We took a bus ride to a province outside of Bangkok and then a ferry across the Chao Phra Ya River to Kred Island where the Kredtrakarn Protection and Occupational Development Centre is located. There we were given a presentation by the centre’s psychologist entitled “Listening to Unheard Stories: Human Trafficking.” The psychologist couldn’t speak English so her presentation and the answers to our many questions were translated by Ajarn B, a professor from the university who has been accompanying us on our travels.
This facility is sponsored by the Thai government Bureau of Anti-Trafficking in Women and Children in the Ministry of Social Welfare and houses child victims of human traffickers. These victims have been rescued from sweatshops or brothels. It was heartbreaking to hear the girls’ stories, but encouraging that the Thai government is trying to do something about this pervasive problem. The centre provides protection, housing, food, medical care, counseling services, education, recreation, and life skills education to its 550 residents. Other services include vocational training, childcare and parenting skills education for those in the shelter who give birth, reintegration and preparation assistance to help the residents victims assimilate back into society, family assistance for those being returned to their parents, and repatriation services for non-Thai residents (most of the girls in the center are not Thai, but have been trafficked in from Laos, Myanmar/Burma, and Cambodia). Additionally, legal services are provided for those cases where criminal action is being taken against the traffickers.
We were given a tour of the campus where the residents learn computer skills, needlework, traditional Thai foot massage, and traditional Thai weaving. For obvious reasons the girls who had been trafficked in the prostitution trade are not trained in massage, but since legitimate massage therapy is such a huge industry in Thailand the victims of sweatshops are given that training. We also saw rooms where mental healing is fostered by volunteers who come into the centre to provide music lessons, special interest clubs, sports teams, etc. Similar to the women’s prison, the residents of this program make handicrafts which are offered for sale and are allowed to keep 70% of the profit from what is sold and this money is given to them upon their being reintegrated in the outside world so they can get a start. Of course we weren’t allowed to take any photos inside the facility, but I’ll try to see if I can find anything on the web I can post.
As a walked around this centre, I had a similar feeling what I felt at the Bangkok Women’s Prison – the discrepancy between the image of Thai social justice in popular culture and what I was witnessing is perplexing. I gather that the answer to my mental questions about this incongruity is that there are horrible prisons in Thailand and there are many victims of human trafficking that are never helped – but fortunately there are places where improvement is being made and these places are becoming prototypes for future progress.