sleep, but the bumps and jerks were way ahead of that longing to rest. They would barely give me enough time to think about it. To be honest, it was lonely. I wondered what my parents and siblings were doing. I thought about how many people who never had to experience this same sort of unknown and lost sense of location and time. And then I thought about the people who have.

I thought about the illegal immigrant trying to reach America for a better life for his family, not even having enough money to pay for a visa and forced to stow away in the back of a van. I thought about tribal refugees from Burma trying to flee to a safer country. At one point, I woke from my restless sleep as we slowed down, only to find that we were surrounded by police and construction. I thought about the hundreds of thousands of Rwandan refugees attempting to escape their genocide-stricken country but were stopped along the way, only to be ruthlessly slaughtered. No person should have to go through that, I thought. 

After a very long night of interrupted ‘sleep’, we finally crossed the boarder, and the night got lighter. In our van were two British girls backpacking around South East Asia, one quiet but quirky Israeli girl, and one man who seemed to be Laotian. After crossing the boarder, we were waved over to a song teaw (like a truck with seats in the bed) and drove off – only to be dropped off on the side of the road twenty minutes later with no cell phone reception, no language skills, and no sense of where we were or how to call anyone (our cell phones only worked in Thailand). We finally borrowed a cell phone from a Laotian man and called Kipp, the director of ARDA (where we are interning), and found out we never were suppose to get into that song teaw. Whoops.

As we waited for him to find us, Christine and I sat down with the Israeli girl for a nasty cup of sweetened-condensed milk coffee. Finally when Kipp and Jaime found us, they took us to an over-priced American style coffee shop to get coffee and scones. We stopped at Kipp’s house, groggy but attempting to be perky, to meet his family. Kipp is a Hmong man who lived much of his life in America and Malaysia and married an American woman. They have five very outgoing kids who were eager to show us their exotic pets: a leopard kitten, a black panther cat, two hedgehogs, a green iguana, turtles, fish, a dog named Pup, and a bunny. They showed us where we would stay at the ARDA campus and let us get settled in. 

After living abroad a lot of my childhood and college-career, I have found a love for the word ‘home’. Home is such a wonderful thing; that sense of comfort and knowing. It is where one finds peace and rest. Moving around a lot of my life and college career, I can’t wait to experience home again, not always feeling like a stranger wherever I go. Because no matter how long you live in another country, you’re still white. You're not African, you're not Asian, you're not Arabic, you're not Bohemian. But more importantly, I can’t wait to experience a home where there is no suffering and there is no pain. That home will be the best one.

Speaking of home, one of my good friends is working at ArgopointLLC on Beacon Hill

No place like this home